The Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative
Luxor, Egypt 2017


The creation of an exact facsimile of the tomb of Tutankhamun was only the first stage of a wider initiative to safeguard the tombs of the Theban Necropolis through the application of new recording technologies and the creation of exact facsimiles of tombs that are now either closed to the public for conservation, or in need of closure to preserve them for future generations.

The tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered intact and in near perfect condition in 1922. The only damage to the interior in over 3000 years was the growth of micro-bacteria on the walls, probably suggesting that the tomb was painted and sealed quickly. Soon after the discovery, Howard Carter expressed concern that the entry of visitors would damage the fabric of the tomb.

The work that was carried out in the tomb of Tutankhamun was first imagined in 1988 by the Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs of Egypt who have consistently pushed and developed this project since it started. Factum Arte’s involvement began in 2001 with the approval of a research project by Dr Gaballa Ali Gaballa to develop the techniques needed to scan the tomb of Seti I. In 2002, an exact facsimile of the tomb of Thutmosis III was produced by Factum Arte for a touring exhibition, The Quest for Immortality – Treasures of Ancient Egypt, which opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 2002. The facsimile demonstrated the level of accuracy that was possible when the application of technology was combined with high-skill manual and mechanical labour.

In 2009 the recording of the tomb of Tutankhamun began on the instruction of Dr Zahi Hawass and with the backing of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (now the Ministry of Antiquities), who have long supported the idea of building replicas of the closed tombs. The facsimile was given to the people of Egypt in November 2012 by Baroness Ashton as a gift from the European Union. The decision to install the facsimile on the site next to Carter’s House was taken by the Minister for Antiquities, Dr Mohamed Ibrahim in 2013. The installation took place in early 2014 and the didactic exhibition and facsimile were opened to the public on 1st May 2014. The Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation was awarded Apollo Magazine’s 2014 prize for ‘Digital Innovation of the Year’ for the work they carried out to produce the facsimile. This approach to the preservation of at-risk cultural heritage in Egypt captured both press and public interest.

Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation, in collaboration with the University of Basel under the supervision of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, have embarked on the next phase of the work to create a long-term, self-financing model for heritage preservation in the Valley of the Kings. The initiative focuses on sustainability and knowledge transfer and is dependent both on specifically developed technologies and human skills. It began with the recording of the vast and fundamentally important tomb of Seti I that has been closed to the general public since the late 1980’s.

The work is being carried out in four phases: the first of which involves the restoration of Stoppelaere´s House, a domed mud-brick building by the great 20th century Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy. The restoration work will be carried out by the Tarek Waly Centre for Architecture and Heritage under the supervision of Tarek Waly who worked closely with Hassan Fathy. When restored the building will function as a fully equipped scanning and training centre employing a number of people from the community who will be trained in skills relating to 3D recording, data processing and archiving. The centre will be run by Aliaa Ismail, a graduate of the American University of Cairo who has been receiving training at Factum Arte in Madrid over the last twelve months. Its existence will ensure that any future work can be carried out locally and for the benefit of the community.

The second and third phases of the project will be the complete recording and rematerialisation of the tomb of Seti I and of all fragments removed from the tomb since its discovery in 1817 by Giovanni Battista  Belzoni. As a result, the facsimile will be more complete than the original tomb in its current state – its narrative and meaning will also become more accessible.

The final and most ambitious phase that is being proposed involves the building of workshops that will employ up to fifty local artisans to manufacture the high-resolution facsimile of the tomb. The workshops will be primarily practical, but they will also serve as visitor centres in which the public can learn about non-contact approaches to conservation and about the exciting technical innovations that go into documenting cultural heritage.

The facsimiles of the tombs of Tutankhamun and Seti I will form the core of the Visitor Centre which will be located near the Valley of the Kings. In this way the tombs will be preserved for future generations while continuing to generate the revenue that is vital for the local economy and will hopefully lead to the documentation of less famous but equally important tombs.

Visitors creating dynamic conditions in the Tomb of Tutankhamun

The facsimile of the tomb of Tutankhamun

In the years since the discovery of the tomb the young Tutankhamun has emerged from obscurity and captured the public imagination. The tomb and its treasures are now amongst the most celebrated cultural artefacts in the world and the stories that surround them continue to inspire generations with the magic of Pharaonic Egypt. The tomb was built to last for eternity but it was never meant to be visited and it is essential we find the best way to ensure Tutankhamun’s memory is not eroded away. The value of high-resolution recording cannot be overstated and leads to a deeper and more complete understanding of the past based on the evidence that remains.

The entrance to the original tomb of Tutankamun

Every stage of the production of the facsimile was undertaken by Factum Arte and supported by the  Factum Foundation and the Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs of Egypt. Most of the equipment was specifically designed or significantly adapted, specialist software was written, a new flatbed printer built, new materials developed and old materials revived. The results speak for themselves. The technologies developed for the Ministry of Antiquities are now being applied to help preserve other tombs and communicate their cultural importance. They also enable conservators, academics and the public to understand the objects themselves in deeper and more objective ways.

In spring 2009 the burial chamber and sarcophagus in the tomb of Tutankhamun were recorded in 3D and colour at the highest resolution ever achieved on a large-scale. Between the summer of 2009 and 2012 an exact facsimile of the tomb was completed. The data that was used to make the facsimile is currently being used to monitor the decay that is taking place in the tomb. The data was made public in a secure form in 2011. Everyone can now study the burial chamber in great detail but only Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities can benefit from any copyright fees generated now or in the future.

• An unexpected consequence of high resolution scanning

In summer 2015 archaeologist Nicholas Reeves published his painstakingly detailed observations based on the 3D data recorded by Factum Arte in the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 2009. His thesis is clear: he has identified what seem to be the traces of two sealed doors, one of which he believes will lead to the undiscovered tomb of Nefertiti. Recent thermal tomography and radar surveys carried out by the minister for Antiquities Mamdouh Mohamed Eldamaty and Nicholas Reeves appear to confirm that there is a void behind the north wall and a sealed door in the west wall. The Ministry of Antiquities is now discussing the options. A technically advanced exploration of these voids seems inevitable. But how will an excavation in the 21st century differ from the work carried out after Carter discovered the tomb in 1922 Howard Carter carried out a very well-documented excavation, working closely with the great photographer Harry Burton – the records that remain from this period of intense archaeological work are still being studied at the Griffith Institute in Oxford. It will be interesting to see how the major excavation will be performed almost a hundred years after Carter’s original discovery.

Chambers X & Y believed to belong to the tomb of Nefertiti - discovered by Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves thanks to the 3D data recorded by Factum Arte in 2009 with the Lucida 3D scanner, made by Factum Arte to artist and engineer Manuel Franquelo´s design

Understanding the transformations that happen as the physical world is digitised and then rematerialised is key to the production of a facsimile that aspires to forensic accuracy. This begins by understanding the layers of mediation in both the hardware and software used in high-resolution recording and informs every decision as the digital data becomes a physical object.

A view from the North-West corner of the tomb looking towards the exhibition area. The gated door to the treasury can be seen on the left behind the lid of the Sarcophagus that lies on the floor. Due to the conservation work in the original tomb the floor is currently covered with wood and the lid is not currently visible

In the facsimile, the burial chamber of Tutankhamun is presented exactly as it is in the Valley of the Kings but the antechamber and annex, while retaining the same proportions and materials as the original, are used as display areas to explain why the tomb looks as it does and why it is at risk from the dynamic conditions introduced by the visitors. The metal doors at the entrance and the wooden floors were made by the same craftsmen who work to keep the original tombs in a condition that can be visited by thousands of tourists each day.

The interior of the facsimile of the Tomb taken from the viewing gallery - the interior is reflected in the glass cover on top of the sarcophagus

A re-creation of the ‘missing fragment’ is shown in the annex. In the burial chamber the Sarcophagus is covered with a sheet of glass, the broken sarcophagus lid lies beside it, the rough-cut rock of the floor and ceiling are in their natural state, and the lighting is the same as that in the original tomb in 2009. In an ideal world the temperature, humidity, smell and ambient acoustics would also be the same but this will require different approaches to recording and a more complex control of the atmospheric conditions in the facsimile.

The view of the facsimile of the missing fragment made from one of Harry Buton’s photographs now in the Griffith Institute. This section of the South wall was removed by Howard Carter in order to take out the objects. It was carefully preserved and stored for many years in the Treasury - its current whereabouts is unknown

The fragility of the surface of the burial chamber is clear. Every morning a thick layer of dust is wiped off the sheet of glass covering the sarcophagus. Removal of dust from the walls is a delicate task and any method of removal will lead to paint loss. Air borne pollutants, bacteria, micro-organisms and general wear-and-tear add to the problems but the visitors also have a significant impact on the temperature and humidity in the tomb. This creates a dynamic environment in which the plaster surface is forced to expand and contract eventually causing it to detach from the surface of the rock.

  • Details showing injection marks

Previous restoration and consolidation treatments can add to the complex task of long-term preservation. The use of acrylic resins (Paraloid B-72 dissolved in acetone was for a long time the preferred consolidant), can change the appearance of the paint and are irreversible, especially when injected under the surface. Close inspection of the walls reveals that there have already been significant areas of paint loss that have been refilled and repainted.

One of the most important uses of the high-resolution colour and 3D data is to facilitate an accurate monitoring of the surface of the tombs in order to study the speed of decay. This is essential for the preservation of vulnerable sites and has implications for conservation, restoration and academic study as has been demonstrated by the recent discoveries of Nicholas Reeves and the Ministry of Antiquities.

Recording the burial chamber of Tutankhamun

It is now possible, through the application of digital technologies, to record the surfaces and structure of the tombs in astonishing detail and reproduce them physically in three dimensions without significant loss of information. The logistics of carrying out this technologically advanced work in the dust and heat of Egypt is a complex task requiring many different skills and different types of people. The aim is twofold; to provide the data to satisfactorily monitor the condition of the tombs and to turn the public interest into a force assisting in the protection of fragile sites. It is an approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance and has already proved very popular with the public in Europe.

• 3D scanning

A number of different 3D scanning methods exist, each with their own advantages and limitations. The challenge is to identify the right system for the right application. No single system can do everything. The diverse methods of capturing 3D data are evidence of this and a host of different approaches are redefining the relationship between image and form. 3D data can be recorded on a vast scale, capturing the topography of a landscape from great distances or it can be captured at close range with enough accuracy to document the flaking paint and the surface of a carving, emphasizing marks that are not easily visible to the human eye.

It is essential that the right type of 3D recording is undertaken and that the resulting data is safely archived and eventually processed so that it can be made accessible for study, conservation and where appropriate, re-materialisation as a replica. Producing a replica of destroyed or in-danger objects and sites is not always meaningful but it is playing an increasingly important role. To make a facsimile it is essential to acquire high-resolution data, with particular attention paid to the surface of the object. The better the data the more uses it has for academic, conservation and research purposes.

Outlined below are the main techniques and scanners used by Factum Arte in the tomb of Tutankhamun and the reasons they are used in the way they are. Specific examples from Tutankhamun and Seti I are used to illustrate the different methods.

The Tomb of Seti I

• Laser Scanning –Seti recording in 2001

A two camera /one laser system designed by 3D Scanners UK in the 1990’s (marketed under the name Reversa), was adapted for the work in the tomb of Seti I in 2001. It was initially selected because the correspondence between the actual surface and the recorded data was very close. This was due to the fact that it recorded the surface in an ordered grid of 100 million measured points/m2 without averaging or optimisation of the spatial data. This is fundamentally important when recording the relief recordings in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings. Over the years this system went through several significant improvements both with 3D scanners UK and then with Metris, the company that purchased 3D scanners. In the Tomb of Tutankhamun the Reversa Scanner was used to record sections of the North and East walls and the sarcophagus.

• Lucida 3D Scanner

The Lucida 3D Scanner - made by Factum Arte to artist and engineer Manuel Franquelo´s design


After years of working with laser scanning various practical issues have surfaced. The most significant is the need to control the costs and design of both the recording systems and the software used to post-process the data. This has resulted in significant research into the most efficient way to handle 3D data and in the development of a high-resolution cost-effective lightweight scanner: the Lucida scanner, designed by the artist Manuel Franquelo and built by Factum Arte. In the six years since that the team have been working on the Lucida scanner the main issues influencing the relationship between information and noise have been addressed, resulting in a scanner capable of recording the complex surface of the tombs. It is now in production and will be used to scan the tomb of Seti I.

The Lucida software controls both the operation of the scanner and the processing of the data. It treats 3D information as a tonal depth-map in a way that is compatible with most existing 3D and image processing software packages. This removes the need for expensive 3D software to handle the data while working and means the data can be viewed and retouched as a high-resolution tonal image. The data can be built into layered digital archives that contain different types of information. Using this approach, high-resolution dimensionally accurate 3D recordings can be viewed with the corresponding colour, X-ray, infra-red, ultra-violet and multi-spectral data or merged with historical images to assist in condition monitoring.

Carlos Bayod & Aliaa Ismail recording the Hall of Beauties in the Tomb of Seti I in May 2016

  • Examples of 3D data obtained with the Lucida 3D Scanner in the second recording of the Tomb of Seti I in 2016

• NUB3D white light scanner

Factum Arte’s approach to date has been to use the white light system in tandem with a laser scanner such as the Lucida 3D Scanner. In the tomb of Tutankhamun all the walls were recorded with a NUB3D Sidio white light scanning system at three different resolutions: 200 microns, 400 microns and 700 microns. The Sidio employs a mix of optical technology, 3D topometry and digital image processing to extract 3D coordinates from an object’s surface. This technique is known as structured light triangulation. The 3D information is acquired by analysing the deformation caused when patterns of light are projected onto the surface of an object. A series of images are captured by a video camera that is integrated into the recording head. From these images the software can calculate with great accuracy a coordinated XYZ point cloud relating to the surface of the object. Dense point clouds of millions of points or polygon meshes are generated, which describe the surface of the scanned object with precision.
Since 2009 there have been significant advances in photogrammetry but the Sidio will continue to play an important role in Factum Arte’s approach to high-resolution recording.

The Sidio White Light Scanner recording the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun

• Photogrammetry

Photographs have been used to provide colour information, but now they are capable of recording both colour and shape. Multiple images can be taken with a constant light source using a good SLR camera and following a clearly defined protocol with significant overlap between each image. If the photographs are processed using the appropriate software by trained operators, the results can be impressive and are starting to match the best results that are possible with more expensive and cumbersome 3D systems.

Photogrammetry was not used in the scanning of the tomb of Tutankhamun, but it will play an important role in the work for the tomb of Seti I.

Factum Arte´s Gabriel Scarpa carrying out photogrammetric recording of the tomb of Seti I in 2016

  • From left to right: 3D colour information, 3D rendering and routed physical re-materialisation of a fragment of the tomb of Tutankhamun
  • 3D rendering
  • routed surface

• Composite Colour Photography

While some 3D systems can obtain both 3D and colour information, currently no 3D scanner is able to record colour to the standard required for the production of an exact replica. As a result high-resolution colour photography with a resolution of between 600 and 800 DPI at actual size is an important part of the recording process. To achieve this it is necessary to use a composite approach in which large numbers of macro images are tiled together to form one vast file. The Planar approach (see below) keeps the camera parallel to the recording surface and repositions it using an XY frame. The Panoramic approach (see below) is based on keeping the camera in a fixed position on a computer controlled pan and tilt head and knowing the distortion that occurs as multiple shots are taken and stitched together. Once these are ‘undistorted’ in the software and merged together, the whole image can assume the correct shape.
The colour space, depth of field and sharpness of focus are critical in all macro-photography but the distortions in panoramic photography require the speed of exposure and the correct method of lighting the image.

The main difficulty when recording the colour of the tombs is to understand the extreme complexity of the painted surface. The paintings were executed as broad areas of paint with a limited palette but a combination of centuries of ageing and modern interference has resulted in an inconsistent and intricate surface. Even within a tiny area there is a wide variety of hue and tone.

• Planar Recording

For the recording in the tomb of Tutankhamun, two different computer controlled structures were used to place the camera at a fixed distance parallel to the surface of the wall. The entire tomb was photographed using a Canon EOS 5DII with either a 100mm or 180mm macro lens. Over 16000 photographs were taken providing a complete photographic map of the surface with a resolution of between 600 - 800 DPI at 1:1. The resulting photographic archive is approximately 300 gigabytes of data. This level of recording provides visual information about the condition of the tomb that will be essential to monitor the level of decay and rate of change that is taking place in the tomb.

  • Recording with the Planar recording system

• Panoramic Recording

All the photography in the tomb of Tutankhamun was done using planar systems but since 2009, Factum Arte has been looking at ways to improve both the speed and accuracy of the high-resolution photography. For recording the tomb of Seti I a Dr Clauss Rodeon HD panoramic head will be used with a Canon EOS5DIII and a Canon full-frame 5DSR using a variety of lenses and a ‘slave’ flash unit supporting a UV filtered Elinchrom high-speed flash head. This will make it possible to record in a coherent way while exposing the tombs to lower light levels and ensuring maximum image sharpness.

Gabriel Scarpa carrying out Panoramic recording with the Dr. Clauss in the Hall of Beauties, Tomb of Seti I, in May 2016

Comparing swatches in the original tomb of Tutankhamun 

• Optical colour matching

The use of physical colour reference samples is an important part of the production of a facsimile. In order to produce a facsimile that has accurate colour it is necessary to be able to compare colours of the original with colours of the facsimile. This is achieved using specially made colour swatches (referred to as colour sticks). These are compared directly to known points on the walls and adhered into reference books. When printing the facsimile, they are used to check the exact character of the colour. Printed sections were then taken into the tomb with small windows cut into the surface and compared directly to the wall. As a result, the facsimile of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun has been made so that the colour looks identical under the same lighting conditions that existed in the tomb at the time of recording.

A range of colour swatches used to reference the tomb of Tutankhamun

The main difficulty when recording the colour of the tombs is to understand the extreme complexity of the painted surface. The paintings were executed as broad areas of paint with a limited palette but a combination of centuries of ageing and modern interference has resulted in an inconsistent and intricate surface. Even within a tiny area there is a wide variety of hue and tone.

Research was carried out into the pigments and binders used by the painters of the tomb in order to understand the surface characteristics and fragility of the surface. A partial understanding of their techniques can be gained from studying the colour and 3D information, but this supplements rather than replaces, close observation of the painted surface in the tomb. A detailed non-contact observational survey of surface characteristics focused on studying the variations within each colour, the surface texture, the varieties of matt and gloss surface, evidence of under-painting, corrections, the character of the cracking and flaking, the presence of deposits or residues and the method of application of the colour.

• Data archiving and processing

The data that was recorded was downloaded to a well-equipped archiving hub where it was organised and stored. The time consuming work of processing was then done in a carefully planned in a systematic way. As a rule of thumb, every hour spent recording in the field requires one days processing. With high-resolution photogrammetry the processing time can be longer depending on the resolution required - expensive computers or server farms are essential.

Processing the digital information is a collective activity that grows rapidly into a vast archive. Accessing it is dependent on the instructions from the Ministry of Antiquities. Factum Foundation is committed to promoting an open source model, but the data recorded by Factum Arte in the tomb of Tutankhamun belongs to the Ministry of Antiquities who will benefit from all current and future commercial uses. With their permission it was encrypted and made freely available for conservation, monitoring purposes and academic study.

Digital restoration

Digital restoration is a fast growing field of work that is both a subject in its own right and a means of introducing objectivity into restoration treatments. Using this approach, various hypotheses can be tried out in digital form without touching the original work. This can be done before any interventions are made on the original surface and can nurture in-depth investigations and conversations. All restoration turns the original into a reproduction of itself to some degree. Restorations tend to reveal as much about the place and time that they were carried out as they do about the original artefact.

No digital restoration was undertaken during the production of the facsimile of the tomb of Tutankhamun but with the work that is being planned in the tomb of Seti I this will be important as a means of studying the aesthetics and means of re-integrating the fragments that have been removed from the tomb into the facsimile.

Considerable damage was done to the tomb of Seti I by the ‘squeezes’ (casts in wax, paper and plaster), the removal of sections of carved wall painting(the largest two are in the Musee du Louvre and the Archaeological Museum Florence – that now look nothing like each other and very different from the rest of the tomb) and general decay over time(thousands of smaller fragments were recovered from the rubble outside the tomb by a team from the University of Basel). Digital restoration techniques will play a significant role not only as a conservation tool, but to imagine how this tomb would have looked when it was sealed in 1279 BC.

Making an exact facsimile

At a time when many people are just starting to understand the role virtual models can play in studying and preserving cultural heritage, Factum Arte has gone one stage further. The work that is being undertaken in the Valley of the Kings is a two way process – from the real world to the digital archive and then from the digital files back into the physical world without significant change or loss of detail. This work has theoretically been possible for a while but the costs have been prohibitive. Now, due to a highly focused and motivated period of research and development the protocol has been put in place to vastly reduce the costs and break down all stages of the work into tasks that can be taught to a local workforce in Luxor.

Routing a facsimile

• Routing

Over the years many tests have been run to find the best and most economical way to turn the digital information back into a physical object. There are now many forms of 3D printing and new families of 3D /colour printers in this rapidly developing field. The mix of resolution, scale and cost tends to rule out 3D printing but these printers may one day provide a less time-consuming solution with comparable results.

In the meantime the preferred option is to carve the surface into sheets of polyurethane or plaster using CNC routing machines. To rout a 1 m2 panel in 3D at a resolution of 260 microns takes approximately 400 hours. Routing the entire surface of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun took over 6 months using two machines. In the tomb of Seti 1 there are thousands of square meters of subtle polychrome relief carving. The recording and processing work will require detailed logistical planning. To re-materialise the surface so that every chisel mark can be seen and studied will require 50 machines working for 10 hours per day for 3.5 years. It is intended that all this work will be done in Luxor with local people specially trained to carry out this work.

The walls were routed in 1 meter square sections that were then joined together. Once complete, these panels were cut into sections about 1.5 meters wide and the full height of the tomb (about 360 cm high) – these sections are then cast in such a way that they could be bolted together to produce invisible joins.

  • Digitally ´stitching´ the images together

The same processes are being used at present to rout tests from scans recorded in the Tomb of Seti I:

90 x 90 cm. routed slab of high density polyurethane - rematerialisation test of a section of the tomb of Seti I from scans recorded in 2016

Details of the 90 x 90 cm. routed slab of high density polyurethane - rematerialisation test of a section of the tomb of Seti I from scans recorded in 2016

Plaster cast applied to the slab

  • Plaster peeled off the routed slab of high density polyurethane of the rematerialisation test from scans taken in the tomb of Seti I

Factum Arte’s approach to the production of high-resolution facsimiles is dependent on the merging of the 3D information of the surface and the high-resolution colour photography recorded in the tomb. This work is time consuming and highly focused. As technologies develop it is becoming more automated but it still requires high levels of human intervention to ensure that there is a perfect fit between colour data and surface data. While it is critical this is done correctly for all virtual applications when the printed data is mapped onto the physical relied a second layer of alignment takes place using slightly elastic skins.

• Elastic printing support

The preparation of an elastic printing media was a direct response to practical need. Factum Arte’s flatbed digital printer can overprint in perfect register but it cannot print a detailed and focused image onto an undulating surface. A layered mixture of three different materials was the final solution, developed in the printing workshops in Factum Arte. The resulting material is ultra-thin, flexible, slightly elastic and accepts pigmented ink without spread or loss of detail. It is made of 2 thin layers of ink-jet ground backed with an acrylic gesso and then an elastic acrylic support. It is built in seven layers rolled onto a slightly textured silicon mould. The skins have a short working life and need to be made freshly to ensure that they stretch and fit the surface in the correct way. The skins can be printed in sheets that are 150 cm wide and up to 3 meters long reducing the number of joins in the final facsimile.

Digitally printed elastic skins

• Printing the walls of the facsimile

The printing of the facsimile was done using a flatbed inkjet printer designed by Dwight Perry in Factum Arte. For many years this printer has been at the centre of Factum Arte’s approach to the production of facsimiles that can close the gap between the look of the original object and the look of its copy. With this printer the image can be built up of layers of colour printed in perfect registration. This approach means that both the colour and the tone can be controlled and locally altered to ensure a perfect match. The colour is corrected both virtually and in the printing process. This can seem counter intuitive to many people experienced in post processing where the language of colour space and profiling is tailored to specific printing systems, inks and material coatings. The first step in this layered approach is to print the prepared high-resolution photographs onto the ‘skins’ and compare the result to the colour samples made in the tomb. A second file is then prepared to add tonal density and correct the hue of the colour; the black can be more than 100% black and the highlights can be controlled to prevent one of the process colours invading the neutral greys. This process can be repeated until a satisfactory match is obtained. The changes made to the colour in the virtual space of the image management software can also be made in the physical space of the printed image. This multi-layered approach changes the way the files are managed. It is dependent on shared experience and constant comparison with the physical colour notes made in the tomb.

Flatbed Inkjet digital printer designed by Dwight Perry, printing ´skins´ for the facsimile of the tomb of Tutankhamun

The materiality of the colour is dependent on the perfect alignment between the routed surface and the printed skin.

• Sticking the colour skins to the relief surface

Once printed, the flexible skins are positioned and adhered using a slow-cure contact adhesive. Sight and touch are both essential to ensure the exact relationship between the surface and the colour. Working with a raking light, the skin is positioned and re-positioned until all details in the printing correspond to the underlying surface. The sharp edges of the flaking paint or a defined crack provide clear registration points. In the case of the tomb of Tutankhamun the slight relief and clearly defined edges of the micro-bacteria that covers the walls were the dominant positional guide. Once in the correct position on the rigid surface, the skin and the relief are put into a vacuum bag and pressure is applied evenly until the adhesive has cured. Due to the gossamer-like skin, it takes on the character of the wall when it is fixed to the surface.

The sarcophagus

The sarcophagus was scanned using both the laser and the white light scanners. It was routed in sections into high-density polyeurethane, joined together and cast into a resin composite resembling the original red granite. The traces of paint and colour were added by hand from photographs and notes made in the tomb.

Paint and colour application by hand from photographs and notes made in the tomb.

Sarcophagus Lid

The sarcophagus lid, made from a different granite than the rest of the sarcophagus was scanned with the white light scanner, routed and cast in scagliola (a composite substance made from selemite, animal glue and natural pigments and which was used by the Romans and became popular in the 17th century). Using this process it was possible to create the crystalline character of the granite. Many tests were made to match the grain and colour of the lid and to ensure that the final result had the character of the original.

Attention was made to the break that runs through the centre of the lid. While we were installing the facsimile one of the labourers told us that the break was made by one of his relatives on Carter’s instruction as the lifting gear they were using in the tomb was unable to move the complete lid in one piece and there was a real excitement to see what was inside the Sarcophagus.


The un-plastered ceiling in the tomb of Tutankhamun reveals many details of the way the tombs were carved and prepared. Lines of chisel marks, each about 1 cm wide have produced a slightly irregular pattern on the surface. There is a clear line running across the ceiling from the west wall of the antechamber to the north wall of the burial chamber, indicating that the burial chamber is actually a widening of the antechamber. This corresponds with Nicholas Reeves’ theory about there being another chamber behind the north wall, possibly containing the tomb of Nefertiti. Interestingly the line that is visible on the undecorated ceiling is equally visible on the 3D scan of the north wall. This point was noted in the 2009 Getty Conservation Institute report, which suggested that these structural elements may indicate that Tutankhamun’s tomb usurped an existing tomb.

A large natural fracture that has been restored and filled with plaster runs across the ceiling of the burial chamber and extends into the antechamber. Traces of paint and plaster from the decoration of the walls extend onto the ceiling in a number of places. There is little evidence of the micro-bacteria that cover the walls, suggesting that the bacteria were feeding off the animal glue which was probably not completely dry when the tomb was sealed.

The reconstruction of the missing fragment 

One of Harry Burton’s black and white photographs, taken soon after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, shows a section of the south wall that was removed in order to empty the burial chamber. The whereabouts of this section are currently unknown. Working with the Griffith Institute in Oxford, Burton's photograph was used to reconstruct a full-colour replica of the missing fragment. The colour information for the reconstruction was extracted from the high-resolution photographs of the south wall recorded in 2009 and mapped onto an enlarged version of Burton’s photograph.

The fragments that remained after the wall between the antechamber and the burial chamber was removed were set into a bed of sand and cement by the conservators working with Howard Carter. The tones of the black and white photograph were carefully studied and matched to the colours used in the tomb. The figure of Isis has her own iconography so the colours on her necklace and bracelets are easy to identify. However the three gods on the left side of the panel are unknown. As it was impossible to confidently attribute colour they have been left in monochrome. The surface was carved by hand, prepared with plaster and gesso and printed on the flat bed printer.

The installation of the Facsimile next to Howard Carter’s House

The Egyptian architect Tarek Waly was given the task of designing and supervising the construction of the space to house the facsimile. The Tarek Waly Centre for Architecture and heritage designed an enclosure that has the exact layout and dimensions of the existing tomb. The site was excavated down to the bedrock and the entire structure was constructed below ground level. It was then buried leaving no visible trace other than a discrete door leading to a ramp. The steep stairs at the entrance of the original tomb were not replicated. The facsimile begins from the gentle ramp that runs into the antechamber. This decision was made for both practical reasons and to allow disabled access into the installation. The antechamber and annex are used as an exhibition space to inform visitors about the tomb, its discovery, its biography since 1922 and the problems of preserving a space that was never meant to be visited. This display will change and develop as new discoveries are made and new insights surface. The building has its own generator to provide power for the lighting, fans and video installation. The wooden floor, handrail, metal doors and lighting systems are the same as those in the original tomb in 2009.
The following images document the construction of the building from plan to completion.

Entrance of the facsimile of the tomb with the Stoppelaere House in the distance


The Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative has started. The facsimile of the Tomb of Tutankhamun has caught the public imagination. The project to record the tomb of Seti I began in March 2016 and is progressing rapidly - it is predicted that the full recording will be achieved in approximately three years. Meanwhile, Stoppelaere´s House - the great mud-brick building by Hassan Fathy - will be fully restored by the Tarek Waly Centre for Architecture and Heritage and will become the home for the 3D scanning and training centre led by Aliaa Ismail who trained at Factum Arte for eighteen months. The centre will stand at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings as a statement of Egypt’s determination to ensure that the Valley of the Kings lasts to impart its wisdom to future generations of people – both local and from all corners of the globe.

As people are trained, more scanning systems will be supplied and the recording will go faster. Hopefully the workshops will then be built and the production of the facsimile of the tomb of Seti I will start on site on the West Bank of the Nile. With political stability it is projected that the visitors will return and that the visitor numbers will reach new record levels. It is hoped that as this happens there will be a new visitor centre where they can understand the difficulties of protecting a site of importance to the whole world that was built to last but not to be visited. Through different methods of re-presenting these tombs, the visitors will gain a deep understanding of their meaning and importance. It is through a deep and honest understanding of the past that we condition the present and shape the future.

The ultimate aim is to continue recording at risk tombs, to create exact facsimiles of the tombs and of the scattered elements that used to make up these tombs, and to create a new visitor centre that will fund all the works described in this text. Hopefully these will be followed by facsimiles of other vulnerable tombs like that of Queen Nefertari and the Pharaoh Thutmosis III. If Nicholas Reeves’ theory proves correct – It is hoped that the facsimile of Tutantkamun’s tomb can expand to include the new discoveries as they happen.

Over recent years it has been difficult to raise money for the documentation and the development of technologies to digitally record cultural heritage – both objects and sites. Sponsors and institutions have instead preferred to support restoration projects and high-profile interventions but, as attitudes to originality and authenticity emerge from a century of modernist ideology, the role of non-contact preservation and digital restoration are attracting attention. It is essential that we work together to record as many things quickly and at the highest resolution that is realistically possible. The technology exists and it is now time for the politicians to hand over to the technicians and to set demanding targets. The best way to do this is through the transfer of skills and technologies to the places that are most in need. The high-resolution recording of the Theban necropolis is a clear example of this approach in action.

We no longer think of works of art as being static unchanging things - the way they age and transform over time becomes part of their trajectory. The restoration interventions become part of the biography of the work of art. Interventions always reveal more about the person making the changes than they do about original intention. Imagine Michelangelo walking into the Sistine Chapel today. Would he celebrate or be horrified? Imagine Leonardo looking at the Last Supper in Milan or Veronese walking into the Louvre to see a painting he made on the wall of a monastic refectory in Venice now being visited by an estimated 10 million a year in Paris. Imagine the people who built the tombs of the Theban Necropolis visiting the Valley of the Kings today. Have we altered their meaning and function in significant ways as we attempt to preserve them and make them fit for thousands of visitors each day? Have we lost sight of their meaning and intention? Can we get beyond the filter of our temporally, culturally and geographically conditioned perspective?

This is heralding a new era for forensically accurate study.

Images of the construction of the building for the facsimile ©Tarek Waly Studio
All other images ©Factum Arte

Related Videos

Spanish experts record the tomb of Seti I in Egypt

The facsimile of Tutahnkamun in Cairo

Report about Tutankhamun facsimile


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