Every time a visitor enters Tutankhamun’s funerary chamber, the 3,000-year-old walls deteriorate a little further. The changes in humidity caused by visitors’ breath mean that the painted plaster expands and contracts over the course of each day, and the dust which they bring into the room and circulate around it is so thick that it has to be wiped off the modern glass cover of the sarcophagus each morning. In other tombs of the Valley of the Kings, conservation attempts using outdated methods have done more harm than good, raising the possibility that within a few years, some painted plaster surfaces will come away from their walls. Close inspection of Tutankhamun’s tomb reveals that there have already been significant collapses which have been refilled and repainted – an approach which turns the original into a reproduction of itself.
In these circumstances, it is vital that conditions within the tomb be kept constant. Among other things, this means restricting the number of visitors – not easy when the tomb in question is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. In 1988, the Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs of Egypt, through its president Dr Theodor Abt and the respected Egyptologist Professor Erik Hornung, suggested that a facsimile of the funerary chamber of Tutankhamum could serve as an alternative visitor destination, and since the early 2000s, Factum Arte and Factum Foundation have been working to turn this proposal into a reality.
Following a feasibility study carried out by Factum Arte in 2002, the project was approved by the Supreme Council of Antiquities and was launched in 2009 by Dr Zahi Hawass and the Supreme Council in collaboration with the University of Basel, The Friends of the Royal tombs of Egypt, Factum Arte, and the newly formed Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation.
The funeral chamber was recorded between March and May 2009, with scan data at a resolution of 600-800 DPI at a 1:1 scale.
From 2009 to 2012, the Factum team in Madrid worked to process the data and to create the facsimile of the tomb – the highest resolution large-scale facsimile project ever undertaken at that time.
In addition to the tomb as it now stands, a missing fragment from the South Wall of the chamber, known from the photographs of Howard Carter’s photographer Harry Burton, was also recreated, allowing visitors to see what it would have looked like.
In November 2012 the finished facsimile was given to the people of Egypt by Baroness Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union. In 2013, the Minister for Antiquities, Dr Mohamed Ibrahim, took the decision to install the facsimile on the site next to Carter’s House.
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.
On the 30th April 2014 the facsimile of the funerary chamber of Tutankhamun was opened to the public by the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, in the presence of the Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zazou, The Governor of Luxor, Tarek Saad el Din, the EU ambassador James Moran and about 25 other ambassadors from the EU countries, Malaysia, Mexico, India and elsewhere. The atmosphere was one of deep excitement and joy. The facsimile, which is identical to the original at normal viewing distances, was located within a small museum with a display explaining why it looks as it does and why it is so difficult to preserve something that was built to last for eternity but not to be visited. Click here to read the exhibition's texts, written by Adam Lowe, Jaromir Malek and Nicholas Reeves.
The exhibition accompanying the facsimile, showing the missing panel from the South Wall. The photographs by Harry Burton were printed by Rafa Rachewsky at Factum Arte from files provided by The Griffith Institute, Oxford. The design of the display was done by Blanca Nieto. Texts are by Jaromir Malek, Nicholas Reeves, and Adam Lowe.
To go to the high-resolution data from the tomb, click here.
To watch a BBC Travel Show episode about the facsimile, hosted by Rajan Datar, click here.