It’s the first new build in the Valley of the Kings since the days of the Pharaohs, and its makers hope tourists will love it.
Egypt’s archaeological wonders are being destroyed bit by bit, every day, by the thousands of tourists who love them. Many of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings have been shut to protect them from further wear, and restoration works risk further damaging the very things Egypt wants so desperately to preserve. Now there’s something altogether different in the Valley of the Kings; it’s the first new tomb since the days of the Pharaohs, and its creators hope it will help save King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Factum Arte, the team behind this project, began by using a 3D scanner to record the whole of the tomb, at 1:1 scale. This took over 32 days and 1300 scan shots, to cover everything. Conservator Naoko Fukumaru made sure the tomb was kept safe, while at the same time putting together a color palette – over 500 different shades – so that, when the time came, the original decorations could be copied as accurately as possible.
Then the copy was carefully milled out in three dimensions, at a resolution of 100 microns, to ensure that the copy would be indistinguishable from the original. After it’s milled it’s moulded, cast printed, and the finishing touches added by hand. Factum Arte even managed to restore missing decorative elements on the south wall; working with the Griffith Institute in the UK, it compared photographs from Howard Carter’s 1922 expedition to the existing tomb, and used the photographs plus the conservator’s palette to rebuild what has long been lost.
“It is this level of obsession with the details of the surface that results in a convincing facsimile,” says Factum Arte. It rebuilt the tomb in its Madrid warehouse, before transporting it to Egypt to be installed in the Valley, about a mile from the original. In the end it cost a little over $700,000 to make; cheap, if it saves King Tut’s tomb.
If this project succeeds, it could pave the way for other facsimiles, allowing visitors to see the tombs of, say, Sethi I or Nefertari, which have long been shut for fear of damage. The key is going to be persuading tourists that an exact copy, complete with extra display panels to explain everything, is as good as seeing the real thing.
“Can I tell the difference?” wondered one of the first visitors. “No, I don’t think I can. No, it looks good enough for me.”