Tutankhamun was neither the brightest nor the most important pharaoh in Egypt’s ancient world. Born around 1361BC, he became king at the tender age of nine and lived to rule a mere other nine years.
Mostly an invalid; the only significant move during his short reign was his dismissal of the monotheism his predecessor Akhenaten had imposed when he insisted Egypt should worship the sun god Atun alone. Tutankhamun allowed Egyptians to go back to worshipping their time honoured gods, major among them was the god Amun.
What’s so special?
So what’s so special about Tutankhamun that today makes his name of international renown? The fact that his tomb was found undisturbed, with the full burial collection intact. Given that all the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs had been robbed throughout history, many of them during pharaonic times, Tutankhamun’s tomb was a rare exception.
Not that it had escaped raiding, archaeologists say, but the damage was minor. The robbers, who had attempted to raid the burial treasure shortly after the king’s burial, had apparently been caught and the collection returned to the tomb, thrown almost higgledy piggledy inside. The tomb was resealed. For some odd reason it escaped the fate of further plunder, and had to wait for the British archaeologist Howard Carter, sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, to discover it intact in November 1922. Carter’s amazement at the astounding discovery—which he made after four seasons of arduous but non-fruitful digging in the Valley that had long been pronounced by archaeologists to contain no more undiscovered tombs—was so great that, at his first peek into the tomb the only words he could utter were: “Wonderful things inside;” It was all gold, gold, gold!
Too many visitors
The magnificent burial collection of Tutankhamun, which gained world renown, was moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where it is still on display; only the pharaoh’s mummy was left in the tomb. But the tomb became the mecca of tourists who visited the ancient tombs at the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s West Bank. The tomb itself is relatively small. It was the custom of pharaohs to start building their tombs once they ascended the throne, and the builders and artists would keep on enlarging it and embellishing it till the king died. Since Tutankhamun died so young, there was no time to give him a big tomb; he had to be buried in whatever the builders had finished. But what was lost in size was amply made up for in the burial collection which was rich and stunningly beautiful.
The huge numbers who visited Tutankamun’s tomb over the time, and for that matter most of the tombs open to visitors in the Valley of the Kings, took its toll over the splendidly coloured wall engravings, paintings and inscriptions, and on the wall structure itself. The level of humidity and carbon dioxide inside the tombs rose to alarming levels that threatened its very existence. It was out of question to close down the tombs, even though this measure had to be taken with a number of them, since they represented a wealth of heritage to humanity and revenue to Egypt.
Egyptian antiquities experts took their cue from other threatened sites in the world. The prehistoric caves of Lascaux in South France, the American Indian heritage sites in Colorado, and others were closed to visitors and exact replica sites opened instead. Why not do the same with Egyptian tombs?
Enter the European Union. On a generous grant, painstaking work began in 2009 to create a replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The choice of tomb was predictable; at an average of 1000 visitors a day the tomb is the most in demand by visitors, and it consists mainly of a 60 square metre burial chamber.
Spanish and Swiss experts recreated the elaborate wall murals using 3D scanning technology. One of the idea##s chief proponents is Adam Lowe, a British artist and master restorer who led the creation of the Tutankhamun facsimile, and supervised its installation in Luxor.
The 515,000 Euros facsimile is said to be the most detailed copy ever made. To measure the original tomb, Lowe’s company, Factum Arte, used its own scanner, which can capture images as small as a tenth of a millimeter. In the process, an unprecedented document that should be of sizeable assistance to future researchers was created.
The replica itself was carved with a machine that can make details as precise as a third of a millimetre in length. It recreated the tomb down to minute detail. In the middle of the burial chamber where the walls carry scenes from the first chapter of the Book of the Dead stands a rectangular rock setting where, in the original tomb, King Tut##s sarcophagus and mummy rest. In a hall between the burial chamber and an antechamber hang photos and explanations of the discovery of the tomb and its treasures in 1922 by Carter.
Royal trip along the Nile
The replica was set up some 200m away from Carter’s house, which had served as his headquarters during the ten years he spent cataloguing the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The house is located on the West Bank of Luxor just before the entrance to the Valley of the Kings. After long years of neglect, it was restored in 2009 and turned into a beautiful museum where visitors can now walk through Carter’s kitchen, dining room, bedroom, office and photography studio.
“Once the EU handed over to us the replica tomb, “Ibrahim Soliman, general manager of al-Karnak antiquities told Watani, “it was kept temporarily in Cairo until it was safe enough to transfer it to Luxor along the Nile by barge. The idea was for Egyptians in the towns and villages along the way to view, enjoy, and honour their royal heritage. Sadly, the security situation in the country did not allow such celebration; we could not risk the replica tomb. But it was moved along the Nile by barge anyway.
“Once it reached Luxor, the replica was lifted by a giant crane and placed on transport vehicles to the antiquities warehouse on the West Bank. The process of installation and set up took three months.”
More to come
Earlier this month saw the opening of the replica tomb of Tutankhamun.
Present were Luxor Governor Tareq Saadeddin, Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs Muhammad Ibrahim, EU Ambassador to Cairo James Moran, as well as European and Latin American ambassadors to Cairo. Everyone was ecstatic about the replica which the first tourists to visit, some among whom had already visited the original, insisted was in absolutely no way different. Mr Moran said that with the replica tomb in place, a site which had been among the most interesting to visit was now even more so.
According to Mr Zaazou, the move paves the way for sustainable tourism with the use of facsimiles to protect original sites. Now the plan is to train a team of Egyptians to record and copy future tombs so that Egypt can be at the forefront of the process in the future. Next in line for the creation of replicas, according to Mr Soliman, are the tombs of Seti I and Queen Nefertari.
When asked if the original tombs would be closed to the public, Antiquities Minister Mr Ibrahim said the ministry was exploring the idea of allowing a very limited number of visitors to go in at a ticket sufficiently high-priced to make a visit to the replica an attractive alternative.
The concept of replicas, however, may be applied to more than the tombs.
Mansour Breik, chairman of the central administration of Egypt##s antiquities, told Watani that the Lascaux cave experience may be replicated in the thousands of prehistoric caves with stunningly beautiful animal paintings in the Gilf al-Kebir site on Egyptian-Libyan-Sudanese borders.
14 May 2014