Preserving the Pharoah’s legacy: How 3D printing has to come to the rescue of Tutankamun’s Tomb.
3D printing has come to the rescue of the ancient burial chamber of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The chamber, which is over 3,000 years old, was at risk of collapse and deterioration due to the increased footfall of visitors to the site. But now, thanks to 3D specialists Factum Arte, the whole sanctum of the chamber has been preserved, by way of an indentical 3D replica.
Tutankhamun is undoubtedly the most famous of all the Egyptian kings of the 18th dynasty. His tomb was discovered by Howard Carter and George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1922. The child king ruled during 1332 BC – 1323 BC, and despite being the least revered in Egyptian times, he went on to become the most famous in our times.
After the tomb was discovered, there followed a huge surge of interest in Egyptian culture, and thousands of tourists descended on the tomb, to glimpse into the life of what is now, the world’s best-known Pharaoh. This is partly because the tomb and the artefacts housed within it are amongst some of the best preserved in the world. Ironically this is what has led to the sheer amount of traffic in and out of the chambers, and the whole area is now under threat from the very visitors that once welcomed them.
It was the constant changes, caused by the humidity of the breath and temperature of the visitors that had started to make the paint on the walls crack, and the plaster to fail.
It was decided that if something wasn’t done, the chamber would deteriorate to the point where valuable artifacts would be lost forever. But rather than seal off the chambers, a project to replicate the tomb was agreed and 3D specialists Factum Arte were called in.
Adam Lowe headed up the team from Factum Arte, and using digital photography and three dimensional laser scanning, alongside 3D printers, they managed to recreate the interior of the chambers with stunning accuracy.
The project took five years to complete, not surprising when you consider that laser scanning recorded around 100 million points of information per square meter on the walls, from reading the artwork to recording the cracks in the plaster.
Once the scanning had taken place, the whole chamber was then 3D printed tp reproduce an exact replica of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and some experts were so blown away with the results that they cried at the unveiling at Luxor:
“We are not talking virtual reality, it is a physical reality. To have an emotional response to something you know to be a copy is an extraordinary moment,” Mr Lowe told The Independent from Egypt.
The site receives around 1,000 visitors per day, and Mr Lowe said that producing the replica meant the original site would be preserved for the future. The tombs he said, “were built to last for eternity but they weren’t built to be visited”.
Mr Lowe said the replica was of crucial importance to the preservation of the original 3,245-year-old burial chamber.
The process of producing the 3D replica of King Tutankhamun’s tomb was flimed by BBC cameras in a docmentary called ‘A New Tomb for Tutankhamun’. The documentary’s producer Joanne Whalley said:
“The tomb walls of the original are very cracked and undulating so the 3D [process] captured the cracks and dips of the surface.”
Presenting the show, Rajan Datar said: “This is the future of cultural tourism. During the past hundred years many antiquities have been exposed to too much human presence and unless that is restricted they are going to collapse completely. The mindset has to change amongst tourists.”
There is also an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK, ‘Discovering Tutankhamun’ will showcase some of Howard Carter’s original records, drawings and photographs. It runs from 24th July to 2nd November 2014.