I have often said I believe that the tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings could be completely destroyed from modern activities in less than one hundred years. But there are tombs that we can replicate which contain magical, beautiful scenes. These are the tomb of Tutankhamun, the tomb of Seti I, and the tomb of the great Queen Nefertari. Therefore, I am supporting this important project to create facsimiles of these great tombs in order to save the originals. People can visit the exact replicas and experience the beauty of the tombs and know that they are preserving the past.
– Dr. Zahi Hawass, 2009
On 4th November 1922, Howard Carter discovered evidence of the existence of a tomb near the entrance to KV9. Throughout November, he cleared the path to a sealed door. News quickly spread, capturing the world’s attention. The following day, the Antechamber was opened, revealing ‘wonderful things’. It wasn’t until 16th February 1923 that they accurately documented the items in the antechamber and were prepared to open the next sealed door. Within moments of creating an opening in the wall, it became evident that Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter had stumbled upon an untouched royal burial chamber.
Since that moment, the young Tutankhamun has emerged from obscurity and captured the public imagination. The tomb and its treasures are now among the most celebrated cultural artefacts in the world. The stories surrounding them continue to inspire generations with the magic of Pharaonic Egypt, attracting thousands of visitors annually. The significant number of visitors (limited to 1000 in 2011) raised concerns among Egyptian authorities regarding the tomb’s conservation. A substantial restoration and consolidation plan was announced in 2009. This plan also included the concept of a replica of the tomb for tourism purposes.
Each time a visitor enters Tutankhamun’s funerary chamber, the walls, which are over 3,000 years old, deteriorate a bit more. The fluctuations in humidity due to visitors’ breath lead to the expansion and contraction of the painted plaster throughout each day. The dust they bring into the room and circulate around it is so thick that it must be wiped off the modern glass cover of the sarcophagus every morning. In other tombs of the Valley of the Kings, previous conservation attempts using outdated methods have caused more harm than good. This raises the possibility that within a few years, certain painted plaster surfaces might detach from their walls. Close examination of Tutankhamun’s tomb reveals significant collapses that have been filled and repainted – an approach that transforms the original into a reproduction of itself.
Video showing the facsimile of the Burial Chamber of Tutankhamun © Factum Arte
The creation of a facsimile as a means to help the preservation of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings from the damage caused by mass tourism was first imagined in 1988 by Theodore Abt, Erik Hornung and the Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs of Egypt. In 2002, Factum Arte’s exact facsimile of the Tomb of Thutmosis III had already demonstrated the level of accuracy achievable in both digitisation and physical results.
Factum’s recording of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 2009 began on the instruction of Dr. Zahi Hawass and Dr. Mostafa Waziry, with the support of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The work was undertaken by Factum Arte and led to the formation of Factum Foundation.
In 2011, the Ministry of Antiquities decided to share the high-resolution data of the Tomb of Tutankhamun as online browsers for education and research purposes – click here to access.
To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb in November 2012, an exact facsimile of the burial chamber was given to Egypt by Baroness Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union. It was displayed in the Conrad Hotel for the European Union task force meeting. In 2013, the then-Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, took the decision to install the facsimile adjacent to Carter House.
In 2014, Factum Foundation commissioned architect Tarek Waly to design an underground space and the physical facsimile was installed, as planned, later that year. The facsimile attracted extensive media attention and now plays a significant role in the discussion around the future of heritage preservation.