Recording the Burial Chamber of Tutankhamun

In the spring of 2009, a team from Factum Arte led by Grégoire Dupond, Pedro Miró, Piers Wardle and Naoko Fukumaru recorded the tomb of Tutankhamun and documented its condition. During one month, the four-person team recorded both the relief and colour of the burial chamber as well as the sarcophagus. They used a combination of recording systems that achieved an outstanding quality of data – the highest resolution ever achieved on a large-scale digital documentation project. 

Following the initial successful tests of the Seti Scanner during the first recordings, Factum Arte extensively researched and enhanced both the hardware and software of the laser scanner. This effort led to the development of the Lucida 3D Scanner, which was used on various sections of the tomb alongside a white light system to record the 3D surface of the walls and sarcophagus. 

All the walls were recorded with the white light scanning system at three distinct resolutions: 200 microns, 400 microns and 700 microns.  

For capturing the colour, Factum employed parallel photography: two computer-controlled structures were used to place the camera at a fixed distance parallel to the surface of the wall. The entire tomb was photographed using a Canon EOS5DII with either a 100mm or 180mm macro lens (above). Over 16000 photographs were taken providing a complete photographic map of the surface with a resolution of between 600 – 800 DPI at 1:1. The total photographic archive is approximately 300 gigabytes of data.  

This level of recording provides visual information about the condition of the tomb that became essential to monitor the level of decay and rate of change within it. The photographic data was shared with the Getty Conservation Institute under the authority of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and became an integral part of the tomb’s condition report. 

In addition to digital technologies, traditional conservation practices were also employed to support the work and ensure the creation of a facsimile that would look identical to the original under the same lighting conditions. An extensive collection of specially-made colour swatches (also known as colour sticks) was created by Factum’s Naoko Fukumaru. These swatches proved essential in documenting and recreating the complex colour surface of the tomb.  

The paintings were executed as broad areas of paint with a limited palette, but over time, the combination of centuries of aging and modern interference has resulted in an uneven and complex surface. In-depth research was conducted into the pigments and binders used by the tomb’s painters to understand the surface characteristics and fragility of the surface. A detailed survey of surface effects focused on recording the variations within each colour, the surface texture, the varieties of matt and gloss surfaces, evidence of under-painting, corrections, the character of the cracking and flaking, the presence of deposits or residues and the method of application of the colour. 

Over the following months, the massive amount of data was processed at Factum Foundation’s headquarters in Madrid. The 3D surface and the colour layer of each of the four walls were processed separately and painstakingly registered over each other, before sharing them as an online browser.


Stitching the surface and colour data © Factum Foundation