1 - 7 August 2002
Issue No. 597
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Replica royal tombs at GizaAfter a decade of discussion, debate and controversy on whether the concept of creating replicas of Egypt's most famous royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings was feasible, a decision has now been taken. Nevine El-Aref attended the symposium in London at which the new Desert Valley Project was lauded
A British-Egyptian team of architects, engineers and archaeologists gathered last week at a symposium in London where "the replication, in minute detail" of six of Egypt's most famous and seriously-threatened royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings was given the green light.
"This project will be the perfect solution to save the tombs from temperature fluctuation, humidity, the rising water table, and damage by tourists who descend on them every year," said Gaballa Ali Gaballa, adviser of archaeological affairs in the Ministry of Culture. "The replica tombs will be constructed at Giza, in close proximity to Cairo, and it is hoped they will attract a large number of tourists who might not always have the opportunity to visit Luxor. It will also limit the number of visitors in Luxor who daily queue up and flock into the tombs in vast numbers, causing them irreparable damage. "We cannot do without tourism, which is a mainstay of Egypt's economy," Gaballa went on. "But at the same time we can no longer ignore the disastrous effect that these tourists have on our monuments when they rub up against invaluable reliefs, inadvertently knock their handbags against ancient walls, cause a marked increase in the level of humidity inside tombs, and circulate dust that accumulates on the walls. The Desert Valley Project at Giza will take us out of a vicious circle and end the dichotomy between our need to maintain and promote an interest in our famous archaeological attractions, yet safeguard them from the harmful effects of that human presence."
The tomb of Seti I, the largest and most beautiful tomb in the Valley of the Kings, will be the focus of this new vision. It will provide an opportunity for the maximum number of people to enjoy its marvellous painted reliefs without fear of causing irreparable damage to the original in the Valley of the Kings. Others on the list of replicas are the tombs of Ramses I and VI, Horemheb, Tutankhamun, Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, as well as some noblemen's tombs at Deir Al-Medina.
Fayza Haikal, head of the department of anthropology, archaeology, sociology at the American University in Cairo, described the project as "a dream come true, which will rescue Seti I's tomb, one of Egypt's great wonders". She said that ever since its discovery in 1817 by Giovanni Belzoni, at the base of a high mound of scree, Seti I's tomb had been subjected to deterioration from one cause or another. "This wonder of 19th-Dynasty Egyptian art was in nearly perfect condition, and still contained the finest carved sarcophagus of the period. Belzoni immediately copied all the reliefs in watercolour and then proceeded to take wax squeezes of the reliefs on the walls. In 1821 he brought these copies, along with the sarcophagus, to London where he displayed them in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Soon the whole world knew of this finest tomb ever found, and the result of Belzoni's endeavours not only made the tomb famous and the destination of many visitors during the 19th and 20th centuries, but this also led to its decay," said Haikal.
She continued that Belzoni's squeezes, and those of later tourists and scholars, removed paint from the walls. Soon his "Hall of Beauties" was dull and monochrome. Furthermore, the columns and door jambs of the tomb were cut away to be displayed in museums in Paris, Florence and Berlin. More and more people were anxious to see the original. Countless fingers stroked the outlines of the reliefs. After 170 years of visitors the tomb was closed in 1988 as plaster was falling from the ceiling due to the humidity from visitors and from flooding. The pristine tomb had been damaged and desecrated by antiquarians, sightseers and the candles of Coptic hermits which had darkened the reliefs and ceiling paintings.
According to Erik Hornung, who published the most recent academic book on the tomb, "The only way forward that could respect the original would be to create a facsimile that restored some of the damage and lost pieces. This would prevent any further damage to the original by permanently restricting tourist access, but still provide revenue for its maintenance."
Click to view caption
A drawing of the Tomb of Seti I, believed by some to be the most beautiful in the Valley of the Kings, was opened for viewing in 1817; however, owing to decay at the hand of visitors and ground conditions it was permanently closed in 1998. Plans are afoot for its replication at the Desert Valley Project near the Giza Pyramids
Berry Kemp of Cambridge University was another enthusiast of the Desert Valley Project, saying that it represented a good example of cooperation between the private sector and the Supreme Council of Antiquities to save the Egyptian heritage.
Five of the tombs in the project will be replicated simultaneously. The sixth, the tomb of Seti I, will take two years to complete. Laser technology and 3D scanners will be used to create exact facsimiles in three isolated desert valleys near the planned Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza. An estimated $12 million has been earmarked for the project, which is expected to open in 2005.
"It involves the same conservationists and techniques as those used in Altamira Cave in Spain (see box) but the facsimile for the Egyptian project is 2,500 times higher resolution than Altamira and accuracy is down to a fraction of a millimetre," Jim Clark, the business development manager of 3D Scanners UK, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The laser scanning techniques are used to capture the exact 3D form of an artwork without touching the original. A strip of light is projected onto the surface of the relief enabling an off-axis camera to capture the profile of its surface. Sophisticated computer software converts the captured information into digital form to allow a precise representation of the original surface to be viewed and manipulated on a display screen."
Clark said this technique was portable and completely harmless to the original. "The type of laser used in non-contact three-dimensional scanning applications emits a low-power (typically less then 1mw) visible continuous beam of light much the same as a laser pointer," he said. "The laser beam is typically moved at a rate of 10cm per second so that the surface of the artwork will be illuminated for approximately 0.01 seconds. The tombs, created with 3D laser scanners, photographic digital technology, high resolution routing machines and pigment printers, will be indistinguishable from the real thing. Every detail of the paintings and carvings in relief will be recreated."
John Larson, head of sculpture and inorganic conservation at the award-winning National Museums and Galleries of Merseyside, a pioneer in the use of laser technology, applauded the scheme. He told The Times that the tombs could not be left to deteriorate until the originals crumbled to dust. "Then everyone would say, 'What a pity'," he said. "They don't think about what they are saying, It's a selfish attitude to imagine that one can only appreciate these historical masterpieces in their original state and fail to consider the possibility that they won't be there for the next generation to see. What we are trying to do is replicate them and safeguard them from falling to pieces."
British architect Michael Millinson, designer of the Desert Valley Project at Giza told Al-Ahram Weekly that the desert scape would be developed to provide an appropriate setting for the replica tombs that would simulate the approach to the originals in the Valley of the Kings.
"The enclosed area will also contain facsimiles of pre-historic monuments in areas of Egypt that are too remote to visit," he added, saying that an environment would be created similar to that in which the monuments originally lay "on limestone escarpments overlooking ancient river beds".
"In the midst of the replica tombs will be a panoramic window giving onto a landscape in which there is vegetation such as existed in ancient times, and which has been lost since the introduction of modern cultivation," Millinson said. This innovative environment will be developed with Fulcrum and archaeo-botanists from the universities of Cairo and Cambridge, who have worked on ancient plant species from archaeological sites in Egypt.
Millinson explained the concept: "Visitors will pass through a narrow passage cut through a cliff into the area of the replica tombs. A central path will lead to an amphitheatre similar to that formed by the cliffs of the Theban necropolis that enclose the Valley of the Kings. This amphitheatre is the sloping ramped roof of the tombs." This will be concealed beneath artificial mounds of natural stone. The tombs will be entered from the external ramped roof. They will be naturally cooled by deep earth tubes and lit by rays of the sun directed into the chambers.
Ahmed Bahgat, the business tycoon who will finance the project, said it would take an integrated ecological approach to develop a Nilotic landscape within the surrounding infrastructure of the desert. He visualises developing lake and waterfalls "as a source of recreation for visitors and residents". It is noteworthy that the that a portion of the proceeds from the tickets for the Desert Valley Project tickets will be directed towards restoring the original tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
On his part, Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities applauded the project but he prefers to replicate these tombs beside its originals in the Valley of the Kings. The whole project described by the culture minister Farouk Hosni as "a significant cultural achievement" pending his approval.
The original Altamira Cave and its replica, the outstanding model for Egypt's Desert Valley project, lie near Santillana del Mar in Spain. Today access to the original cave, which was discovered by chance in 1869 by Marcelino de Santuola, is extremely restricted as the carbon dioxide breathed out by visitors damages the ancient wall paintings. Visitor numbers have been drastically reduced in order to save these unique masterpieces of human prehistory. Only 160 visitors are allowed to the cave weekly, and tours are booked out for the next three years.
As at the Lascaux cave in France, an artificial copy of Altamira cave has been built as part of the nearby museum, the Museo Nacional y Centro de Investigación de Altamira. Designed by the Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg, this is a complex containing a museum of prehistoric art, a research institute, a restoration laboratory and the life-size reproduction of the central room of the cave, which is 9x18m wide and contains dozens of images. The complex, built at a cost of 25.5 million Euros, was inaugurated by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia in July last year.
The replica of the cave has been a great success: in the first four months, it received 200,000 visitors.
Manuel Franquelo, director of the Altamira, said the original cave consisted of a series of rooms and passages in an "S" shape. The main hall lies about 30m from the entrance and measures about 18x9m.
The feature which has made the cave world- famous is the ceiling, which is decorated with coloured paintings dating mainly from the beginning of the Magdalénian period about 15,000 years ago. Most of these paintings show bison, but there are also two wild boars, some horses, a red deer and some other figures in a simpler style. There are eight engraved anthropomorphic figures as well as various hand prints and hand outlines. The surprising quality and exceptionally well-preserved state of the paintings caused the specialists to doubt whether they were genuine, and their discoverer died before his find had been officially accepted as authentic. At the beginning of the century the scientific community accepted them as unadulterated after several comparable Stone Age remains were discovered in the area. Altamira is still the most exceptional evidence of the Magdalénian culture in southern Europe.
The habitation of the cave began in the Aurignacian (Perigordian) period, to which the first figure-like symbols etched in the walls belong. It was used more intensely in the Solutrean and Magdalénian periods. Proof of the habitation are the abundant stone material and the 14C dating of the organic remains.
The animal figures are large scale, for example the red deer is 2.20m long. Just as surprising is that the artists have painstakingly depicted its specific and sexual features. The pictures are dynamic and the movement of the animals comes to life through the careful use of the reliefs and the uneven surface of the walls, which create thus a breathtaking effect.
Another outstanding aspect is the variety in the texture of the furs and manes of the various species painted on the rock surface. These were created with a minimum of tools and with the restrictions imposed by the use of only three shades of colour: ochre, red and black.
Ahmed Said professor of prehistory, Cairo University said thatI in the complex of painting in the cave, bison in different positions are most common and are carried out most expertly. Other drawings, described as anthropomorphous, show humans with animal heads as well as signs and tokens such as hands or comb- and step-like symbols which are difficult to decipher.
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