Nov 15, 2017 | By Julia
An ancient Egyptian tomb has been ‘resurrected’ in Switzerland thanks to advancements in 3D scanning and 3D printing technology. Once belonging to Pharaoh Seti I, one of the most important and lavish royals in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, the 3,300-year-old sarcophagus now sits in 3D printed form in the Antikenmuseum Basel in northwestern Switzerland. It’s the first phase of an ambitious five-year project that will see the magnificent tomb recreated in its entirety, and installed on an Egyptian site not far from the original.
Digital conservationist company Factum Foundation spearheaded the initiative, led in no small part by founder Adam Lowe, a self-proclaimed ancient Egypt buff. Founded in 2009 in Madrid, Factum has since developed considerable expertise in 3D scanning and 3D printing heritage items and other works of art. Recreating the Seti tomb has long been an ambition of Lowe’s, who describes the ancient artefact as “the most important library of Pharaonic religion, philosophy, art, poetry and science; the source material for the three Abrahamic religions.”
He’s not wrong. First discovered in 1817 by Giovanni Belzoni, an Italian explorer, engineer, and circus strongman, Seti’s tomb — also known as Belzoni’s tomb — immediately captured the public’s attention as a window into an ancient civilization, and a wonder in and of itself. Yet history took its toll: improper excavations, extensive looting, and large-scale tourism left the tomb ravaged and in poor condition. Only Seti’s alabaster sarcophagus remained in situ.
Historically too heavy to steal, the ornate coffin became the starting point for Lowe and his team, who began work on the project back in 2016. Belzoni’s original 1817 watercolour paintings aided the Factum Foundation, along with preserved fragments housed in the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Over nearly two years of work, Lowe’s team was able to precisely recreate two of the tomb’s most lavish rooms, the Hall of Beauties and the adjacent Pillared Room.
Now, Antikenmuseum visitors can view the rooms as they currently stand — faded and vandalized — as well as in their dazzling 1817 form. The effect is awe-inspiring and mind-bending. Reports say that even experts have a hard time distinguishing the original displays from the 3D printed recreations.
According to Susanne Bickel, an Egyptologist at the University of Basel who specializes in Seti’s tomb, these types of ‘resurrections’ can be scientific and informed “without becoming Disneyland or kitsch.” In fact, Bickel says, a facsimile can sometimes show us more than the original. We’re just beginning to realize the potential of the new technology.
Lowe agrees wholeheartedly, asserting that facsimiles will continue to play a central role in future tourism and art conservation. The Factum Foundation is already banking on it: the team will resume scanning Seti’s original tomb in early 2018, picking up where they left off, and commencing work on the largest chamber, the crypt, complete with vaulted ceiling featuring astronomical decorations.
“Scanning Seti: The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb” will remain on display at the Antikenmuseum in Basel until May 6, 2018.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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