One of the world's best known burial sites, Tutankhamen's original tomb in Egypt has now been replicated just a short distance from the original. This opens a new chapter in conservation. As the first few tourists visit the replica tomb, a BBC travel show presenter provides a picture of what went into making a copy of the old tomb
Rajan Datar, presenter, BBC Travel Show was in Egypt from the beginning of the year, to see how the tomb of Tutankhamen was being replicated.
Presenter Rajan Datar in Egypt
The presenter talks about why there was a need for another replica tomb and what it means in terms of preservation and conservation, the turmoil in Egypt and the toll it has taken in reference to time on the replica.
The replica tomb which opened to tourists just three days ago, has moved some people to tears. Truly if imitation is the highest form of flattery, this highest form of imitation should leave Tutankhamen very flattered.
Recording the work for the future
Q. Where is Tutankhamen's original tomb?
A. The original tomb is in the Valley of the Kings across the River Nile from modern day Luxor. The replica is sited just outside the former home of the archaeologist Howard Carter who with his team, "discovered" the tomb in 1922. Tutankhamen has acquired "celebrity" status ever since.
Finishing touches being given to the project
Q. What were the problems with the original tomb site?
A. After three millennia of surviving in almost perfect condition and intact, nine decades of tourism with up to a 1,000 people a day trooping in and out of the tomb every day have taken their toll. Human breath changes the humidity levels and temperature and creates instability inside the tomb.
The result? The paintwork is peeling off the bedrock. Particles of human skin have damaged the interior too. And, previous attempts at restoration have been disastrous causing salt crystals to build up behind the plaster on the walls.
Q. What is the distance between the replica and the original?
A. Just a couple of kilometers.
Q. What is the replica of the tomb like?
A. It is very impressive. They (Factum Arte, the makers of the replica) went to unprecedented lengths to make the facsimile, using state of the art laser scanning equipment and printing techniques to painstakingly recreate the original.
The political turmoil in Egypt over the last three years, bureaucratic problems and personnel changes at the top of the Ministries of Antiquity and Tourism all contributed to delay but the end result is to the naked eye exactly the same.
The ambience, smells and acoustics are a little different and they haven't replicated the gold coffin in the original tomb ( it wasn't part of the brief) but I took a local Egyptologist down to give a more informed perspective and he was effusive in his praise.
Q. Is it now open to visitors?
A. It is open to visitors at a cheaper price than the original, which will remain open too for a while. The long term aim though is to restrict access to it in order to help preserve it.
Q. Can the original tomb be restored?
A. No, experts say. Previous attempts have, as I say, exacerbated the problem and the golden rule now with conservation efforts is that they if they are not reversible, they should not be carried out. People think technology must exist to repair and restore the originals but that is not the case.
Q. Egypt is at the centre of controversy and conflict, given the Arab Spring first and now, all the turmoil over death sentences to the Muslim Brotherhood. How has it affected tourism?
A. Visitors have severely dropped off in numbers ever since the revolution in 2011 and then again in 2013. Any further bad news merely reinforces the caution western tourists and governments have, towards travelling to Egypt.
The outcome is heart breaking in Luxor. A local economy that totally depends on tourism is on its knees with hotel occupancy at 4 per cent, the Central Souk empty, and people leaving the town in search of alternative work.
Who was Tutankhamen?
Tutankhamen (alternatively spelled with Tutenkh-, -amun, -amon) was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty (ruled ca. 1332 BC-1323 BC in the conventional chronology), during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom.
He is popularly referred to as King Tut. His original name, Tutankhaten, means 'Living Image of Aten', while Tutankhamun means 'Living Image of Amun'. In hieroglyphs, the name Tutankhamen was typically written Amen-tut-ankh, because of a scribal custom that placed a divine name at the beginning of a phrase to show appropriate reverence.
The 1922 discovery by Howard Carter and George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon of Tutankhamen's nearly intact tomb received worldwide press coverage. It sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, for which Tutankhamen's burial mask, now in Cairo Museum, remains the popular symbol.
Egypt: Hubble, bubble, turmoil and trouble
Minya: Egypt: Egyptian security forces stand guard outside the court that sentenced 682 alleged Islamists and a Muslim Brotherhood leader to death on April 28, 2014 in the southern city of Minya. Pic/AFP
Paris, France: A bare-chested activist shouts slogans as she is evacuated by police outside the Egyptian embassy in Paris on April 30, 2014 during a demonstration against death sentences handed by an Egyptian court to 683 alleged Islamists. Pic/AFP