London - At 10am on 4 November 1922, an unknown and slightly prickly archaeologist was working with his team to clear away some rubble close to the tomb of Ramses VI. After five years of toil in the Valley of the Kings, the vast desert funerary complex close to modern-day Luxor, Howard Carter had little to show for his relic-hunting efforts.
Time was running out, and Lord Carnarvon, his benefactor back in Britain, had reluctantly granted him one more season to come up with something spectacular. In the mid-morning heat exactly 90 years ago, it arrived. As Carter and his men cleaned up the debris near some ancient huts, they inadvertently stumbled upon the steps leading down into the tomb of Tutankhamun. The unprecedented find was the first time a royal burial chamber had been discovered containing all of its treasures.
Yet the tomb has not fared well since being prised open after 3,000 years of isolation. Decades of mass tourism have taken its toll, with the fluctuating humidity levels from thousands of panting visitors causing the elaborately painted plaster walls to peel away.
Egyptian officials have now announced that the burial chamber is in such bad condition that it will have to be closed. Instead, visitors will be able to pay to see a replica of the tomb - a perfect facsimile that has been painstakingly created by a British artist, Adam Lowe.
“It is disastrous what is happening in Luxor,” said Mr Lowe, the founder and director of the heritage preservation company Factum Arte. “The truth is that the tomb was never meant to be visited, and, in the 90 years since Carter's discovery, its condition has deteriorated dramatically.”
Working alongside a Swiss-based conservation group, Mr Lowe and his team were granted permission by the Egyptian authorities to create facsimiles of three tombs in the Valley of the Kings, including that of Tutankhamun. Using 3D laser scanners to create high-resolution copies of the site, the images were then moulded, cast and completed by hand over a period of two years to develop a near-perfect replica.
Mr Lowe said the aim of the project was to encourage a sustainable tourism industry which safeguards Egypt's monuments for future generations. Tourism is a major part of the country's lifeblood, employing around 12 per cent of the national workforce and generating revenues of some £6bn a year.
Officials are therefore anxious to get their new initiative right. The replica is due to be unveiled in Cairo on 14 November. It is not known where it will then be placed, though previous plans involved opening an exhibition near Howard Carter's house in Luxor, along with facsimiles of the tombs of Seti I and Queen Nefertari. - The Independent on Sunday