Well, here’s an interesting news story for everybody still dismissing 3D printing as a geeky flash-in-the-pan fad. Madrid-based company Factum Arte have just unveiled an exact, 3D printed replica of one of the world’s most famous and feted historical sites, the tomb of King Tut, and they did not do it because they thought it would look cool.
At once, this groundbreaking print might save the original site from destruction, rejuvenate Egypt’s flailing tourism industry and help repair its shattered economy. And it’s all thanks to the astounding detail and exact replication allowed by 3D scanning and printing techniques.
Since its 1922 discovery by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, the burial chamber of Pharaoh Tutankhamen, who ruled the civilisation back in the 1320s BC, has become a source of global fascination. It has drawn millions of tourists to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor and its artefacts have toured museums across the globe, while fanciful tales of its ancient ‘curse’ have been published in even serious news journals.
Yet 90 years of tourism have taken their toll. Thanks to the sheer volume of visitors it receives, the burial chamber has suffered irreversible damage. Changes in humidity and temperature, airborne pollutants and the breath of tourists has blistered and cracked the delicate plaster and paint of the murals that adorn the walls of the boy king’s final resting place.
If this continues, the walls themselves could soon collapse and the world would lose this most compelling of historical sites forever. On the other hand, if access to the site was to be heavily restricted, those looking to study and understand the ancient Egyptians would lose this important touchstone, while Egypt itself, a country in which tourism employs about 12% of the workforce, would lose a prize cultural and commercial asset. When you consider its recent political upheavals have caused an estimated 43% drop in tourism revenue, the pressing nature of this concern becomes quickly apparent.
This is where Factum Arte comes in. Based in Madrid, it is a collective of artists, technicians and conservators that specialises in digital mediation, including for the purposes of preservation. Its team were given access to Tut’s chamber in order to scan, photograph and, eventually, print a facsimile of the original site. As long as the replica was accurate, it was hoped, casual visitors would still visit Luxor to view it, while access to the original burial chamber could be severely restricted.
After several years of painstaking work, the replica was unveiled yesterday in Luxor and the results have astounded even experts in the field, some of whom reported feeling overcome with emotion upon viewing it. As Factum Arte Director Adam Lowe explains:
The goal was to actually build something, not that was good just for tourism, not that was good just for a visitor to go in and say ‘that looks similar’, but to build something that allowed you to monitor the condition of the original tomb.
It’s an astounding project, one which shows just how far reaching the potential of the technology is. This is only the beginning for Factum Art, however, which now moves on to recreations of the tombs of Tutmosis III, Nefertari and Seti I.