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Decade-Long Restoration of Tutankhamun’s Tomb Finally Concludes

Conservators stabilized famed crypt’s wall paintings, introduced viewing platforms and barriers designed to limit visitor access to fragile areas

A series of brown spots dotting the tomb's wall paintings were thought to be microbes carried by modern visitors, but researchers found that the marks have actually been around since 1922 opening of the crypt (© J. Paul Getty Trust)
smithsonian.com

In the nearly 100 years since archaeologist Howard Carter chanced upon the “wonderful things” hidden within King Tutankhamun’s tomb, hordes of researchers and tourists have ventured inside the world-famous Egyptian crypt, unwittingly introducing unwanted hitchhikers such as dust, humidity and carbon dioxide.

Luckily, Megan Gannon reports for Live Science, a newly concluded restoration project spearheaded by the Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has stabilized the ancient tomb, countering damage inflicted by the masses and ensuring the heritage site will remain accessible for generations to come.

According to a Getty press release, conservators stabilized wall paintings, which were marred by scratches and abrasions, as well as a layer of dust transferred from visitors’ shoes and clothing. The team also created viewing platforms and barriers designed to maintain visibility while simultaneously keeping visitors a safe distance away from more sensitive sections of the tomb; installed an air filtration and ventilation system to mitigate the effects of humidity, carbon dioxide and dust; and instituted an array of related visitor management measures.

One of the most surprising results of the multi-year project centers on tiny brown spots dotted across the crypt’s wall murals. As Jori Finkel explains for The New York Times, authorities were concerned that the marks represented potentially harmful microorganisms carried onto the site by tourists. But after comparing the spots’ size and location with photographs dating to Carter and colleagues’ initial cataloguing of the Tutankhamun treasures, Getty researchers realized the dots had actually been around since the tomb’s opening, if not earlier.

Neville Agnew, director of the restoration operation, tells Finkel that the spots were once active mold and fungus but are now long dead. The spots, unfortunately, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon; Live Science’s Gannon writes they have grown into the murals’ layers of paint, making it impossible to remove them without damaging the ancient artwork.

Tutankhamun’s tomb has captured the public’s imagination since its discovery in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in 1922.

Ancient History Encyclopedia's Joshua J. Mark writes that Tutankhamun ascended to the Egyptian throne at the age of 8 or 9 in 1338 or 1336 B.C. Over the course of his brief reign, the young pharaoh attempted to reverse the religious instability wrought by his father, Akhenaten, but upon his death at the age of 19 (variously attributed to an untreated abscessed tooth, an infected broken leg and genetic issues triggered by Egyptian royals’ incestual matchmaking), his efforts were largely forgotten.

Tutankhamun only achieved the widespread fame he enjoys today with Carter’s 1922 discovery of the tomb, which was packed with more than 5,000 well-preserved artifacts ranging from chariots to clothing, weapon and walking sticks. The unprecedented state of preservation in which his tomb was found—and perhaps that fabled “curse” linked to the crypt’s opening—mean the pharaoh’s popularity shows no sign of slowing down: Just look to the number of tourists who fill the site each day (aside from a one-month period in 2016, the tomb remained open to the public throughout conservation).

As Ruth Schuster observes for Haaretz, the completion of the decade-long project promises to benefit not only the ancient complex itself, but also the individuals who can now gaze at its wonders under proper lighting, assured that the marvels in front of them will be preserved for generations to come.

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