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Getty Conservation Institute: protection and new visitor management for the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen

Scientists working in the Tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.

In a research over 10 years, the damages in the 3000-year-old wall paintings were analyzed and necessary measures for the world-heritage-site planed

It is all done for the benefit of future generations, a voice explains in a video about the research done to conserve the tomb of King Tutankhamen: „Once it’s lost its gone forever.“

In January 2019, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) announced the completion of almost a decade of research, conservation efforts, and infrastructure improvements at the burial site of the Egyptian king, one of the best known cultural heritage sites in the world.

The project is a collaboration between the GCI and Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities also focused on the creation of a sustainable plan for continued management of the tomb.

When the tomb was discovered in 1922 by archae¬ologist Howard Carter, under the patronage of Lord Carnarvon, the media frenzy that fol¬lowed was unprecedented, and in many ways continues to this day. Still today, the site is a „must-see” attraction, open to the public and heavily visited by tourists from around the world. The tomb still houses a handful of original objects, including the mummy of Tutankhamen himself (on display in an oxygen-free case), the quartzite sarcophagus with its gran¬ite lid on the floor beside it, the gilded wooden outermost coffin, and the wall paintings of the burial chamber that depict the king’s life and death.

Tutankhamen was an Egyptian pharaoh in the 18th dynasty and ruled from around 1332 to 1323 BC.

The great demand for entry to his small tomb gave rise to many concerns:
* Humidity and carbon dioxide generated by visitors promotes microbiological growth and can physically stress the wall paintings when the amount of water vapor in the air fluctuates.
* It was thought that brown spots—microbiological growths on the burial chamber’s painted walls—might be growing.
* Another problem in the tomb was physical damage to the wall paintings. This included scratches and abra¬sion in areas close to where visitors have access, and inadvertent damage likely caused by film crews with equip¬ment operating in the chamber’s tight spaces.
* Dust carried by the shoes and clothing of the tomb’s many visitors had also settled throughout, creating a gray veil on the uneven surfaces of the walls. This obscured the brightness of the paintings and increased the need for cleaning and the subsequent risk of additional paint loss.
* In addition, high levels of humidity, excessive carbon dioxide, crowding, poor lighting and ventilation, lack of signage, and other factors combined to create a poor experience for visitors to the tomb.

The north wall of the burial chamber depicts three separate scenes, ordered from right to left. In the first, Ay, Tutankhamen’s successor, performs the „opening of the mouth” ceremony on Tutankhamen, who is depicted as Osiris, lord of the underworld. In the middle scene, Tutankhamen, dressed in the costume of the living king, is welcomed into the realm of the gods by the goddess Nut. On the left, Tutankhamen, followed by his ka (spirit twin), is embraced by Osiris. Source: Carleton Immersive Media Studio; Carleton University © J. Paul Getty Trust

The GCI-Egyptian project has carried out the most thorough study of the tomb’s condition since Carter’s time. Some of the finds:
* The project team found the wall paintings to be in relatively stable condition, apart from localized flaking and loss of paint that was caused by both inconsistencies in the materials used and their application, as well as damage caused by visitors. Newly designed barriers now restrict visitor access in these areas to reduce the risk of future damage. The paintings were stabilized through dust removal and reduction of coatings from previous treatments, and condition monitoring was also established to better evaluate future changes.
* The mysterious brown spots on the wall paintings had been already present when Carter first entered the tomb, and a comparison of the spots with historic photographs from the mid-1920s showed no new growth. To confirm this finding, DNA and chemical analysis were undertaken and confirmed the spots to be microbiological in origin but dead and thus no longer a threat. Because the spots have penetrated into the paint layer, they have not been removed since this would harm the wall paintings.

In addition to the wall paintings conservation, the GCI also facilitated upgrades to the protection and presentation of the site, including infrastructure (walkways, viewing platform, signage, lighting, and an air filtration and ventilation system to mitigate humidity, carbon dioxide, and dust), a bilingual maintenance manual for the installations in the tomb, training for local personnel, and recommendations for visitor numbers and management that include guidelines for filming inside the tomb.

The tomb had remained open for most of the project, and visitors were able to observe and ask questions as the conservators worked. It is currently open to visitors.

Getty Conservation Institute (GCI)

Video

Source: GCI

(21.02.2019, USA: 02.21.2019)