Scanning Seti - The regeneration of a pharaonic tomb by Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation

Mar 16, 2019

Factum Arte is displaying copies of two chambers in the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I at Antikenmuseum Basel in Switzerland.

A reproduction of the "Hall of Beauties," from the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I.

The Reading section at digitalEPIGRAPHY serves as a platform for us to draw your attention to projects that we find worthy of your notice - may they be epigraphic missions digitally documenting ancient Egyptian monuments, or projects otherwise utilizing digital technology to further our understanding of Egyptian art (Color the Temple) or preserve ancient monuments for future visitors (Reconstructing the Villa of Serenus at Amheida).

Scanning Seti: The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb, a 2018 exhibition in the Antikenmuseum Basel, recreated two of the most beautiful rooms, the Hall of Beauties and the adjacent Pillared Room of Seti I’s magnificent tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor through the use of cutting-edge technology, 1:1 scale, perfect facsimiles and original objects. This immersive experience was conceived by Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation, a Madrid based workshop by Adam Lowe consisting of a team of artists, technicians and conservators dedicated to digital mediation - both in the production of works for contemporary artists and in the documentation of cultural heritage. 

Project description

The Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative (TNPI), a partnership between the Factum Foundation and the University of Basel operating under the supervision of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, has proposed “an efficient and long-term model of heritage preservation by supplying technologies developed to protect heritage, transferring the necessary skills to local operators, and recording and re-materializing fragile sites”.

The work is being carried out in four phases:

“The first two phases involve the creation of exact facsimiles of the tomb of Tutankhamun and Seti I. The facsimile of Tutankhamun was installed at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor in 2014. The facsimile of Seti I incorporates the fragments removed from the tomb since its discovery in 1871 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, making its narrative and meaning more accessible and complete. These replicas are meant to provide access to spaces that should be protected from further damage or closed for conservation purposes. These two facsimiles are part of a wider effort to safeguard other fragile tombs of the Theban Necropolis such as the burial chambers of Queen Nefertari and Pharaoh Thutmosis III. The facsimiles of the tombs of Tutankhamun and Seti I will be donated to the Arab Republic of Egypt and will be installed near Carter´s House.”

“The third phase involves the restoration, and reconditioning as a training center, of Hassan Fathy´s Stoppelaere´s House… After the work, Factum Foundation equipped the restored house with the latest scanning and digital recording technologies and trained local technicians in 3D recording, data processing and archiving.” 

The final phase “involves the organization of workshops and the set up of a permanent structure for local artisans to manufacture the high-resolution facsimiles of the tombs. These facsimiles will serve as visitor centres for the public.” 

Recording the Tomb of Seti I

“Over the course of a year, a Factum Arte team travelled three continents recording the tomb of Seti I, the most breathtaking and intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The chambers of the tomb were scanned and photographed in Luxor in May 2016. The sarcophagus and various objects from the original tomb were documented at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. More than twenty wall fragments removed after the tomb´s discovery in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni were examined and registered in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the National Archaeological Museum of Florence, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung (Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection) and the Louvre Museum.

The burial chamber, the sarcophagus and the fragments were documented using the most suitable combination of high-resolution technologies for recording each object. As systems capture details, scale and information differently, it is important to use the appropriate technology. These techniques include close & long-range 3D laser scanning, high definition colour composite photography and short & mid-range photogrammetry.

Despite the heavy influx of tourists following the tomb´s re-opening in November 2016, Factum Arte successfully completed a 3D survey of the tomb using a FARO Focus 3D x 130 Terrestrial Laser Scanner (TLS). The data obtained with this system provided information about the general geometry and spatial dimensions of the tomb. The walls in rooms I and J of the burial chamber in Luxor were scanned with the Lucida 3D Scanner, a system designed by artist and engineer Manuel Franquelo and built by Factum Arte. Three Lucida Scanners recorded the relief of over 70% of these walls. After scanning, the files generated by the Lucida need to be aligned and merged together. The data is not compatible with Faro or photogrammetric information and the protocol to merge the three data sets has been developed in Factum Arte.”

“Photogrammetric recording, the process of capturing multiple superimposed photographs an object, was used to document the interior of the tomb. Factum Arte´s Gabriel Scarpa and Pedro Miró, recorded areas inaccessible to the Lucida 3D Scanner such as corners, the top and bottom of walls and ceilings.

Photogrammetry was also used for recording the alabaster sarcophagus at the Sir John Soane´s Museum at a resolution of about one-tenth of a millimetre. The sarcophagus is made of translucent alabaster; this characteristic, along with its shape makes it a challenging object to record. Working over a five-day period in the confined space of the crypt of the museum, Pedró Miro and Manuel Franquelo and Ferdinand Saumarez-Smith took over 4,500 photographs with a 50 megapixel Canon 5DSR. The camera was mounted onto a motorised rig, with two flashes placed at a 45º angle to control the light on the surface. The interior of the sarcophagus was recorded using a hand-held setup and a blue laser system, to minimize diffraction on the translucent alabaster surface. Fragments of the sarcophagus´s lid were recorded at the Sir John Soane Museum and other institutions. The different elements were digitized and digitally restored.

Processing the data of the burial chamber, the sarcophagus and the fragments involved integrating the output of the various scanning and photographic systems. The low to mid-resolution DEM data obtained with the Faro Scanner and with Photogrammetry was imported into a GIS software, providing a base reference in scale and position for stitching all the Lucida scans in place. A special algorithm was developed to digitally subtract a thin layer of microrelief (a low relief of sub-millimetric accuracy) from the Lucida scans which allows them to be pasted over a smoothed base surface processed from the Faro and photogrammetric data. In this way, the low-relief, high-resolution surface detail from the Lucida data was superimposed onto the general geometry generated by the other systems. Finally, the high-resolution colour image was imported as a colour layer to create a ‘layered map'.”

Visual examples

Three Lucida 3D Scanners were used to record the interior of the tomb.

Scanning The goddess Hathor welcomes Seti I with the Lucida 3D Scanner at the Louvre Museum (Left). A panel from the same column was recorded at the Museo Archeologico di Firenze (Right).

Factum Arte´s Gabriel Scarpa carrying out photogrammetric recording of one of the walls in the Hall of Beauties.

Manuel Franquelo and Pedro Miró from Factum Arte recording the sarcophagus of Seti I at the Sir John Soane´s Museum.

3D model of the sarcophagus.

The information recorded inside the tomb of Seti I was processed using Capturing Reality.

Processing the data obtained with the Faro Scanner.

Re-materializing Seti I

“A combination of CNC milling, and Océ 3D printing has been used to produce the facsimile the tomb of Seti I.”

“Routing – Most of the tomb has been carved into boards of polyurethane using CNC routing machines. The walls were routed into panels of approximately 1 x 2 m that were then joined together. Once complete, these panels were assembled to form complete rooms. These are then cut into irregularly shaped sections that could be transported and bolted together with invisible joints.

Elevated Printing – The elevated printing technology of Océ - A Canon Company, is a form of additive 3D printing. It can create full-colour, textured prints with a maximum size of 2.44 x 1.19 m and a height up to 5 mm. As the walls in the tomb of Seti I exceed the 5 mm, the research and development department of Océ-Technologies created an experimental slicing algorithm and modified the print processes to create monochrome prints with the required relief while maintaining the accuracy. The technology makes use of a UV curable ink. Multiple layers of ink are stacked on top of each other. After printing a layer, the ink is cured before the next layer is applied. The thickness of each layer varies between 2 and 40 microns. The Océ prints were created as negative moulds of the walls of the tomb from which casts were taken. 

Elastic Printing Support – This is done using slightly elastic ‘skins. The preparation of an elastic printing media was a direct response to practical need. Factum Arte’s flatbed digital printer can overprint in perfect register but it cannot print a detailed and focused image onto an undulating surface. A mixture of three different materials has been developed and is made as required and applied in layers. It is an ultrathin, flexible, slightly elastic material suitable for inkjet printing with pigmented ink.

It is made of two thin layers of ink-jet ground backed with an acrylic gesso and then an elastic, acrylic support. It is built in seven layers rolled onto a slightly textured silicon mould. The skins have a short working life and need to be made freshly to ensure that they stretch and fit the surface in the correct way. The skins can be printed in sheets that are one and a half metres wide and up to three meters long, minimizing the number of joints in the final facsimile.

Color Adjustment – With this printer the image can be built up of layers of colour printed in perfect registration. This approach means that both the colour and the tone can be controlled and locally altered to ensure a perfect match. The colour is corrected both digitally using image processing software and in the printing process. This can seem counter-intuitive to many people experienced in reprographic printing techniques. Most commercially available colour 28 management and profiling systems are designed to ensure standardisation with specific printing systems, inks and material coatings. With Factum’s approach, the adjustments made to the colour in the virtual space of the image management software can also be made in the physical space of the printed image. This multi-layered approach changes the way the files are managed. It is dependent on shared experience and constant comparison with the physical colour notes made in the tomb.

Positioning the Skins – Working with a raking light, the skin is positioned and re-positioned until all details in the print correspond to the underlying surface. The fit between the paint and the relief surface is seldom obvious and therefore clearly defined registration points need to be identified. A sharp angle of flaking paint, a defined crack, the edge of a damaged area provide clear registration points. In the case of the tomb of Tutankhamun, the slight relief and clearly defined edges of the micro-bacteria were the dominant positional guides. The Tomb of Seti I is more complicated. The elastic nature of the support means the colour data can be stretched or compressed to ensure a perfect fit.

When the flexible skins are in the correct position they are pinned in place and locally folded back. A contact adhesive is applied to both sides. A slow-cure contact adhesive ensures that the skins do not move but the bond is not strong so they can be repositioned as required. Sight and touch are essential to ensure the exact relationship between the surface and the colour.

Vacuuming the Skins – Once the skins have been positioned, pressed down in place and held by contact adhesive they are put into a vacuum bag with a polyester blanket. A uniform pressure is applied using a vacuum pump ensuring full contact and adhesion between the skin and the support. Due to the gossamer-like, elastic nature of skin, it takes on the character of the underlying relief resulting in a surface where the colour and texture are fused together.

The Sarcophagus – The physical recreation of the Sarcophagus presented a series of challenges due to its size, the complexity of the form, the translucent nature of the material, its complex featuring and the very subtle carving on the surface of the entire interior and exterior faces of the sarcophagus. The final solution that was adopted is the result of some remarkable advances in 3D printing technology being developed by Océ, part of the Canon group of companies.

Their elevated printing system can build up a surface in full colour in 5 micron layers. However, the challenge of digitally separating a very thin skin from the surface, flattening it onto a flat plane but keeping the surface relief, and then fixing it back onto a CNC milled rendition of the Sarcophagus without its surface was both conceptually, intellectually and technologically challenging. This work was carried out in Factum Arte by a team led by Enrique Esteban using Global Mapper software.

The fragments of the lid of the sarcophagus were 3D printed and hand painted. They are presented in the same cases as they are conserved in the Sir John Soane Museum. Retouching the Final Facsimile – Once the skins are fixed to the surface, there is some retouching required to ensure perfect contact and no visible artefacts. This work is done by a team working under Factum’s restoration specialist.

Finally, the panels were mounted and assembled for display in the exhibition ¨Scanning Seti. The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb¨.”

Visual examples

Most of the tomb has been carved into boards of polyurethane using CNC routing machines.

The individual panels were assembled to make the walls.

Creating moulds from Océ printed reliefs.

Matching skin and relief.

The Sarcophagus - Printing layers of color and relief progressively.

Adding the final touches to the panels.

Facsimile of the tomb of Seti I

Room I The Hall of Beauties

Room J

The Sarcophagus

The Fragments

What we like

  • Facsimile could play a central role in the future conservation of monuments that are quickly deteriorating due to tourism or natural causes.
  • It’s almost impossible to distinguish between original and copies, thanks partly to the advanced technologies used in creating the facsimile (3D scanning and printing, photogrammetry etc.), therefore the experience is authentic for both scholars and tourists alike.
  • Since the facsimile looks and feels just like the original, recreating every crease and crevice, every bump on the surface of the artwork, it might allow scholars to study the monuments without interacting with the actual work of art.

Additional reading

For the original context of “Scanning Seti: The regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb”, visit the website of Factum Foundation.

For additional reporting on the project, we recommend the following articles:

The Factory of Fakes” - published in New Yorker, November 28, 2016.

Using high-tech tools to recreate and preserve ancient treasures” published by CBS News, February 3, 2019.

Master replicators resurrect an ancient Egyptian tomb in Switzerland” published by CBS News, November 15, 2017.

Précis and commentary by Júlia Schmied

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