Tracing painted hieroglyphs on one of the architraves in TT 65 using transparent paper sheets and graphite pencil

Sep 21, 2020

For many decades, one of the most common methods of documenting ancient Egyptian painted tombs was to create a full-size direct copy of the wall by tracing the original on to some transparent material. The facsimile tracing serves an entirely different purpose than photographs, it selectively collects all the information necessary for studying the decorative elements, while deliberately avoiding any obscuring details standing in the way of understanding. ⠀ ⠀ 

In order to trace the architraves in TT 65, the artist used transparent flexible plastic acetate film (mylar) in sheet form. Harder (therefore lighter) pencils were used to represent damage, grid, and sketch outlines, while softer (therefore stronger, darker) cores were applied to indicate the ancient artists' brush strokes. Afterward, this image was copied in ink onto tracing paper, before being color-coded and collated with the original.⠀ ⠀

There were numerous advantages of tracing, including the relative ease of carrying it out even by someone with minimal artistic talent, assuming he/she had enough egyptological knowledge to be able to select through the data. The material was much cheaper and the method much faster compared to more complex systems, such as the Chicago House method. Nonetheless, the repeated number of copies required for publication entailed the margin for error. Potentially the direct contact with the surface had the risk of damaging the paintings, further challenged by finding a suitable attachment to the tracing sheets.⠀ ⠀

Today, with the advance of computer technology, direct tracing of the wall is not permitted, giving more room for alternate digital procedures. Even so, transcribing and publishing ancient Egyptian art in an aesthetically pleasing and easily digestible form still remains a challenge...⠀

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