Tutankhamen's Tomb Unlocks Mystery of History

Published January 24th, 2019 - 11:18 GMT

The Tomb of Tutankhamen has fully reopened following a decade long restoration project.

One of the best known archaeological sites in the world, the Getty Conservation Institute, which carried out the conservation project, today revealed their work for the first time.

Researchers painstakingly cleaned the huge wall art in the tomb - but decided to leave a series of strange mysterious 'dark spots' that were there in 1922 when archaeologist Howard Carter first opened the tomb.

It was thought that brown spots—microbiological growths on the burial chamber's painted walls—might be growing.

However, researchers analyzed historic photographs from the mid-1920s and found they showed no new growth of the spots.

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.

When the tomb was discovered in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter, under the patronage of Lord Carnarvon, the media frenzy that followed was unprecedented.

Carter and his team took 10 years to clear the tomb of its treasure because of the multitude of objects found within it.

The latest project was put in place over fears the tomb was being damaged by the sheer number of tourists visiting.

While the objects Carter's team catalogued and stabilized were housed and secured, the tomb itself became 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 granite lid on the floor beside it, the gilded wooden outermost coffin, and the wall paintings of the burial chamber that depict Tut's life and death.

'Conservation and preservation is important for the future and for this heritage and this great civilization to live forever,' said Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and former minister of State for Antiquities in Egypt, who also initiated the project with the GCI.

One of the biggest worries were the giant paintings on the tomb walls.

Humidity and carbon dioxide generated by visitors promoted microbiological growth and can physically stress the wall paintings when the amount of water vapor in the air fluctuates.

Another problem in the tomb was physical damage to the wall paintings.

This included scratches and abrasion in areas close to where visitors have access, and inadvertent damage likely caused by film crews with equipment 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 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.

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.

'This project has greatly expanded our understanding of one of antiquity's most storied places,' says Tim Whalen, John E. and Louise Bryson Director of the Getty Conservation Institute.

The GCI already had considerable experience working in Egypt at the Tomb of Queen Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens and on a plan for the overall conservation and management of the Valley of the Queens.

The GCI-Egyptian project went on to carry out the most thorough study of the tomb's condition since Carter's time.

The team of experts included an Egyptologist to conduct background research; environmental engineers to investigate the tomb's microclimatic conditions; microbiologists to study the brown spots; documentation specialists, architects, and designers to upgrade the tomb's infrastructure; scientists to study the original materials of the wall paintings; and conservators to carry out condition recording and treatment.

In addition to the wall paintings conservation, the GCI also facilitated upgrades to the protection and presentation of the site

The tomb was open for most of the project, and visitors were able to observe and ask questions as the conservators worked.


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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