Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the J. Paul Getty Trust announced a new partnership for the conservation and management of the tomb of Tutankhamen, a five-year collaborative effort between the SCA and the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI).
Located in the Valley of the Kings within the World Heritage Site of Ancient Thebes, the tomb of Tutankhamen is perhaps the most famous of Egypt’s Pharaonic tombs. Although it is the smallest of the 26 known royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of this short-lived 18th Dynasty pharaoh was found with its spectacular funerary contents virtually intact on November 4, 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter. The tomb’s extraordinary collection of artifacts – including numerous gold objects – is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and has fascinated museum visitors for decades.
Because of its history and its contents, which were excavated over a ten-year period, the tomb of Tutankhamen is of great historic and cultural value. Today the tomb is among the most heavily visited sites in the Theban necropolis and the large number of visitors may be contributing to the tomb’s physical deterioration. The Tutankhamen project will undertake detailed planning for the conservation and management of the tomb and its wall paintings, with the SCA and the GCI working jointly to design and implement the plan.
“I always see the tomb of King Tut and wonder about those spots, which no scientist has been able to explain. I have worried about these and have asked experts to examine the scenes,” Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) pointed out. He continued, “Now I am happy that the Getty will look at the tomb and preserve its beautiful scenes. King Tut has magic that we must conserve for future generations.”
“I was happy when we CT scanned the mummy of King Tut in order to reveal the secrets of his family, but now I am even more thrilled to invite the GCI to restore his tomb and return the glory of the boy king,” concluded Hawass.
“It has been a privilege to work in Egypt on projects in the past, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to do so again,” said James N. Wood, president and CEO of the Getty Trust. “We have great respect for the efforts made by our colleagues in Egypt to preserve their nation’s wealth of cultural heritage and look forward to working with them on addressing the conservation issues of this significant site.”
By comparison with other tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Tutankhamen’s tomb is relatively simple. Of the tomb’s four rooms, only the walls of the burial chamber are decorated. The wall paintings in this chamber, as well as some of the tomb’s other surfaces, are marred by disfiguring brown spots, which were noted by Carter’s excavation team. The nature and origin of the spots have never been fully ascertained, and they are among the technical conservation challenges presented by the tomb.
“The SCA-GCI project will include scientific analysis of the problems afflicting the wall paintings,” said Tim Whalen, director of the GCI. “But that is only one aspect of the project. The ultimate goal of our work with our Egyptian colleagues is to develop a long-term conservation and maintenance plan for this tomb that can serve as a model for preservation of similar sites.”
The Tutankhamen project will begin with a period of research and assessment, including the preparation of an accurate record of the condition of the tomb and its wall paintings, the analysis and diagnosis of the causes of deterioration of the tomb, and the design, testing, and evaluation of appropriate interventions. This initial phase will require a minimum of two years.
The second and third phases will be conducted simultaneously over a three-year period. The second phase will focus on the implementation of the conservation plan for the tomb and its wall paintings, and on documentation of treatment carried out. The program for long-term monitoring of the condition and maintenance of Tutankhamen’s tomb – as well as presentation, interpretation, and policies for visitation and other uses of the tomb – will be put into practice during the third phase. In the final phase, the results of the project will be evaluated and disseminated.
The Tutankhamen project will involve an extensive exchange of ideas between the SCA and GCI teams regarding approaches to the conservation problems in the tomb and the tomb’s long-term preservation. Both teams hope that their work together will extend beyond the tomb itself, and that the project – by providing a model case study for the practice of conservation on the Theban West Bank – will enhance conservation practice and knowledge regionally.
The Conservation and Management of Tomb of Tutankhamen is the SCA’s most recent partnership with the GCI. In the late 1980s, the SCA worked with GCI staff and an international team on the conservation of wall paintings in the tomb of Queen Nefertari, wife of the powerful ruler Ramses II. Other SCA work with the GCI has included the development of oxygen-free display and storage cases for the Egyptian Museum’s Royal Mummies collection and an environmental monitoring study of the Great Sphinx at the Giza Plateau outside Cairo. Currently, the SCA is collaborating with the GCI on the development and implementation of a conservation and management plan for the Valley of the Queens.