valley of the kings

Egypt Scrambles to Conserve Valley of the Kings

September 15, 2009 05:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Ancient Egyptian tombs have deteriorated due to tourism, but with heightened awareness of the issue, promising solutions and alternatives are being developed.

Preserving Egypt's Fascinating Past

The royal tombs of ancient pharaohs Tutankhamun and Nefertiti could completely disappear "within 150 to 500 years if they remain open to tourists," Egypt's head of antiquities Zahi Hawass said last month, according to Agence France-Presse. Several thousand daily visitors, eager to catch glimpses of the Valley of the Kings' most famous attractions, have left behind "humidity and fungus" that eat away at tomb walls. Concerned authorities will close certain tombs to the public, replacing them with replicas.

Hawass said research is already underway with "laser technology" that will help in building exact replicas of the tombs somewhere nearby but not directly in the Valley of the Kings. Additionally, the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt has taken precautionary measures inside the tombs by installing improved ventilation units and "restricting the number of visitors," AFP reported.

The Council is also "installing a cool lighting system" that will allow for evening visits to the tombs, preventing moisture build-up by spreading visits throughout the day, according to Heritage Key. Hawass hopes that closing the more popular tombs will encourage tourists to visit others, and that the "original tombs of Tutankhamun, Seti I and Nefertari" will remain open to visitors who can "pay a huge amount of money," Heritage Key reports. Once the replica tombs are completed, they will be set up "on the cliff side of the Valley of the Kings, which will be called 'The Replica Valley.'"

According to Stan Parchin of Art Museum Journal, the idea of "[r]eplacing Egypt's ancient tombs with replicas" is not new. A company called Factum Arte, for example, "digitally reproduces works for artists, conservators and museums using laser technology." The company "recreated to scale the burial chamber of Pharaoh Thutmose III" for a touring exhibition called "The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt," which was shown in 11 U.S. cities from 2002 to 2007. The replica chamber featured "its walls' religious inscriptions, cracks, imperfections and graffiti," Parchin reported.

Egyptian Museum Being Rebuilt

The Valley of the Kings' challenges are reminiscent of those faced by the Egyptian Museum. According to Hossam Hamalawy, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2005, the museum initially held 10,000 items, and had a garden and view of the Nile. Now, "surrounded by a concrete jungle," the museum has more than 150,000 items. Hawass likened museums in Egypt to "storage sites, where antiquities are just crumbled over one another," but said things were improving. The government decided to build a much larger museum: a $550 million project "west of Cairo, near the Giza pyramids." President Hosni Mubarak okayed the decision in 1992, but "extensive studies, lack of funding and Egypt's notorious bureaucracy" held things back, according to Hamalawy.

Last month, The National reported that officials expect the Grand Egyptian Museum to be completed by 2012, and to cost $592 million. A conservation center has been constructed next to the museum site, which "will help archaeologists organise and maintain the more than 100,000 objects." The original museum has struggled to keep up with the influx of newly discovered pieces over the past century, and some jewelry was "reported to have disappeared" in 2004 due to disorganization. The new museum will include never before seen objects that will "rotate through" the space, proof of how comprehensive it will be. The museum will also use natural light and "will be sealed from outdoor elements" to prevent deterioration.

Background: The Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is part of Thebes, a renowned archaeological zone with "thousands of tombs and temples," according to the Theban Mapping Project, established in 1978 and based at the American University in Cairo. The project has an interactive atlas of the Valley of the Kings, including a database of facts and information about each of the Valley's tombs, thousands of images, interactive models of the tombs and maps showing elevation and different sections of each structure. There are also 65 narrated tours and a three-dimensional recreation of one of the tombs.

Related Topic: Tourism in the Galapagos

Disease-ridden mosquitoes are threatening diversity in the Galapagos Islands, another indicator of the negative consequences of increased tourism there. Scientists from Britain and Ecuador say the pests are arriving on planes and tour boats, and spreading throughout the islands. The report, released last month, confirms many experts' fear that booming tourism in the archipelago could hamper diversity; the mosquitoes carry avian malaria and West Nile, among other illnesses.

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