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When the entrance to the chamber was sealed, some thirty-five hundred years ago, the baboons, along with the gods and goddesses depicted in other panels, were expected to maintain their poses for eternity. Tutankhamun was interred in the Valley of the Kings, the vast network of tombs in the hills outside Luxor, four hundred miles south of Cairo.The air in the valley is bone-dry, and pigment applied to a plastered wall in a lightless, undisturbed chamber should decay little over the centuries.
When this detail leaped out at me, I was not standing in the real tomb.Lowe, a former painter, who, in the nineteen-eighties, became obsessed with printmaking, runs Factum Arte, a “digital mediation” workshop that is based in Madrid.It took two years for Lowe and several dozen technicians to remake the Tutankhamun walls—considerably longer than the ancient Egyptians took to produce them.When the British archeologist Howard Carter unsealed the burial vault, in 1923, turning the obscure Tutankhamun into the modern icon of ancient Egypt, the yellow walls remained dazzlingly intact.The Egyptians had made only one mistake: they had closed the tomb before the paint, or Tut’s mummy, had dried, and bacteria had fed on the moisture, imposing a leopard pattern of brown dots on the yellow background. Since then, tens of millions of tourists have crowded inside the living-room-size chamber, exuding a swampy mist of breath and sweat, which has caused the plaster to expand and contract. In 2009, a team of conservators from the Getty Conservation Institute, in California, visited Tut’s tomb and determined that some painted areas had become dangerously loosened.