Unveiling the tomb of an ancient Egyptian priest

Case study

The digital documentation of heritage sites is a fundamental step to record the actual condition of an archaeological monument and facilitate the decision-making of experts for a comprehensive conservation plan.

Since 2005 The Mexican Archaeological Mission of TT39 agreed to an unusual, yet astonishing proposal to investigate, excavate and restore the pharaonic tomb of Puimra dating back to 1500 B.C. in Luxor, Egypt. The goal of the Mexican team in Luxor was to refurbish and document one of Egypt’s most important unrestored burial chambers and open its doors to the public.

With the help of the Leica BLK360 imaging laser scanner and Leica Cyclone 3D point cloud processing software, the team was able to carry out a precise survey of all underground chambers, exterior surroundings and detailed carvings and paintings on the walls. The digitalisation and restoration of the extensive tomb not only helped preserve the site for future generations but shed light on the reign of one of Egypt's few female pharaohs, Queen Hatshepsut.

Unfolding an ambitious restoration project

The tomb of Puimra dates back to the reign era of Queen Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III (circa 1478 – 1500 B.C.). Puimra was among the highly-respected magistrates, because as the second priest of the god Amun ─ a major ancient Egyptian deity ─ he participated in the construction of Queen Hatshepsut’s temples.

Puimra’s important role in the kingdom was not only manifested in the size and complexity of his burial tomb but his life was also depicted on the walls, located in Khokha, in the Theban Necropolis. The tomb was built as a series of underground chambers and tunnels, called hypogeum connected to the facade with a porch and decorated with stelae, false doors niches and low-relief baseboard in the exterior.

The main objective of the Mexican Archaeological Mission was to restore this architecturally-complex tomb in danger of collapsing and being lost forever. The joint effort of several Mexican archaeology, architecture, paintings restoration, hieroglyphic epigraphy and photography specialists from different Mexican institutions like Sociedad Mexicana de Egiptología, Universidad del Valle de México, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores and SYSTOP, is led by Gabriela Arrache Vértiz, director of the Mexican Archaeological Mission. The project is supported by Manuel Villarruel Vázquez and Ángel Mora Flores, restorers and Leica Geosystems equipment experts at INAH.

“Leica Geosystems’ 3D scanning technology facilitated the conservation of pharaonic heritage and helped to leave its legacy for future generations” highlighted Arrache Vértiz.

The archaeological mission started in 2005 and continues until today. Year by year the team is closer to fulfil the following goals:

  • Conduct a full survey of the tomb.
  • Analyse and diagnose the damages.
  • Design a conservation plan and develop the different phases of the restoration work.
  • Epigraphic analysis.
  • Consolidation and restoration of decorated walls, ceilings and vaults.
  • Restoration of bas relief carvings.
  • Integrate modern methods into architectural and epigraphic surveys, using 3D laser scanning technology to shed light on the deterioration process and serve as the base for future research.
  • Facilitate the creation of a cultural and educational program, including printed and digital documents based on the 3D survey.

Collecting the tiniest details with the BLK360

In 2018, before the team could begin the reconstruction and consolidation of the original walls, vaults and ceilings, INAH’s experts had to survey and document all chambers and the exterior of the tomb to the finest detail.

“As some members of the team had more than 12 years of experience using Leica Geosystems equipment, we had no doubt we needed the BLK360, a laser scanning solution to achieve the highest quality and precision,” said Villarruel Vázquez, coordinator of the architectural restoration team from INAH.

With the help of the BLK360 imaging laser scanner and Cyclone 3D point cloud processing software, the team was able to capture every little detail of the walls and vaults. The comprehensive point clouds made it possible to analyse the paintings, the engraved epigraphy and the subtle synthesis of the architectural features of the funerary chambers. The wall carvings and paintings depicting the life of the priest, is helping researchers to reconstruct ancient life, craftsmanship and customs, digitalising cultural manifestations.

Point clouds and spherical images were collected to a digital database, including floor plans, 3D models and architectural plans. The lost segments of the walls, vaults and structural cracks were, in addition, registered and digitally documented for further reconstruction and research.

Leaving a legacy for future generations with the help of laser scanning

The use of advanced 3D reality capture technology, just like the BLK360 and Cyclone software, in a heritage preservation project is a milestone for Mexican archaeologists. The data collected with the 3D reality capture solution will help INAH’s team of researchers, architects and archaeologists assess the level of damage and plan the restoration process of Puimra’s tomb in Egypt for the next work seasons.

Thanks to the high reliability of the results obtained and the long-term low cost of ownership of the BLK360, Leica Geosystems’ laser scanning technology will be used until the completion of the restoration project.

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