See Egypt’s most beautiful tomb come to life

Closed to the general public, the 3,200-year-old tomb of Queen Nefertari can be toured for free in virtual reality

A scene from the virtual reality experience 'Nefertari: Journey to Eternity.

 

With only a limited number of paying tourists allowed to walk its subterranean chambers each year, the gorgeously decorated Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari has for decades remained an elusive historical gem for curious eyes. Thanks to the immersive technology of virtual reality, however, the tomb and all its secrets can now be viewed from the comfort of home.

Tech firms Reality Virtual and Experius VR, in partnership with the documentary company Curiosity Stream, have digitally scanned the entirety of Nefertari’s tomb using equipment capable of capturing detail with millimeter accuracy. It’s a stunning experience that, when used with a headset like the Vive, Rift, or Windows VR, gives the viewer a private tour of the tomb’s art, history, construction and mythology.

Preservation through technology

Nefertari, wife of Pharaoh Ramesses II, ruled Egypt more than 3,200 years ago and is renowned for her skills in diplomatic negotiations. When she passed away at an estimated age of 40 in 1255 B.C., her bereft pharaoh constructed a tomb of extraordinary beauty to house her mummy. From stars against dark blue on the ceiling to detailed depictions of her life and death, Nefertari’s tomb was meticulously decorated with more than 5,200 square feet of wall paintings.

After its discovery in 1904, a surge of tourism to the site increased humidity levels within the tomb that steadily began to increase the amount of damaging bacteria and fungi present. In an effort to prevent deterioration of the beautifully preserved artwork, officials closed the tomb to all but a handful of private groups. Today, access is strictly enforced, with limited tickets available for 1,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly $56 USD) each.

“A virtual tour will save the tomb,” Zahi Hawass, an archaeologist and former Minister of State for Antiquities, told Live Science.

Efforts to digitally scan at-risk historical sites have accelerated as the technology to capture every minute detail has evolved. Earlier this year, Google launched the Open Heritage project, in partnership with 3D laser scanning nonprofit CyArk, to digitally map ruins and monuments of importance around the world.

“With modern technology, we can capture these monuments in fuller detail than ever before, including the color and texture of surfaces alongside the geometry captured by the laser scanners with millimeter precision in 3D,” Chance Coughenour, a digital archaeologist and program manager with the Google Arts and Culture division, said in a press release.

While such virtual experiences are certainly not the same as being there, as the reviews for the Nefertari tour attest, they come close.

“There is no way that I will ever have a chance to see the tomb in person, but this gave me a way to explore it,” wrote one commenter. “The detail is amazing! The only things missing were the smells and the crowds. Very very well done!”

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