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Conservationists unveil upgrades on Tomb of Egypt’s King Tut

Tutankhamun – King Tut – ruled Egypt for approximately 10 years from around 1336-1327 BCE.

Kathleen Ndongmo

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The golden sarcophagus of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1332–1323 BC), displayed in his burial chamber - AFP

After almost a decade, a team of international experts on Thursday revealed the results of their painstaking work to preserve the tomb of Egypt’s legendary Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Nearly a victim of his own fame, long years of mass tourism had left their mark on the boy king’s burial place near Luxor on the east bank of the Nile River.

“A hundred years of visits, after being sealed for 3,000 years… can you imagine the impact on the grave?” said Neville Agnew, head of the project led by the Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute.  

“Visitors, humidity, dust…” lamented the scientist during the unveiling ceremony at the tomb, discovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings.

The golden sarcophagus of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1332–1323 BC), displayed in his burial chamber in his underground tomb (KV62) in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile river opposite the southern Egyptian city of Luxor (650 kilometres south of the capital Cairo). – The famous tomb underwent a nine-year conservation by a team of international specialists. (Photo by MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)

Called to the rescue in 2009, Agnew has led a 25-member team — including archaeologists, architects, engineers and microbiologists — to preserve the tomb and fend off the ravages of time and tourism. 

Interrupted during Egypt’s 2011 uprising and the political instability that followed, the project later resumed its work and finished up this month. 

The preservation work began with a comprehensive study of the funeral chamber, including its ornate golden-yellow murals, which had been blanketed over the decades by a grey veil of dust. 

Lori Wong, a curator specialising in murals, specifically looked into the “material composition of the paintings and how it was applied”. 

The goal in doing so was “to understand the current state of the paintings, to determine if they were in danger and to establish a plan to safeguard them for the future”, she told AFP. 

Scientists brought heavy duty microscopes into the royal tomb, which they refer to as KV62, to analyse mysterious “brown spots” found on its ancient artwork.

  • ‘Think of the future’ –
    Researchers had worried the spots were a fungus that might spread and damage the murals of Tutankhamun’s life. 

Careful analysis showed the blotches were indeed of microbiological origin, but the organisms were long dead.

The feet of the linen-wrapped mummy of of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1332–1323 BC), displayed in his climate-controlled glass case in his underground tomb (KV62) in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile river opposite the southern Egyptian city of Luxor (650 kilometres south of the capital Cairo). – The famous tomb underwent a nine-year conservation by a team of international specialists. (Photo by MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)

One problem still remained: the deeply embedded marks were impossible to remove.

“We did conservation, not restoration,” said Agnew, adding that the mission had been to stabilise and protect the site. 

“The brown spots are also part of the story,” he said, adding they had not developed since Carter’s discovery. 

Architects worked to redesign the platform where visitors stand to keep them away from the fragile walls, and engineers developed a new ventilation system to limit the devastating effects of carbon dioxide, moisture and dust. 

While some of the most cherished pieces of Tutankamun’s treasure are now held at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the tomb still holds the Pharaoh’s mummy in an oxygenless glass box, along with his outer sarcophagus — made of gilded wood.

This picture taken on January 31, 2019 shows the head of the golden sarcophagus of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1332–1323 BC), displayed in his burial chamber in his underground tomb (KV62) in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile river opposite the southern Egyptian city of Luxor (650 kilometres south of the capital Cairo). – The famous tomb underwent a nine-year conservation by a team of international specialists. (Photo by MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)

Famed Egyptian archaeologist and former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass, who initiated the project, said that the project had “saved the tomb of Tutankhamun”. 

“Still I really think after this great work that has been done, we need to limit the number of tourists who enter inside,” he added.

“If we let mass tourism enter this tomb, it will not last more than 500 years,” he warned, advocating for a complete halt of visits to site. 

Tourists could instead visit a replica built nearby, he added.  

“We have to think of the future from now. In 500 or 1000 years if we leave the tourist situation like this, the tombs of the Valley of the Kings will be completely finished.”

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Republic of Congo receives funds to protect rainforest

The Republic of Congo is taking a major step towards protecting its valuable rainforest.

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Republic of Congo to save Rainforest

The Republic of Congo is taking a major step towards protecting its valuable rainforest.

The country’s President, Denis Sassou N’Guesso formally signed up for the Central African Forest Initiative and put the country in a position to receive up to $97 million to protect the rainforest better and fight climate change.

The programme’s financing is provided by a coalition of donors: the European Union, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

During the G-7 summit in August, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to help sub-Saharan African countries fight fires raging in the area.

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Conservation News

Flash flood kills 2, 5 still missing in Kenya

Two survivors from the group alerted park rangers, who sent out a search party.

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Hell's gate national park: flash flood kills 2

Two people have died and five others are missing, or feared dead, after a flash flood Sunday at Kenya’s Hell’s Gate national park, the Kenyan Wildlife Service said. “Seven tourists swept away by the flash floods,” the KWS posted on its Twitter account. “Two bodies recovered while five bodies missing.”

A KWS official earlier told reporters that search and rescue work had been suspended for the night. The missing five were part of a 12-strong group visiting Hell’s Gate – where the 2003 film “Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” was shot – when they were swept away.

Two survivors from the group alerted park rangers, who sent out a search party. There was no sign of the others, Rift Valley police chief Marcus Ochola told journalists. Another police officer said on condition of anonymity they were missing, “presumed dead”, based on witness accounts of two survivors.

The KWS tweeted that a helicopter was due to arrive from Nairobi to help with the search and rescue operation. The gorge had been closed to the public given the continuing rains. The seven people swept away included “five Kenyan tourists, a local guide and a non-resident”, the KWS added.

Hell’s Gate, named by 19th-century explorers, is around 100 kilometres northwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi and just south of Lake Naivasha. Its spectacular scenery inspired the Disney animation “The Lion King”. The park, established in 1984, is also home to three geothermal stations.

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Business News

Bishop warns of ecological disaster from illegal logging in DR Congo

The illegal loggers often pick up timber that has been abandoned in the forest, but also fell the slow-growing trees in some areas

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Bishop warns that ecological disaster is in the offing due to illegal logging

A Congolese bishop says an “ecological disaster” is unfolding in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo as illegal logging destined for Chinese buyers is threatening the rare Mukula tree. 

“While the whole world decries the ravages of the Amazon fires, an ecological disaster is underway near us” in the Haut Katanga region bordering Zambia, Monsignor Fulgence Muteba said in a statement on Thursday.

Muteba, the Catholic bishop of Haut Katanga’s Kilwa-Kasenga province, said: “intensive, lawless activities” are threatening the already endangered hardwood, which is used for construction as well as furniture.

Known by botanists under its Latin name of Pterocarpus Chrysothrix, the Mukula, a tree famed for the red tinge of its wood, is threatened with extinction in Zambia, environmentalists say. “Those who exploit this precious natural resource… returned to the area a few weeks ago,” Muteba said, charging that “Chinese subjects and people close to the government” were behind the logging.

The illegal loggers often pick up timber that has been abandoned in the forest, but also fell the slow-growing trees in some areas, Muteba said. The bishop also warned that the “looting… does not in any way take into account the degradation of biodiversity” that it causes.

He said he feared the activity would spread into the Kundelungu National Park, a protected area in Haut Katanga province. Muteba has been pointing the finger at illegal logging by Chinese operators in the province since 2016.

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