The tourist and cultural world is in a bit of a quandary. Earlier this month, a 55 million euro replica of the and its 35,000 year old paintings was opened by the French government. While the aim is laudable, to allow visitors to experience these historic paintings without destroying them, is this the best way to spend such a huge sum of money. Could something, which was not a replica, have been done with 5D technology to give visitors the experience of visiting the cave with added interpretative dialogue?
Jonathan Jones in the Guardian thinks it is a fraud and questions why, if we would not accept such a copy with a great classical painting or a historic space such as the Sistine Chapel, should we accept it with ancient art.
The Egyptian government has done better. Again for conservation reasons, an exact copy of the tomb of Tutankhamen has been created in the desert about a mile from the original. However in this case, the space is much smaller and the cost was a more modest £420,000. The new copy was created by Adam Lowe, a British artist and master restorer: ”What I hope you’ll be able to see is that it’s possible to create an exact copy that from a normal viewing distance looks exactly like the tomb…. and more than that – actually feels like the tomb” (Adam Lowe)
It is hoped that the replica will be a balanced compromise between appreciating and understanding heritage and preserving the original, which tourist visits destroy, and perhaps also lead to copies of other tombs which have already been closed to the public.
Modern scanning technology captured images as small as a tenth of a millimetre, which has the added advantage of providing an unique research tool for future generations. The replica was then carved with details as precise as a third of a millimetre in length.
“I hope this is the beginning, This could be a watershed moment where for the first time visitors can really start to talk about sustainable tourism, about how you can preserve the Valley of the Kings itself. It’s my dream that it can actually be there in 3,000 years time.” (Adam Lowe)
The obvious question is why we cannot have copies in other locations such as London, although it would compromise the Egyptian tourist economy. The Chinese, as ever, are ahead of the game. At the World Cultural Heritage Expo Park in Chuzhou, Anhui province, a full scale replica of the Great Sphinx has been completed and a copy of the Great Pyramid is in progress although, from the illustrations, it does not quite have the powerful structural achievements of the original.
There is something about visiting historic monuments in their own cultures. These replicas may have their place, but they cannot replace that experience. With modern 5D and IMAX technologies, there must be better ways to give the experience to people who are unable to travel to visit the authentic monument.