In recent art world news, for a long time spanning many decades, visitors to the world-renowned tomb of King Tutankhamen (“King Tut”) in Egypt have noticed unsightly brown spots covering the wall murals in the Egyptian pharaoh’s burial chamber. The brown spots have been the subject of much speculation. For years, Egyptian authorities were concerned that the spots may be from living microorganisms stimulated by “humidity and the sweaty bodies of tourists.” Scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles have recently completed an analysis of the wall murals determining that the brown spots are not alive and do not pose a threat to the tomb’s attractions. In addition, chemical, DNA and microscopic analysis confirmed that the brown spots were microbiological in origin.
This study was part of [a] larger, multimillion-dollar, nine-year-long collaboration between the Getty and Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities designed to assess the condition of the tomb and help prevent further deterioration. Their work has led to the creation of a new ramp and railings to better control visitor access; guidelines for maximum number of visitors to control humidity and carbon dioxide levels; and the installation of a filtered air supply and exhaust ventilation system.”
The scientists’ work also included an analysis of the flaking of paint on the wall murals lining the tomb, which was especially an issue in areas of black and red pigments. While there has been a loss of pigment historically, the scientists have stabilized the affected areas by carefully inserting material below the flake to hold it in place—though they could not push it back due to the brittleness of the affected areas.
The conservation studies and treatment occurred without the restriction of normal visiting hours at the tomb with the exception for a one month period in 2016. The tomb was closed that October for the temporary move of the mummy for the installation of new flooring and railings.
Because the brown spots had penetrated into the paint layer of the murals and attempts to remove them would most likely endanger the artworks, the spots will remain.
Lastly, on a related note, in celebration of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the California Science Center in Los Angeles is currently featuring the world premiere of “King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh”. The new exhibition claims to be the largest King Tut exhibition ever toured with over 150 authentic artifacts from King Tut’s tomb, 60 of which have never traveled outside of Egypt until now. The exhibition runs for a limited time from March 24, 2018 through January 6, 2019.