Egyptian-style handiwork with a digital past
Artists draw on archive to re-create millennia-old ‘Queen’s Chair’ piece by piece
The chair is beautiful, its shiny gilding and bright-blue inlays catching the sun in the Semitic Museum’s stairwell landing.
A re-creation of a piece from a 4,500-year-old tomb, the chief value of this high-backed seat — a chair or throne for the Fourth Dynasty Queen Hetepheres — does not spring from its vaunted history, nor from the gold foil that was carefully glued onto the cedar, or even the brilliant turquoise faience, each feature individually crafted in a terra cotta mold. Instead, its worth is in the roughly 1,000 hours spent putting it together, a process that not only proved the utility of a digital archive but also provided endless hands-on instruction in the way the ancient Egyptians most likely worked.
Queen Hetepheres’ tomb was discovered by accident in 1925. A joint Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts expedition led by famed archaeologist George Reisner had been excavating the Eastern Cemetery (just east of the great pyramid of King Khufu) in Giza, Egypt, when a photographer’s tripod slipped, exposing the plaster cover of a hidden burial shaft. That shaft led the group down another 90 feet to a tomb, determined to be that of Hetepheres, Khufu’s mother.