An interdisciplinary collaboration at Harvard University has created a full-scale reproduction of an ancient Egyptian throne belonging to Queen Hetepheres (about 2550 BC). The chair’s materials are based on the ancient original: cedar, bright blue faience tiles, gold foil, gesso, cordage seating, and copper. This experiment in archaeological visualization is a triumph of reconstruction because the only guidance came from thousands of tiny, jumbled fragments and 90-year old expedition records. The reproduction chair is the centerpiece of the new exhibit, Recreating the Throne of Egyptian Queen Hetepheres.
In 1925, the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition discovered a small, unfinished chamber almost 100 feet underground at the famous site of Giza. It contained the deteriorated burial equipment, sarcophagus, and other objects belonging to Queen Hetepheres, mother of King Khufu, the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid nearby. In the 1930s, conservators restored and reconstructed some of the furniture, but until today, the queen’s elaborate chair existed only on paper.
The Giza Project team created a 3D digital model of the tomb and its contents, and then used a computer-controlled, five-axis milling machine, plus lots of human labor, to fabricate the chair. The goal of this new museum display object and research/teaching tool was to reconstruct the chair’s iconography and to document the ancient workflow that the Egyptians used to construct such a masterpiece from the Pyramid Age.
The Hetepheres chair project was supported by generous grants from Harvard’s Arts and Humanities Fund, the Anne and Jim Rothenberg Fund, and by contributions in equipment, services, and expertise from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, ShopBot Tools, Inc., Epner Technology, the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, Dassault Systèmes, and the Ceramics Program of the Office for the Arts at Harvard.