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Semitic Museum Recreates Egyptian Queen’s Throne

By Kathleen G. Barrow, Contributing Writer

More than 4,000 years ago, Queen Hetepheres of Egypt was buried alongside treasures next to the Great Pyramid at Giza. Today, Harvard researchers have brought a key treasure of her tomb to life: the Queen’s very throne.

The Harvard Semitic Museum opened a new exhibit last Thursday showcasing a recreation of a chair that a Harvard-led team found in a hidden chamber next to the Great Pyramid of Giza in 1925.

The recreation process took place under the Giza Project, started by Egyptology professor Peter Der Manuelian ’81, Harvard’s first egyptologist since George A. Reisner’s death in 1942.

The exhibit’s materials are based on finds uncovered during an archaeological project led by Reisner in the 1920s. Managed jointly by Harvard and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Reisner’s team accidently discovered a hidden chamber next to the Great Pyramid, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The chamber served as burial place for Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu’s mother Queen Hetepheres. Khufu commissioned the Great Pyramid to be his own tomb in the 26th century BC.

“It’s in that chamber that the expedition team found in 1925 a little alabaster sarcophagus and a ton of deteriorated materials—pieces of furniture, gold, stone vessels, pottery, jewelry, razors, and all kinds of things,” Der Manuelian said.

The recreation process for Hetepheres’ throne required an interdisciplinary approach, utilizing 3D technology as well as artists from the Ceramics Program in the Office for the Arts. Kathy King, the program’s director, said the team faced difficulties in creating the authentic color and thinness of the tiles.

“We were trying to imagine how 100 Egyptian workers were able to do this thousands of years ago,” King said.

The Giza Project aims to archive all archaeological materials from the famed Egyptian site, including those from Reisner’s dig roughly 90 years ago. Der Manuelian first organized the project while working at the MFA before bringing it to Harvard.

The project is now focused on creating a 3D visualization of the Giza archaeological site, including the recreation of the throne now on display. This process inspired the team to recreate the the throne now on display.

“We thought, now that we’ve rebuilt the tomb and created virtual 3D objects out of all of these furniture pieces, that why not move back into the physical world for a change and try a full size fabrication of the chair based on the archaeological records of 1925 to 1927?” Der Manuelian said. “So that’s what we did.”

The MFA and the Cairo Museum in Egypt both have recreated sets of the objects in the Hetepheres’ tomb, but neither has before attempted to recreate her throne. Until now, the throne was considered too intricate and elaborate to be recreated accurately, Der Manuelian said.

The recreated throne will remain on display indefinitely at the Semitic Museum.

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