Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Mummies Return

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Mummies Return

Article excerpt

When I first started writing reviews for this space, about seven years ago, one of the first websites I covered was the Theban Mapping Project. This online record of the excavation of "KV 5" (the largest Pharaonic tomb ever found in Egypt, with over 100 corridors and chambers) became such a popular destination for virtual Egyptologists that it was receiving some 18 million hits per year. Since that time, the Project launched a major revision of its site - expanding its focus from a single tomb to the entire Valley of the Kings, and coincidentally, illustrating just how far the Web has come as a teaching tool in a relatively short time.

If you visited the original KV 5 site, you'll find a very different presentation in the new version - so different that it is, to all intents and purposes, an entirely new creation. Even the domain name has been changed from to, reflecting the wider mandate of the new site. (In fact, the old site did include some exploration beyond KV5, but the coverage is infinitely more complete now.) If you've never seen the original site or would like to refresh your memory, and are sufficiently curious about the differences between new and old, you can still, shall we say, 'unearth' the original, with the kind assistance of the WebArchive.

(So what do you call it when you can use a virtual archaeology site to conduct virtual archaeology on a virtual archaeology site? Webeology? Archwebology? Toomuchfreetimeology?)

But for the present, let's concentrate on the more recent survey of Egypt's past. Front and center on the current index page is the new Atlas of the Valley of the Kings - a Flash-based masterpiece that allows surfers to explore every known tomb in the Valley in staggering detail. Upon launch (taking a little less than two minutes on a dial-up modem), the Atlas takes the visitor through an animated zoom which situates the Valley's location within Egypt, and opens the first page of the Atlas with a map marking every tomb located to date. An introductory movie awaits newcomers (along with the option of a transcript and still images for those hampered by high traffic or slow connections), and visitors can move on to specific tombs by clicking on the map.

The Atlas window uses a tabbed interface, so that at any time during explorations, the visitor can switch between an Overview of the chosen location (whether that be a specific tomb, or the Valley as a whole), a more detailed Description of the area, or a Maps and Plans view of the current selection. The Description tab offers click-and-zoomable 3-D wireframes of the selected spaces, a text liberally hyperlinked to an illustrated glossary, an extraordinary Image & Media collection, and Related Links. The Maps and Plans tab features interactive, three-axis, blueprint-style renderings with drag-and-zoom capabilities - and for a sense of scale, the ability to measure the distance between any two points onscreen. (In meters, feet, and of course, cubits.)

Choose a specific tomb, and the Atlas centers it on the main screen and loads a new introductory film, a cartouche complete with translation of the owner's title, and a new set of data behind the various tabs. In fact every time you choose, not just a tomb, but any specific part of a tomb, subsections under the Description tab recalibrate themselves to only include data from the areas visible in the wireframe window.

At any time while surveying a Descriptions page, a square button on the upper left of the window will allow you to take a step back in your explorations. (Mouseover zooms out temporarily for a quick reorientation - clicking reloads the previous image. …

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