The Metropolitan Museum of Art is adding a bright flourish to the Temple of Dendur. Thanks to the tireless efforts of archaeologists, we have a pretty clear idea of what much of the ancient world looked like, at least as far as the clothes people wore and the structures in and around which they spent their days. Now, through the magic of projection-mapping technology, visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art can catch a glimpse of what one of these buildings, the Temple of Dendur, may have looked like more than 2,000 years ago.
For thousands of years, the Temple of Dendur stood on the banks of the Nile, where its once bright wall drawings were dulled by annual floods. By 1920, the temple was flooded for nine months out of the year and in the mid-1960s the now-beige building was relocated to the Met as part of a Unesco-sponsored salvage campaign, Joshua Barone writes for the New York Times.
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In order to save Dendur and numerous other temples in the area, UNESCO initiated a salvage campaign in which Dendur was documented and dismantled. In 1965, the Arab Republic of Egypt offered Dendur to the United States in recognition of the assistance they provided during the campaign, and more than twenty American cities vied for the Temple in what the press called the “Dendur Derby.”
But once it arrived in New York, the centuries of flooding had stripped away any traces of the original paint job, leaving curators to guess at what the temple originally looked like.
“We tried to find paint,” curator Marsha Hill tells Barone. “But so far, nothing.”
By examining earlier surveys of the temple and other similar structures like the Karnak Temple Complex in Egypt, a team of researchers from the Met’s MediaLab compiled a full-color projection that is mapped onto a carved scene depicting the Roman emperor Augustus making offerings to the Ancient Egyptian deities Hathor and Horus. The display is called “Color the Temple.”
The software projections allow for a degree of interactivity, allowing tour guides to switch between several possibilities for how the scene might have been originally colored, as well as highlight specific aspects of the scene, such as dialogue carved into nearby hieroglyphics. The MediaLab hopes that this project will be a template for future research.