Nick Trend, The Daily Telegraph, November 11, 2013
News that an exact replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb is soon to open in Egypt to reduce the damage done by visitors to the original reminded me of an experience I had a year or two ago.
"This," said the guide who was showing us around the tombs and pyramids at Saqqara, near Cairo, "is the earliest surviving curved stone wall ever built by man. It is over 4,500 years old." "But surely," I ventured, "it has been rebuilt since then?" "No, no, it is the original wall."
I didn't query Mohammed's assertion further. Earlier I had already unintentionally offended his faith by suggesting that the story of the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus was myth rather than history. But clearly, to my eye, nearly all the sandstone blocks that formed most of the 15ft-high structure he was referring to were cut by modern machines.
I doubted they were more than a decade old and I wasn't convinced that any of the wall above ground level even approached the age he was suggesting. I am sure the archaeological evidence for the shape of the wall was there, but not the wall itself.
I have no objection in principle to reconstruction at archaeological sites. Done well, such projects can be highly evocative - the rebuilt façade of the Roman Library of Celsus at Ephesus is a good example, which I think helps visitors enjoy trying to recapture a sense of the city and its buildings. But there is a problem when the terminology becomes blurred and words such as "original" or "authentic" are bandied about too freely.
It is, after all, an important issue for tourists. One of the strongest pulls for the traveller is the quest to see and experience "the real thing": the buildings, artefacts and works of art that are either famous in their own right or are part of the draw of a particular place.