LABYRINTH: Conservation, Analysis and Virtual Reconstruction of the Archaeological Site of Hawara Pyramid and Labyrinth

Hawara is an ancient cemetery site in the south-eastern Fayum region, about 80km south of Cairo. It is the burial place of Amenemhat III, the last great king of the 12th dynasty (about 1855-1808 BC). To the south of the pyramid the Pharaoh constructed a large cult complex (approximately 120 metres by 300 metres), in which the Pharaoh was worshipped as a god for over 1500 years. The huge mortuary temple that originally stood adjacent to this pyramid is believed to have formed the basis of the complex of buildings with galleries and courtyards called a "labyrinth" by Herodotus.

In Late Antiquity, the complex was considered as one of the wonders of the world. Despite its historical significance, there have never been clear drawings or details of the labyrinth layout or structure. Due to sustained irrigation water flow under the pyramid and labyrinth site, the archaeological site has become abandoned and is exhibiting signs of severe deterioration. This water flow has developed over the past century with the water level now approximately 5 meters below the topographic surface, and about 7 meters above the lower corridor level.

There is an international effort to implement a sustainable conservation strategy and dewatering of the site. It is imperative to understand the level of the underground water table, using remote sensing to record water levels and thermal conditions of the aquifer material and hydraulic properties within the chambers and in the Pyramid substructure. There is an urgent need to document and diagnose existing condition and use the latest Virtual Heritage Technologies to produce scenario conservation and recovery models, before any conservation or dewatering work can commence.

This 36-months innovative research project offers a breakthrough in the development of state-of-the-art virtual reality interface and repository platform that not only records and documents existing site conditions for interactive visualisation, but more importantly will incorporate structural, thermal and water data within the computerised virtual environment. The outcome of this typological model will feed into the assessment of different scenarios of conservation activities and its potential impact, in advance of implementation.

The project team will undertake comprehensive investigative research, and analysis of the site's archaeological records using innovative virtual heritage technologies that will:

  • conduct accurate 3D Cloud-point to laser scan and digitally survey, record and model existing conditions of the site;
  • utilise state-of-the-art geophysics underground surveys to detect, analyse and model the labyrinth's spatial layout and its water table;
  • develop a state-of-the-art interactive virtual platform that integrates remote sending indicators and dataset;
  • develop virtual reality experience of the site, as well as mobile app for the site's history and navigation.

This project is developed in partnership with the UNESCO Chair at the University of Florence and the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics, Egypt. It focuses on the use of state-of-the-art laser scanners, and virtual heritage modelling techniques to develop an integrated and interactive model of the site (underground, aboveground and airborne). This comprehensive data set/model will act as a platform for identifying issues, decision making and mapping the dewatering and implementation of the conservation work.


The proposed research programme is designed to bridge the disparate arenas of largely isolated research disciplines, creative industry, skill training, and job creation in Egypt that is urgently needed. This programme identifies new territories for research, studies and courses focused on heritage preservation, through overlapping disciplines such as geology, geophysics, virtual technology, thermal modelling and laser scanning. Association with Hi-Tec Industry, research institutions and VR laboratories in the UK will offer long term support for research centres and academic institutions, as well as to start-ups and SMEs that will shift research landscape in Egypt towards more applied and practice-led research.

Furthermore, it is anticipated that there will be impact on research communities through engagement with organisations, universities and institutes on one side and research policy, decision makers and government agencies on the other. The workshops are designed to foster such engagement with stakeholders and beneficiaries to advance the discourse on the necessity, applications and market-driven technologies of virtual heritage.

As part of our previous project, Virtual Heritage Cairo (AHRC 2016-17), we supported the establishment of five innovative and award-winning virtual heritage start-ups, and produced the first Government Policy Document, "Managing Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age. Collectively we managed to influence the policy maker's views on the significance of virtual technologies in building sustainable platforms for heritage conservation in Egypt. In a continuation of that approach, this proposal designed a range of strategies to influence stakeholders' understanding of and investment in digital and virtual technologies that help alleviate many of the destructive implications of un-tested methods heritage preservation. Workshops with stakeholders would influence formal approach and policy decisions on sustainable tourism as a consequence of preservation work.

The local community is a major beneficiary of this project's activities with planned impact on tourist accessibility to the site, either physically or virtually and the associated socio-economic impact. The establishment of a community-led "Friends of Hawara" charitable organisation will help sustain the project's impact on the tourism industry and associated services. It will also support the economy and business opportunities for low income and vulnerable groups. This will be achieved through training 150 local young people, university and school students on crowdsourcing data for online tourism information.

The research programme will also contribute to the establishment of specialist Virtual Heritage Research Unit (VHRU) at the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG) and training a group of 50 archaeologists, geophysicists, software engineers and architectural historians, and 10 Ph.D./Masters students on the developed model and techniques for similar sites in Egypt. The project will involve graduate courses in Heritage Digitisation at Egyptian Universities and Nottingham Trent University, with 30-40 prospective graduates over a five-year period.

Project website