Tour the Pyramids Online

A virtual trip through Egypt's Giza Plateau includes aerial 3D views, cross sections of the ground and passages through walls.

The most realistic and complete virtual rendition of Egypt's Giza Plateau is now available online, allowing anyone with a computer to wander the necropolis, explore shafts and burial chambers, and enter four of the site's ancient temples, including Khufu's and Menkaure's pyramids.

Engineered by software design firm Dassault Systèmes, in collaboration with Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the free application is available on multiple devices, including 3-D-enabled computer monitors and TVs, and immersive environments.

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Indeed, this is not just another too-clean looking and ultimately boring 3-D virtual tour of Egypt's famous archaeological site.

"Many 3-D models of ancient sites have more to do with fantasy and video games than with archaeology. The colors, surfaces and textures are not researched and appear quite flat or unrealistic," Peter Der Manuelian, Philip J. King professor of Egyptology at Harvard University and director of the MFA's Giza Archives, told Discovery News.

According to Manuelian, Giza 3D focuses on reality and reproduces one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World on sound scholarly data.

"Our reconstructions strive to reflect as much existing excavation data as possible, and that includes a meticulous study of ancient colors, inscriptions, textures of walls, buildings and objects," Manuelian said.

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The project draws on the work of George Andrew Reisner (1867-1942), an American Egyptologist who directed the work of the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Boston Expedition at the Giza Plateau more than a century ago.

One of the first archaeologists to apply photography to excavation, Reisner is the main reason that the MFA boasts one of the finest Egyptian collections outside Egypt.

In 40 years of excavations, Reisner unearthed thousands of remains and works of art and left a thorough catalog of his explorations, with some 45,000 photographic glass plate negatives, tens of thousands of pages of diaries, manuscripts and reports, countless maps, diagrams, notes, and copious correspondence.

Practically unused until the beginning of the 1970s, this immense resource has been completely digitized and is now accessible within the Giza 3D project.

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"We tried to be as scientifically accurate as possible when re-creating the plateau. At the same time, we focused on creating an authentic experience for every visitor," Mehdi Tayoubi, vice president of design and experimental strategy at Dassault Systèmes, told Discovery News.

According to Tayoubi, the new possibilities offered (e.g., aerial 3-D views, cross sections of the ground, passing through walls), "far from being gimmicks, take on new meaning in the service of research."

As visitors to the 3-D virtual Giza Plateau enter tombs and mastabas (flat-roofed, rectangular burials), they can look for the remains found there by the Reisner expedition, view 3-D objects and get instant interactive access to all the relevant information. These include field journals, maps and ancient pictures.

Moreover, the reconstruction of vanished temples or tombs from available information makes it possible to trace the entire history of the Giza Plateau during different eras and follow its development through the centuries.

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"Visualizing Giza from previously impossible angles, such as from underground, or at different periods in time and stages of development - conception, construction, completion, excavation, restoration - provides both a unique teaching tool in the classroom and on the Web, and a new research tool for modern scholarship," Manuelian said.

Images: 1. 3-D reconstruction of the Giza Plateau. Credit: Dassault Systèmes;

2. Animated image of Queen Hetepheres' tomb, where it is possible to learn about objects. Credit: Dassault Systèmes;

3. Queen Hetepheres' tomb is shown here as it was discovered by George Reisner and the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Boston Expedition to the Giza Plateau in 1925. Credit: Dassault Systèmes;

4. Queen Hetepheres is depicted here in her palace. Credit: Dassault Systèmes.