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AI Technology Used to Recreate the Face of Biblical Pharaoh

AI Technology Used to Recreate the Face of Biblical Pharaoh


Technology is changing almost every aspect of our lives. It is also transforming how we understand and relate to our past and heritage. A new initiative, ‘My Colorful Past’ is using facial recognition technology to reconstruct the faces of people from history. This project has just reconstructed the face of one of the greatest of all the pharaohs, Seti I, who played an important part in the story of Moses.

Colorizing historic images

Matt Loughrey who lives in Ireland has been fascinated by technology all his life. He was previously involved in the colorization of old photographs and his work attracted the attention of National Geographic and others. This led him to establish ‘My Colorful Past’ which colorized historic photographs, but he felt that he could do more and make them even more life-like.

Matt told Ancient Origins in an exclusive interview, ‘I saw room for a change of approach and decided to focus on creating more accurate methods to improve results’. It took him five years of hard work to develop the technology but he was eventually able to realistically colorize old photographs and enhance them, bringing figures from the 19 th century, such as the outlaw Jesse James back to life. However, he felt restricted in what he could achieve with photographs. Moreover, he was aware of the rapid changes in technology and he wanted to upgrade images.

‘In terms of documentary production and exhibits, what looked fine in standard definition no longer looks as good in 1080 on a 55" screen and looks very out of place when seen in 4K’ Matt told Ancient Origins.

According to the My Colorful Past website, its solutions can overcome these problems and ensure that ever-changing digital formats do not lead to ‘image obsolescence’.

The reconstructing of Pharaoh Seti I using face recognition technology. (Courtesy of Matt Loughrey / My Colorful Past)

The reconstructing of Pharaoh Seti I using face recognition technology. (Courtesy of Matt Loughrey / My Colorful Past)

AI to reconstruct ancient faces

Matt told Ancient Origins that, ‘I was convinced there was a way to travel far further back in time than photography's advent.’ During the interview with Ancient Origins he stated that he saw ‘life and death masks as a conduit to other centuries’. These were mainly people who lived and died before photography was invented. He was not happy with the technology available and he developed his program within an AI framework. In this way, he was able both to colorize and restore, and thereby he can create an astonishing reconstruction of those who died hundreds and even thousands of years ago. His first foray in this area was the remarkable reconstruction of the face of King Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty.

Stages of restoration to King Henry VII death mask. (Courtesy of Matt Loughrey / My Colorful Past)

Stages of restoration to King Henry VII death mask. (Courtesy of Matt Loughrey / My Colorful Past)

Matt told Ancient Origins that ‘The majority of us have a tremendous disconnect from modern and ancient history, albeit we are fascinated by it we have indirectly become accustomed to repetitive and tired imagery’. His solutions can create realistic new imagery that can help people to connect with the past. This is because, according to the My Colourful Past website, the service is ‘Bridging a gap between history and art’.

Mummies of Egyptian Pharaohs

Because of the successful reconstruction of King Henry VII, Mary Queen of Scots and others, Matt told Ancient Origins that he ‘felt confident to trace back further and concentrate on royal mummies’. He was able to use the photographs of unwrapped mummies of pharaohs. My Colorful Past has recently recreated the face of Pharaoh Seti I who has been dead 3000 years, despite the technical challenges.

The technology has helped to recreate the face of Seti I, who reigned in Egypt (c1294-1270 BC). He was the second king of the 19 th dynasty one of the most important of all the Egyptian rulers. Seti I was a great builder and many of his monuments can still be seen, such as the ruined temple of Abydos. He was also a great general and he and his armies campaigned extensively in Western Asia and he even conquered parts of what is now Northern Syria.

The bringing to life of the 3345-year-old face of Tutankhamun. (Courtesy of Matt Loughrey / My Colorful Past)

The bringing to life of the 3345-year-old face of Tutankhamun. (Courtesy of Matt Loughrey / My Colorful Past)

Seti I and Moses

The reign of Seti I is considered to be a Golden Age of art and culture in Egypt. However, this pharaoh was very cruel and, according to the Bible, a prophecy told that someone would be born who would take his throne, and this prompted him to order the death of all male infants. This led to the mother of Moses placing him in a rush basket in the River Nile. He was later found by an Egyptian princess who brought him up as her own child in the Palace of the Pharaoh.

Moses later led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Set I was later buried in the Valley of the Kings and his tomb was uncovered in 1817. His son was Ramses the Great and many of his descendants became rulers of the lands of Egypt.

My Colorful Past clients include the University sector, museums, and libraries. Major media outlets such as 21 st Century Fox and the BBC have also utilized his technology. At present Matt is collaborating with the Vesting Museum in the Netherlands on an upcoming exhibition on Napoleonic War Veterans. The reconstruction of the face of Seti I could be used for educational purposes or as part of a public display. It can help viewers also to have a personal affinity with the Ancient Egyptian ruler.

Top image: Mummy of Pharaoh Seti I, image undergoing reconstruction.             Source: Courtesy of Matt Loughrey / My Colorful Past

By Ed Whelan



You don’t know they weren’t there, either. You think an Egyptian Dynasty would record or keep any evidence of such a humiliating thing happening?

Lilith Raven Nevermore's picture

I think you make a mistake blindly accepting the Bible’s verion of things.  There’s no proof at all that Seti was the King of the Exodus – there’s no actual proof that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, for that matter.

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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