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RFID Protects Tut's Treasures

Active RFID tags and sensors, in tandem with video cameras, watch over the king's golden sandals and other Egyptian antiquities on display at museums.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 24, 2009Traveling exhibits manager Arts and Exhibition International is using RFID technology to protect the treasure of King Tutankhamun's tomb as the artifacts are displayed at locations across the world. The system, provided by U.K. RFID technology company Integrated Security Information Systems (ISIS), is traveling with the "Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" exhibit, currently being set up in Indianapolis. If display cases are tampered with while on display, video images from a CCTV system provided by Bosch Security Systems are instantly displayed in the museum's security office, museum staff members can receive alerts on their pagers and an audible alarm inside the gallery warns the perpetrator that the system has been triggered.

Starting in 1996, ISIS has provided RFID-based tracking systems for corporations, government departments, and, in 2000, for museums, galleries and private collectors to protect valuable artwork and artifacts. For the past nine years, the company has been using Wavetrend 433 MHz active RFID tags in a variety of form factors. The tags contain built-in vibration sensors and magnetic tamper switches to determine if an object has been touched or moved, and to detect if a display case has been opened. Its users include the National Gallery in London, Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

When Arts and Exhibition International, based in Aurora, Ohio, began organizing the second of two King Tut exhibits for the Egyptian government, the company met with ISIS for an RFID-based security system that would track 75 display cases with 130 Egyptian national treasures, including more than 50 items from Tutankhamun's tomb and more than 70 artifacts representing other pharaohs and notables, along with the latest scientific research about King Tut. The exhibit, which began in the Austrian city of Vienna, then traveled to Atlanta in the United States, would need to be protected in each of the multiple installations at a variety of different museums and galleries, says Jeffrey Wyatt, Arts and Exhibitions International's VP and project manager, in seven or eight cities over the course of five years. Currently the exhibit is being installed at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the exhibit's third stop. Arts and Exhibition International decided to use the ISIS system after looking at existing ISIS deployments in London.

"This is the first time we've worked with RFID," Wyatt says. The technology, he says, offers two advantages over traditional wired sensor systems: It can work in multiple countries (as opposed to dedicated security solutions specific to certain standards), and it gives him the ability to track data about the display's location and status at all times, and not only when something goes wrong. "With RFID we always know the location and status of a case or object. That's a more powerful way of monitoring precious items," he says.

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