The Epigraphic Survey


The Epigraphic Survey based at Chicago House in Luxor, Egypt, is directed by W. Raymond Johnson, PhD, Research Associate (Associate Professor) NELC and Oriental Institute.

The mission of the Survey since its founding in 1924 has been to produce photographs and precise line drawings of the inscriptions and relief scenes on major temples and tombs at Luxor for publication. More recently the Survey has expanded its program to include conservation, restoration, and site management. In addition to the field director, the professional staff of the Survey normally includes three to four epigraphers, four to five artists, two photographers, an architect, a librarian, several conservators, stonemasons, and IT consultants. The epigraphers and artists include both graduate students and post-doctoral scholars who have received training in all aspects of Egyptology. The Epigraphic Survey is currently conducting its 90th archaeological field season.

1926-1927 Epigraphic Survey Staff Photograph

Chicago House Professional Staff Group Photograph 2014-2015
Chicago House Staff 2014-15

Last Row, L to R: Hany Diab, Gaber Tohany, Al Azab Mohamed

Third Row: Fatma Mohamed, Doaa Al Sadek, Nehad Badry, Samwell Maher, Richard Jasnow, Tina di Cerbo, Johannes Weninger, Jen Kimpton, Anait Helmholz, Brett McClain, Frank Helmholz, Marie Bryan, Gina Salama, Magda al Tahr, Anhar Hussien, Fatma Shalan

Second Row: Sikina Oraby, Safaa Al Naby, Lotfi Hassan, Martina Roshdy, Jay Heidel, Ray Johnson, Essam el Sayed, Samir Guindy, Yarko Kobylecky, Eman Mohamed, Nema Ismail, Mona Hassan

Front Row: Nahed Samir Azziz, Hiroko Kariya, Sue Osgood, Keli Alberts, Ellie Smith, Sue Lezon

Photo by Sue Lezon


2014-2015 FIELD SEASON


April 30, 2015

On April 15th the Epigraphic Survey successfully completed its 2014-2015 archaeological field season, its 91st, and the Chicago House team departed Luxor for home.  The week before, we closed our operations at Medinet Habu, Khonsu Temple, and Luxor Temple.  Equipment including ladders and scaffolding was trucked back from the temple sites for cleaning and storing at Chicago House.  Friday, April 10th was the last day of library use.  It’s always a bittersweet time, as we compile reports on the work accomplished during the last six months for the antiquities ministry and the Oriental Institute and prepare to uproot and head home for the summer months.  The weather was hot, but the nights were comfortable, which always makes it harder to leave. 

Medinet Habu, closing the site at the end of the season.  Frank Helmolz and the Domitian Gate.  Photo by Ray Johnson   Luxor Temple, closing the site at the end of the season.  Jay Heidel, Inspector Samia and friend, April 10, 2015.  Photo by Ray Johnson   Medinet Habu.  Blocks from the Southern Well of Ramesses III being wrapped for the summer.  Photo by Ray Johnson

During the first week of April I spent a few days in Cairo paying my respects and saying goodbye to our friends at the US Embassy, ARCE, USAID Egypt, and the antiquities ministry.  I had a long and very pleasant meeting discussing cultural heritage preservation issues - including the work of Chicago House - with newly appointed US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft and Cultural Attaché Mark Wenig.  I met with our dear friend, ARCE Assistant Director Mme. Amira Khattab and delivered the preliminary reports and staff paperwork for next season (security forms, passport documentation, and photos, all prepared by Tina) that she kindly submits on our behalf to the antiquities ministry later in the summer, God bless her.  I had good meetings with our USAID Egypt friends in Maadi, including new director Sherry Carlin, who had an excellent visit with us in Luxor in late March.  I also had very cordial meetings at the antiquities ministry in Zamalek with antiquities minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty and Foreign Missions Director Mr. Hany, both of whom have been tremendously helpful and enthusiastic colleagues and greatly facilitated our work in Luxor.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Yasmin El Shazly in her new office at the ministry.  Dr. Yasmin was formerly Registrar of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but she is now coordinating registration and data-tracking systems for all of the Cairo and regional museums, including the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and the national Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) as well as the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir.  We wish her the best of luck in these important new endeavors.

This season we brought back to the USA something very precious: all of the facsimile drawings (85), photographs, and large-format negatives (105) for the production of our next facsimile publication, Medinet Habu X: The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple Part 2: the Façade, Pillars, and Architrave Inscriptions of the Thutmoside Peripteros, production of which will begin this summer.  Volumes XI and XII are also well underway, but this one, Volume X, is particularly sweet.  The façade and ambulatory pillars that are the major focus of this volume have a long and rich history, the nuances of which we have learned as we recorded them.  Carved after Hatshepsut’s death by Thutmosis III, they depict the king before the major gods of Egypt, offering to and being recognized by them as king.  With only two exceptions (Re-Horakhty and Atum), all of the god figures later were chiseled away by Akhenaten’s agents, but were recarved and restored after Akhenaten’s death in the late 18th Dynasty.  Horemheb’s names survive on several restoration inscriptions, but the restoration probably started earlier, perhaps during Tutankhamun’s reign.  Between four and five painting phases have been noted by our team, particularly eagle-eyed Krisztián Vértes.  These correspond to the initial decoration of Thutmosis III plus several different restoration and renewal phases: the post-Amarna restoration, a 20th Dynasty phase (when Ramesses III incorporated the structure into his enlarged mortuary temple precinct); a 21st Dynasty renewal phase under Pinudjem; a 29th Dynasty Akoris restoration phase; and at least one and possibly two Ptolemaic painting phases.  In each phase the color scheme of the painted reliefs changed, sometimes dramtically, and because the new painting was applied over the old, traces of all phases of painting survive in bits and pieces.  It has taken some careful observation and thought to sort it all out, but Krisztián has done so, in consultation with Brett and the epigraphic team, and is preparing a special study of the painting phases exclusively for this publication.

  Ahmed, Reis Badawy, Nashet, Mohammed, Sayid, and Saoud.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Just days before we left we installed two educational signage panels for Luxor Temple.  Laser-etched aluminum, they were produced in Cairo and arrived in the nick of time, one for the front of the complex that describes the context of Luxor Temple, and a second panel that describes and presents a plan of the first court of Ramesses II.  Both panels were designed and drawn by Jay.  We will see how they weather over the summer, and are planning many more, for Luxor as well as Medinet Habu.

And so it goes.  Most of the team have brought back work for the summer, to process, ink, analyze, translate, or prepare for publication.  In the weeks ahead I will be preparing the next Chicago House Bulletin for our friends and donors, with our heartfelt thanks for your help, in anticipation of our annual donor appeal.  Our USAID Egypt grant, which has sustained us for ten years and allowed us to grow to meet the challenges of a changing Luxor, is now finished, and we have a LOT of fundraising to do to keep our operation going at this high level.  We have made a difference, and we cannot stop now.

You will be hearing from me again very soon.  Best and thanks to you all from Chicago!

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey


April 1, 2015

Dear friends,

March in Luxor was full of events, accomplishments, discoveries, milestones, visitors, and yes, rising temperatures.  It was HOT; 90 F - 100 F this past week.  And there was endless excitement.  Hourig Sourouzian has raised yet another Amenhotep III colossal statue section, this one the lower part of the second, southern quartzite colossus of the Amenhotep III mortuary temple second pylon (leg, throne, and another beautiful Queen Tiye figure)  - it’s breathtaking.  This month our ARCE friends discovered two unknown, exquisite 18th Dynasty painted tomb chapels in the clearance of the courtyard in front of TT 110, where conservation continues, and an epigraphy field school for Egyptian inspectors conducted by J.J. Shirley and Will Schenck has just finished for this season.  Two of our Khonsu inspectors trained in drawing techniques last season by artist Keli Alberts were part of the program, Shimaa and Peter, and the whole group regularly used the Chicago House library for their research.  From March 5th to the 17th we were joined at Chicago House by staff member in absentia (and Krisztián’s wife) Juli Schmied and their son David on his first trip to Egypt and Chicago House.  It was sweet to have Juli back even for a short while, and to meet little David.  In the middle of the month Jay and I were very pleased to attend Margie Fisher and Roy Furman’s wedding in Palm Beach (March 14th).  Seeing our friends so happy was purest joy and WELL worth the jet lag.  We are still smiling. 

Brett McClain collating in the Tomb of Nefersekheru (TT 107).  Photo by Ray Johnson  Jay Heidel with Inspectors Nadia and Marwan in the blockyard, Luxor Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Yarko Kobylecky and Ellie Smith photographing fragments in the Luxor Temple blockyard.  Photo by Ray Johnson

On March 12th Brett McClain finished his collation for the season at TT 107, the tomb of the noble Nefersekheru, and our hope is to finish the collation of Margaret De Jong and Sue Osgood’s beautiful drawings next season.  Jay Heidel and Krisztián Vértes continued their documentation work at Luxor Temple, Jay in the blockyard drawing Ptolemy I blocks and updating the new blockyard database, and Krisztian in the Imperial Roman sanctuary penciling Roman frescos on the southern wall.  Jay also took some time to instruct some of the Luxor Temple inspectors on epigraphic drawing techniques.  Photographer Yarko Kobylecky assisted by Ellie Smith photographed miscellaneous blocks in the blockyard, including two additional Ptolemy I blocks.  He also continued the hi-res scanning of all of the large-format negatives produced this season.  Conservator Hiroko Kariya finished her condition study of the blockyard holdings, moved the last of the small fragments to protective shelving, and finished her work for the season on March 14th

Keli Alberts recording a re-used block in Room I, Khonsu Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Also during the past month, Keli continued working on some devilishly tricky reused blocks in the walls of Khonsu Temple, finished her work in room 11 and moved on to room 1. 

Lotfi Hassan and conservation students consolidating a block in the Medinet Habu blockyard.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Medinet Habu conservation students graduation in the Chicago House library, March 14th, 2015.  Photo by Frank Helmholz

On March 15th our fourteen Egyptian conservation students concluded this year’s program at Medinet Habu with a special graduation ceremony in the Chicago House library, followed by a celebratory luncheon in the residence.  Alf mabruk and congratulations to them all; they are a very talented group and will go far.

On March 19th we hosted a review of our work on both sides of the river by USAID representative Sylvia Atalla in anticipation of the conclusion of our USAID grant on March 23rd.  The next evening I attended the inauguration of a new, computerized security system at Luxor Temple by Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty, Deputy Minister Dr. Youssef Khalifa, Supreme Council of Antiquities Chairman Dr. Mustafa Amin, newly appointed Director of Upper Egypt Sultan Eid, and newly appointed Luxor Antiquites General Director Dr. Mustafa Waziri, where I also met the new governor of Luxor, Dr. Mohamed Sayed Badr.  That same evening I joined Sylvia, Julie, ARCE director Gerry Scott and wife Kathleen, and John Shearman for dinner to meet new USAID director Sherry Carlin, in Luxor for her first briefing.  The next day, Sunday, March 22nd we were very pleased to host a review of our work at Medinet Habu for the antiquities minister Dr. Mamdouh, SCA Chairman Mustafa Amin and their respective entourages; the governor of Luxor and his entourage; our USAID Egypt friends including director Sherry; plus all of our Ministry friends from both sides of the river, and our ARCE friends (whose new tombs were viewed first that morning).  There were over a hundred people, and it was like trying to control a tidal wave, but it went very well.

Raising the south lintel of the Domitian Gate at Medinet Habu, March 22nd, 2015.  Photo by Yarko Kobylecky      Minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damati, Luxor Governor Dr. Mohammed Sayed Badr, Frank Helmholz, SCA Chairman Mustafa Amin.  Photo by Yarko Kobylecky   Medinet Habu review visit, March 22nd, 2015.  Photo by Yarko Kobylecky  

The throng stayed for two hours and saw every aspect of our operation, and met our epigraphic, conservation, and restoration teams, including the Egyptian conservation students and Chicago House conservators Lotfi Hassan and Nahed Samir.  Our visitors were also able to meet with the antiquities ministry conservators with whom we work on the site and who do the conservation maintenance work on the mortuary temple proper.  Of special interest was the sandstone Domitian Gate, presently covered in scaffolding, in the final stages of restoration supervised by Frank Helmholz and our stone team, where that very day the last big block was hoisted into position.  Our friends were also very interested in our epigraphic recording, both traditional and digital.  Margaret De Jong and Tina di Cerbo gave excellent demonstrations on our various techniques, and Tina demonstrated how the some of the ink graffiti has disappeared from the walls since we began our recording in the 1920s and 1930s.  We showed everyone the southern Ramesses III well that we are restoring, and showed Sherry and the minister’s party how the USAID-funded dewatering program for the west bank (activated in 2011) has dried out the area sufficiently to allow much-needed conservation and restoration work, impossible even a couple of years ago because of the wet ground.  We showed everyone the House of Butehamun at the far western end of the precinct with its inscribed slender white columns that we excavated in the early 1930s and are now conserving.  While there I explained what we have done and what we need to do in future seasons in the southern and western areas.  We even made it out to the ruins of the destroyed western High Gate where Jen Kimpton is working, assisted by Anait, doing preliminary database recording and mapping of the hundreds of shattered sandstone gate blocks and fragments that cover the site. Jen explained the history of the gate to the group, including its partial destruction during the civil wars at the end of Dynasty 20, and the more thorough destruction later.  We described our plans to record, move, conserve, analyze, reassemble, and present the restored blocks and wall sections in an open-air museum at the gate site.  It was hot that day, especially out in the back, but we were very fortunate to have a sweet, cool wind during the entire visit. 

Medinet Habu review visit, March 22nd, 2015.  Ray Johnson, USAID Egypt Director Sherry Carlin, USAID Public Affairs Representative Julie Fossler.  Photo by Yarko Kobylecky   Medinet Habu review visit, March 22nd, 2015.  Minister el-Damati (center) and MSA conservators.  Photo by Yarko Kobylecky  Medinet Habu review visit, March 22nd, 2015.  Chicago House conservation students, USAID Egypt Director Sherry Carlin (second from left), Lotfi Hassan, Nahed Samir, and Ray Johnson.  Photo by Yarko Kobylecky

We ended up in the mortuary temple proper where there was some shade, where the minister gave interviews, and met with our conservation students and the ministry conservators working in the first court.  The review was a great success, and everything we had hoped for, thanks to the kindness of the minister and our ministry friends.  Now everyone knows what we are doing, why, and how.  After everyone left, and a little lunch, I hopped across the river to show our work at Luxor Temple to the USAID group, plus squeezed in a visit to Chicago House and the library afterward – it was definitely a full day!

Photo Archivist Sue Lezon spent the first part of March with us working with Brett on assembling all of the material for the production of our next volume Medinet Habu X, scanning what still needed scanning, and packing it up for transport back to the USA; Sue herself took back a large portfolio of drawings and negatives.  While with us Sue discussed necessary computer and software upgrades with the epigraphic team members, Yarko, Tina, Ellie, and with Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies, who arrived on March 8th to continue their work on the Photo Archives master database.  Structural engineer Conor Power joined us on March 7th for a few days to review the structural integrity of Luxor Temple, check the plumb bobs and crack meter on the pylon to see if there was any movement (there was none), and his report was a good one; the dewatering program continues to function well and has stabilized the Luxor Temple foundations. 

This week has been about as busy as the one before as we start the process of tying up our work for the season.  On March 28th I attended a dinner hosted by Luxor British Consul Ehab Gaddis in honor of the British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, where we discussed tourism, economic development, and cultural heritage issues.  On the 29th we were paid a first visit by new US Embassy Cultural Attaché Mark Wenig.  On March 30th after dinner we had the pleasure of hosting Luxor governor Dr. Mohamed Sayed Badr to a tour of Chicago House and the Chicago House library and a discussion afterward about Luxor’s future, the governor’s visions, the realities, and our part in it.  On March 31st we hosted our Getty Conservation Institute friends to dinner at Chicago House, including old friend Neville Agnew and Getty Trust president Jim Cuno, former Chicago Art Institute director, a most pleasant reunion.   

It's hard to believe that in two weeks our 2014-2015 field season will be at an end, and it will once again be time to head home to process the data we have collected this season, ink penciled drawings, write reports, start production of our next volume, raise funds for the work, and prepare for the 2015-2016 season.  In the meantime there is much to do here as we tie up loose ends and wind things down.  There are people to see and say goodbye to, and I have one more tour to give at Luxor Temple for a group of Egyptian Faculty of Tourism students.  Life is full! But it will be good to be home.

When next I write it will be from cool Chicago.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all, and once again, sincerest thanks for your interest and support.  You have made this season a great success indeed.

Best wishes from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey


March 1, 2015

Dear friends,

Februarys are usually among the busiest months of our archaeological field season, and this February was no exception.  The month saw old projects continued and new ones started, and lots of comings and goings at Chicago House.  Conservator Lotfi’s family (wife Dina, her sister Nora, and sons Karim and Hani) joined us from Cairo for a week; co-senior artist Margaret returned from the US for the last months of the season; stone mason Johannes departed for home after helping Frank and the stone team with the Domitian Gate; Tina returned from the US; Pia is here visiting with husband Yarko, and co-senior artist Sue Osgood departed for home after three months’ field work.   

Always a busy month for visitors, February also saw a whole series of briefings on site at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple, as well as at Chicago House, for interested groups, students, and colleagues.  These included a group of students from the Dutch/Flemish Institute in Cairo briefed by Brett at Medinet Habu and the Chicago House Library on February 3rd; the Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt out of England this week; and, also at Medinet Habu, a group of engineers from CDM, the firm who helped design and execute the USAID Egypt-funded dewatering programs on both sides of the river in Luxor (east bank 2006; west bank 2011), and more recently at the site of Edfu (2014).  The group was escorted by engineer Thomas Nichols, who coordinated the Edfu project and is currently working on new dewatering projects in Alexandria and Kom Ombo.  It was a pleasure to demonstrate to our friends how worthwhile those projects are and to show them how the area around the site of Medinet Habu is drying out, allowing crucial conservation and restoration work to continue, and to begin.  Other colleagues in town this month included Angus Graham and his family, Zahi Hawass (in town with a group of 130 Americans!), Hisham and Diane Tayeby and their family (who live in the same town as Sue O. in Vermont), Don Ryan, Betsy Bryan from Johns Hopkins working in Mut Temple, Pat Graham and Peggy King (University of Chicago Women’s Board), and our ARCE friends Gerry and Kathleen Scott and Jane Smythe in town to review ARCE’s west bank work. 

Luxor Temple.  Pia, Ellie, and Hiroko standing on wheelchair and baby-carriage ramp, Luxor Temple Open Air Museum.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Jay returned from a succesful winter season at Antinoupolis on February 21st and resumed his work in the Luxor Temple blockyard, drawing Ptolemy I blocks and checking location data on the new blockyard database using his iPad, a first in the blockyard.  He will continue to work with conservator Hiroko and Photo Archives registrar Ellie on filling gaps in the blockyard numbering system, and accounting for the location of every registered block in the precinct as part of our new blockyard data management program.  He is also continuing his informal instruction of two of our inspectors, Nadia and now Marwa, in epigraphic drawing techniques.  Hiroko continued her condition survey of the blockyard material, and Krisztián has been filling in the gaps of his Roman fresco documentation in the Imperial Cult Chamber on the southern wall, eastern side, with Yarko photographing areas not covered before.  Krisztián started the penciling of the eastern wall cavalry frescos while Yarko was photographing, and is now penciling the fresco remains immediately to the left of the apse on the southern wall. 

Luxor Temple.  Jay entering location data on blockyard database.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Luxor Temple.  Krisztián penciling Roman frescos, Feb. 23, 2015.  Photo by Ray Johnson

At Medinet Habu, Lotfi and Nahed continued the USAID grant-supported training program for our fourteen Egyptian conservation students, now in the final two weeks of this year’s program.  They have been working on the consolidation of the southern well blocks, desalination and treatment of various deteriorating walls within the small Amun temple precinct, consolidating fragmentary material within the MH blockyard, and cleaning/consolidating Domitian Gate blocks currently in the final stages of restoration.  They have learned a lot and have been a big help in the process.  The Domitian Gate work supervised by Frank is reaching the final stages of construction; the eastern jamb is now mortared and complete, with the western jamb following suit.  Soon the team will start winching the first of the great lintel blocks into place.  Artists Sue and Margaret have been working with Brett on the final details and consistency tweaking of all the drawings and photographs that will appear in Medinet Habu X, but they are also working on drawings that will appear in Volumes XI  and XII.  Jen has continued her painstaking preliminary documentation and inventory of the hundreds of blocks and block fragments of the destroyed western High Gate in anticipation of a major conservation and restoration effort there starting next year.  Yarko continued his Medinet Habu photography in the blockyard, the western High Gate, and the small Amun temple assisted by Ellie.

Medinet Habu.  Conservation students consolidating small Amun temple exterior northern wall.  Photo by Lotfi Hassan    Medinet Habu.  Tina recording graffiti for Medinet Habu X using the Wacom Companion digital drawing tablet.  Photo by Ray Johnson Medinet Habu.  Johannes shaping stone for the Domitian Gate restoration.  Photo by Ray Johnson

The month saw the resumption of our work at Khonsu Temple, Karnak and Theban Tomb 107.  On February 10th artist Keli supervised by epigrapher Jen resumed her documentation of two inscribed blocks of Horemheb reused by Ramesses III over the entrance doorway of Room 11 in Khonsu temple, still partly covered by Ramesses III-inscribed plaster.  She is drawing both sets of inscribed decoration, since the Ramesses III reliefs are in a very fragile state.  She – and we – are very pleased to acknowledge that two of our antiquities inspectors from last season, Shimaa and Peter, were chosen to participate in a month-and-a-half-long ARCE/AEF-funded epigraphy field school coordinated by our colleagues JJ Shirley and Will Schenck in Theban Tomb 110, recently cleaned and conserved by ARCE.  Both Shimaa and Peter were coached by Keli last season in epigraphic drawing techniques which they practiced under Keli’s watchful eye while they worked with us at Khonsu temple.  Mabruk to them both!  The field school will focus on the documentation of the Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III-period reliefs of the tomb, but will also teach the five students research skills in the Chicago House Library.  The field school participants had an orientation session in the library last week courtesy of librarian Marie, who showed them how to use the library resources, and Ellie, who showed the group how to access our photo files in the Photo Archives.

  JJ Shirley and ARCE Epigraphy Field School library orientation, Feb. 23, 2015.  Photo by Marie Bryan

 On February 11th senior epigrapher Brett resumed the collation of the wall reliefs in the portico of TT 107, the tomb of Nefersekheru, steward of Amenhotep III’s jubilee palace, Malqata, a sprawling, six kilometer-long complex south of Medinet Habu.  The exquisitely carved sunk relief details of the noble steward and his entourage were barely begun, and are in rough shape, but are well worth the effort of properly drawing and recording them.  Sue and Margaret’s drawings are among the most beautiful and detailed of their careers in Luxor.  The limestone in which the reliefs are carved is in terrible condition, and all of our drawings will be used as a reference to their condition in the conservation of the reliefs and the restoration of several missing pillars of the portico.  The palace itself has been the focus of excavation and restoration measures this month by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Diana Craig Patch, Catharine Roehrig, and Janice Kamrin) and the Ancient Egyptian Heritage and Archaeology Fund (Peter Lacovara), with some conservation assistance from Hiroko.  Despite suffering a broken arm two weeks ago, plucky Diana squired her team through their normal season; they completed their fieldwork on schedule this week.  

A very special double event occurred on February 23rd at Deir el-Bahri: the official opening of the Hatshepsut mortuary temple Third Terrace Re-Horakhty solar court restored by the Polish-Egyptian team currently directed by our old friend Dr. Zbigniev Sfranski, followed by a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan House in the Assasif plain in front of the temple.  Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty presided over the opening of the solar court, assisted by the minister of Tourism as well as the Polish Ambassador.  The luncheon at the Metropolitan House following the inauguration was a very pleasant affair, attended by many of our colleagues and friends.  This beautiful facility with its domed central reception area was built by the MMA as their base of operations in Luxor, and has been used as an expedition house by the Polish-Egyptian team since the 1960s.  Mabruk to Zbigniev and our Polish-Egyptian colleagues, the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology in Egypt, the Ministry for Antiquities and Heritage, AND to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On February 10th I attended a farewell reception at the US Embassy in Cairo for outgoing USAID Egypt director Mary Ott, who is now based in Washington, DC.  From the time more than a decade ago when she was USAID Egypt deputy director under Ken Ellis, to her time during the last few years as director, she has been a good friend to cultural heritage preservation work in Egypt, and to Chicago House.  We will miss her, and wish her all the best back home.  During the reception I had the pleasure of meeting and welcoming new US Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft (coming to Egypt from Iraq), new DCM Thomas H. Goldberger, and Consul General Sean Murphy.  We look forward to hosting some site visits for them here in Luxor in the near future.

And so it goes.  What I have related is of course only a fraction of what happens out here; it is astonishing to me how much goes on during the course of a single day!  But we are all well, working hard, and enjoying the final months of the season.  Changes are in the air… Egypt is preparing for new Parliamentary elections in mid-March, so the campaign posters are beginning to appear everywhere.  Luxor has a new governor, and the Antiquities Ministry Luxor director, our old friend Abdel Hakim Karrar has just this week retired, with the choice of his replacement still pending.  We have noticed a distinct increase in tourism, both western and Egyptian tourists - including American groups - which is making everyone happier.  Luxor is busy.  And dare I tell you that the temperatures are beginning to climb…?  This week we have had two days in the upper 80s F.  Yes, it’s quite the contrast to the Midwest and eastern USA!   

Before you know it I will be writing again, at the end of March.  In the meantime, be well (and stay warm), and please accept our best wishes from sunny Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey


February 2, 2015

Dear friends,

Warm greetings to you all from cool, sunny Luxor, where January certainly has shot by.  In the weeks after New Year’s Day the Chicago House staff members who were away on holiday returned to Chicago House to resume work, and our holiday guests departed.  On January 6th Peter Lacovara took up residence with us for most of the month before his Amenhotep III Malqata Palace season with the Metropolitan Museum of Art team.  MMA Egyptian Department director Diana Craig Patch, Catharine Roehrig, and Janice Kamrin arrived on January 29th and whisked Peter away to their west bank hotel, the New Memnon, where they will be in residence during the entire month of February.  Once again we are sharing our Land Rover with them for the month, an annual tradition now.  On January 7th, Coptic Christmas, we were visited by former Chicago House finance manager Safi Ouri and her mother Nabila, who were in town for some Egyptian sun from a bitter cold and rainy Jordan.  Unfortunately they hit town just as we experienced a two-week cold snap with nighttime temperatures just above freezing (I can hear you all back home snorting with derision, but you must remember that Chicago House has no heat!).  Luckily the days stayed sunny and pleasant, and we got through the cold snap just fine (in case you were wondering), with just a few cases of the sniffles and some of that awful flu going around.  On January 8th the Chicago House team participated long-distance in Professor Jan Johnson’s celebratory Festschrift presentation party at the Oriental Institute with a short video of us all wishing her well. 

At Medinet Habu the Domitian Gate work reached a major milestone this week.  All of the new replacement blocks have been cut and finished, and the testing, checking, trial placement, and tweaking of new blocks with the old ones is now done.  Under the supervision of master stone mason Frank assisted by stone mason Johannes and our trusty stone crew the permanent installation of old and new blocks with mortar began on the 27th, right on schedule.  In the coming weeks the Domitian Gate will slowly rise again and this time it will be for good.  Bravo to the stone team; it already looks sensational, the result of a lot of care and hard work. 

Conservation in the South Well Area, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson   Conservation Students at work in the North Annex of the Small Temple, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Lotfi, Nahed, and the fourteen conservation students have also made excellent progress with the training and their various projects.  One team has cleaned out decaying lower wall surfaces inside the small Amun temple sanctuary, and part of the outside wall on the northern side, in preparation for infilling with porous lime mortar and sandstone patchstones.  Another, more advanced team (from last season) has been working on reassembling shattered wall blocks from the dismantled Ramesses III southern well.  Another group has checked and cleaned the walls of the Butehamun House in order to see what walls need reinforcement or replacement next season.  Epigrapher Jen assisted by Anait has been doing preliminary surveying of the western High Gate area, blocks, and fragments, preparatory to our planned cleaning, moving, and consolidation program next season, and Jen has continued the preliminary entering of fragments on a master database.  Photographer Yarko assisted by Ellie has been taking record shots of all the MH work, including before and after cleaning and conservation, and some preliminary reference shots of some of the fragmentary inscribed sandstone relief material from the western High Gate, as well as miscellaneous material in the MH blockyard.  Artists Sue and Keli have been working with Brett on drawings for Medinet Habu Volume XII, specifically the eastern entryway of the bark sanctuary.  I am now working with Keli on the final director’s review of a scene on the front of the bark sanctuary, MHB 156, with figures of Thutmosis III and Amun recarved and ‘updated’ by Ptolemy VIII in the Ptolemaic style, including a wildly exuberant repainting of the figures.  It is pure delight for me to see how beautifully Keli has caught all of the details of this extremely detailed scene.  Brett has been reviewing each and every drawing enlargement that will be published in Medinet Habu X back at the temple wall, checking, updating, and finalizing all of the translations and epigraphic commentary.

MHB 156 - Drawing by Tina di Cerbo and Keli Alberts.  Photo by Ray Johnson

At Luxor Temple Jay continued his digital drawing of the Ptolemy I block material for our ‘Bentresh’ study during most of the month and gave informal drawing lessons to inspector Nadia, while Krisztian returned and resumed his penciling of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber.  On January 8th Luxor Temple conservator Hiroko Kariya arrived back for a couple of months work in the blockyard, inventorying and tracking the blockyard collections (with Jay), condition-surveying the blocks and holding areas, and doing miscellaneous maintenance work with our workmen in consultation with the Luxor Temple inspectorate.  She will also be doing some work with the MMA Malqata team in the Amenhotep III palace complex.  This week we extended the chain-link fence in the center of the blockyard open-air museum to include a ramp that makes the whole area wheelchair- (and baby carriage-!) accessible.  Jay departed at the end of the month for the Antinoupolis winter season, but is continuing to enter data on the LT blockyard database, including block locations, in coordination with Hiroko, while he is away. 

   Hiroko Kariya and Chicago House team installing handicapped access ramp in Luxor Temple Open Air Museum.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Jay Heidel penciling on Wacom tablet with Ptolemaic fragment, Luxor Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson   Krisztián Vértes documenting Roman wall paintings, Luxor Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson

On January 15th Photo Archivist Sue Lezon returned home after more than a month over the holidays with us finalizing the photographic images for Medinet Habu X with Brett, and arranging for Yarko to fill any gaps.  On January 19th I had the pleasure of attending the Scientific Committee meetings of the Centre Franco-Égyptien d'Étude des Temples de Karnak (CFEETK) in Cairo at the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) headquarters.  As an ‘outside reviewer’ of the work of the Karnak Center, my task was to critique and comment on the work of the last two seasons, always a pleasant task, because the excavation, documentation, conservation, and database work is always an inspiration. 

Ellie Smith and Sue Lezon assembling negatives for publication in Medinet Habu X.  Photo by Ray Johnson

And so it goes; all is well with us as we begin the new month.  February will see the resumption of our work at Theban Tomb 107 and Khonsu Temple, Karnak, as well as the continuation of the work at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple.  But I will write more about that in a month’s time.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all, from all of us out here!

Best from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey 


January 7, 2015

Dear friends,

Happy New Year 2015!!! We hope that everyone experienced pleasant holidays and a good break. Our December just flew by, and even with the holidays it was a full and productive month. At the very beginning of the December, after her Edfu season, Nadine Moeller stayed with us at Chicago House for a few days and helped with some surveying at Medinet Habu. On December 13th Krisztián joined Jay at Luxor Temple and resumed his drawing of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber for our volume devoted to those extraordinary paintings; he will continue that work later this month. Jay continued his digital drawing of the Bentresh and Ptolemy I blocks in the Luxor Temple blockyard and resumed work on the new Luxor Temple blockyard database and management system. He has continued to enter and update the blockyard data and is presently drawing up (using AutoCAD) a key plan of the blockyard holding areas, platform by platform, to facilitate tracking and locations of the blocks and fragments.

Chicago House artist Jay Heidel and MSA Inspector Nadia Ahmed recording a Ptolemy I fragment at Luxor Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson Chicago House senior artist Sue Osgood, Egyptologist Tina di Cerbo, and senior epigrapher Brett McClain recording wall decoration in the 18th Dynasty Temple, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson

At Medinet Habu the fourteen Egyptian conservation students have been busy learning and applying stone conservation techniques in the MH blockyard under the watchful eyes of Lotfi and Nahed. Lessons take place in the MH blockyard, but the students have also resumed the consolidation of the shattered blocks from the upper wall blocks of the Ramesses III southern well. Lotfi and the stone team restored the first of several broken roof blocks with two stainless steel dowels and successfully rejoined the two pieces, a major milestone. Stone mason Frank and the team built up the Domitian gate doorjambs to their original height to test the dimensions, made some adjustments, and took down some of the blocks to prepare them for permanent placement. On January 5th they successfully rejoined the broken lintel (the largest block of the gate) with two 1m long stainless steel dowels, a significant step towards completing the project. Mabruk, Frank! The epigraphic team has been working on finishing up any loose ends for Medinet Habu X, including adding the painted borderlines beneath the square pillar scenes in the ambulatory - the major focus of the publication - where they were not already indicated. They have also been working on the completion of the 21st Dynasty Pinudjem inscription that wraps around the outside of the small Amun temple (to be published in Medinet Habu XI). Artists Margaret, Sue, Krisztián, and Keli displayed all of the facsimile drawings in the Chicago House Library for review for Brett, Jen, and me to review, and I must say, it is quite an achievement. Some of them were drawn with pen and ink, and some were drawn completely digitally with our new Wacom digital ‘tools,’ and it is impossible to tell which is which. Before he transferred to Luxor Temple, Krisztián finished most of the work on the small Amun temple bark shrine exterior western wall and gate, which will be published in Medinet Habu XII; yet another tour de force, seamlessly combining digital and inked drawings. Photo Archivist Sue Lezon and registrar Ellie Smith arrived in the middle of the month; they are now working with Brett compiling and arranging the photographs and scans that we will publishing in Medinet Habu X.

Chicago House head conservator Lotfi Hassan and conservation team repairing a block from the south well of Ramesses III, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Nahed Samir

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, and before some of the staff took off for the holidays, our kitchen crew produced batches of Christmas cookies that we decorated with colored frosting, packaged up, and distributed to friends and colleagues on both sides of the river, a nice treat. On the 13th we put up and decorated the Christmas tree and public rooms, and put out red pointsettia plants in the dining room and tea room that Tina had procured in Cairo. Kitchen helper Zakaria single-handedly decorated the courtyard with lights and decorations as a gift to the house, and it has never looked so festive; shukran, ya Zakaria! We were fifty-five at Christmas dinner, a nice mix of Egyptian and foreign friends, colleagues, and whole expeditions, including the University of Memphis American team working in the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak; the Waseda University Japanese team working in western Thebes; the Australian mission working in Dra Abu el-Naga; and ARCE Luxor director John Shearman and wife Khadija. Dr. Wafaa el-Seddik and her family joined us for the holidays, an annual event now, and Mark Chickering joined wife Sue Osgood, adding a sweet touch to our holiday. Our New Years Eve was a smaller affair but warm and festive, with additional guests from Rome, cartographer Marcello Spanu and his wife Emanuela Borgia from the Antinoupolis team (who will be back at the site at the end of this month). Richard Jasnow joined Tina to continue their graffiti documentation at Medinet Habu and was a welcome addition to our New Year’s celebration.

Chicago House kitchen assistant Zakaria Mohammed with Christmas tree.  Photo by Ray Johnson

On December 21st we celebrated the Winter Solstice with a small bonfire on the Chicago House roof at sunset. We had much for which to be thankful; on December 18th one of our more beloved workmen, Abdel Haris (who has tended the library as long as I have been here) and his son Ahmed (who works with us at MH) were struck by a speeding car on the west bank. Both suffered broken limbs – Abdel Haris two broken legs – but we are lucky that they weren’t killed outright. We sent them both to a private hospital in Qena where they were treated, and they will be at home for the rest of our season.

As the holidays have progressed - and today are now ending (with Coptic Christmas) - we have noticed an increase in tourism in town, which has been good to see. We have talked to several small groups in the Chicago House Library about our work, and are scheduled to brief more groups later in the month. February promises to be quite busy for visitors. Additional expeditions are already beginning to arrive, among them Suzanne Onstine from the University of Memphis; Betsy Bryan from Johns Hopkins; and Peter Lacovara for Deir el-Ballas and later Malqata Palace work. It’s already a busy beginning of the year.

I will be back in touch next month with another update. In the meantime, please let me extend my very best wishes to all our friends back home and everywhere in the world for a joyous and fulfilling New Year 2015! Special best wishes and love to Professor Janet Johnson, who on January 8th is being honored at the Oriental Institute and presented with a mockup of her Festschrift, Essays for the Library of Seshat: Studies Presented to Janet H. Johnson on the Occasion of Her 70th Birthday. MABRUK, dear Jan!

Best wishes from Luxor and Chicago House,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey


November 28, 2014

Dear friends,

We had expected November to be as low-key and quiet as last season, but it has been quite the reverse, starting on the very first day of the month!  On November 1st we had the pleasure of a site visit to Medinet Habu by the deputy Minister of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) Dr. Yousef Khalifa, who reviewed our documentation and conservation work at the House of Butehamon at the back of the Medinet Habu precinct and reaffirmed our concession there.  The individual whose names and figures grace the slender, plastered-stone shafts of the four-columned hall that Chicago House and Üvo Hölscher excavated in 1930 was a 21st Dynasty official responsible for the rewrapping and reburial of the royal mummies whose tombs in the Valley of the Kings were despoiled in the civil wars prior to Dynasty 21.  Butahamon’s name was even found in an ink inscription on the wrappings of the re-wrapped Ramesses III mummy.  Much speculation has been focused on this structure; was it a residence, or an office, or even a funerary chapel (as our colleague Takao Kikuchi suggested in a thought-provoking article in MDAIK 58, 2002)? The texts on the columns are funerary in form, but the structure of the building is decidedly domestic with a platform at the back of the hall, where the owner traditionally sat and received guests, or supervised the work at hand.  It is possible, indeed probable, that the structure had multiple functions. Butehamon’s coffin can be seen in the Turin Museum, acquired in the 19th century, but his tomb is unknown.  The goal of our program is to do facsimile drawings and translations of the column texts based on stitched-together photographs taken by Yarko Kobylecky, (supplemented by photographs taken by Chicago House around 1930), conserve the fragile plaster, extend the mud-brick casemate walls and add some fill for stability, and re-erect two fallen partial columns from a mostly destroyed entrance hall.  Eventually we will also restore two sets of ancient sandstone-slab walkways from the time of Ramesses III on ether side of the mortuary temple that will allow visitors to see the site.

Medinet Habu.  Brett copying texts in the House of Butehamon.  Photo by Ray Johnson

On November 6th Jay and Frank returned from Antinoupolis in Middle Egypt, where Frank consulted with Rosario Pintaudi on some future stone restoration work at the site. That day we also we had the pleasure of hosting a large Far Horizons tour group to Chicago House for a reception and library briefing, the first in almost two years.  It was good to have our friends Bob and Pat Brier back with us, and the group enjoyed a site briefing by Brett at Medinet Habu the next day.  Emily Teeter and Joe Cain, in town overnight with another tour group, joined us for the reception and dinner on the 6th.  On November 9th Christian LeBlanc and the Ramesseum team inaugurated a new collaboration between Chicago House and the Franco-Egyptian Documentation Center at Medinet Habu. At our invitation the team has erected scaffolding along the inside of the Medinet Habu small Amun temple Ptolemaic Pylon in order to record the numerous reused blocks of Ramesses II that are exposed there, quarried from the side walls of Ramesses II’s mortuary temple (the Ramesseum) in the late Ptolemaic period.  Christian and epigrapher Philippe Martinez will be integrating the new block documentation with their drawings and photographs of the standing wall reliefs still preserved at the Ramesseum that they have been recording for some time.  On November 11th Jay resumed his work at Luxor Temple drawing Bentresh and Ptolemy I blocks on the Wacom Companion portable drawing tablet.  Jay has finished digitally penciling the text blocks and is now penciling a series of Ptolemy I offerings scenes in various scales from the same monument as the texts.  We have fragmentary wall scenes from at least two registers, large-scale scenes possibly from a pylon or entryway, and some smaller-scale doorjamb scenes.  It is hoped that once the blocks and fragments are documented and analyzed we will be able to establish the location of the original monument, somewhere in the vicinity of Karnak.

On the afternoon of the 11th about 20 members of the Mehen foundation (for the study of ancient Egypt) from the Netherlands, visited Chicago House, and we had a very pleasant time discussing archaeological preservation issues in the library.  They had visited the Oriental Institute Museum in September and were very pleased to visit the OI in Luxor.  Speaking of the Chicago House library, there are so many expeditions in town at the moment we have already had record numbers of library users in addition to our regular Egyptian Masters and PhD students.  The last few Fridays – including today - have been standing-room-only in the library, something that usually only happens in the spring!

On November 15th we began the second year of our most recent Egyptian conservation-student training program, generously funded by a grant from USAID Egypt that covers most of our Medinet Habu work.  Six students from last year are continuing their on-site conservation training, and eight new students are starting this season.  The program is directed by Medinet Habu senior conservator Lotfi assisted by Nahed, and is designed to give students fresh out of school valuable, hands-on field experience that will make them better qualified for future employment.  They are a bright, motivated group, and it is a great pleasure helping them achieve the conservation skills that Egypt needs so badly, and that also will help them get good jobs.

On November 17th we marked a very important birthday.  That day, ninety years before, the Epigraphic Survey began its work in Luxor.  We celebrated the occasion by taking a house trip to Edfu to see the work of the OI’s Nadine Moeller, Gregory Marouard and their team at the Edfu settlement site. We have watched their work with great interest over the years, and it just gets more amazing.  We also saw the not-yet activated dewatering project sponsored by USAID Egypt and implemented by our friend, engineer Thomas Nichols, whose work is sensitively and beautifully done.  We look forward to its activation soon, as the area is quite damp, and the groundwater salts are a real threat to the ancient temple as well as the settlement remains.  While there we were allowed by the local Antiquities Ministry officials to visit the roof area of Edfu temple, a very special, breathtaking treat and something none of us had ever experienced before.  Because I was obliged to be in Cairo that night, we postponed the Chicago House 90th birthday dinner until a few days later, and on November 20th we had a warm, in-house celebration that included members of the some of the earliest staff of Chicago House.  Yes; as a surprise, Jen passed out masks of previous Chicago House staff members that she had beautifully crafted out of the 1927 staff photograph, digitally enlarging the faces.  I was given first director Harold Nelson’s face; Brett was given John Wilson’s face; librarian Marie was given original librarian Phoebe Biles’ face; Jen had first female epigrapher Caroline Ransom William’s mask; Jay got architect Üvo Hölscher’s face; Yarko received former photographer Hans Lichter’s face, etc.  Our predecessors felt very close to us that night, and I think that wherever they are now, they were pleased to be included.

In mid-November I finished the final director's review of four extraordinary drawings done by Margaret of the Ptolemy VIII lintel over the facade entryway of the Eighteenth Dynasty Amun temple at Medinet Habu.  As part of the restoration and renewal of the bark sanctuary and peripteros, Ptolemy VIII's workmen erased the original Thutmosis III winged sun disk over the façade doorway and replaced it with four, small scale, sunk-relief offering scenes with incised hieroglyphic texts that are very difficult to see and little-known, but are very important for understanding the later theology of the temple.  During the penciling stage of the drawings, before inking, Margaret worked closely with Brett - who specializes in Ptolemaic texts - on the difficult spots, facilitating the whole collation process.  The four drawings are a technical tour de force, and some of the most beautifully drawn Ptolemaic reliefs in the history of Egyptian epigraphy.  They are also the last of the drawings earmarked for Medinet Habu Volume X. The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple, Part II. The Façade, Pillars, and Architrave Inscriptions of the Thutmoside Peripteros, and represent a major milestone in our Medinet Habu documentation program.  Production of this volume will begin in Chicago this summer."

Ray, Brett, and Inspectors Fatma and Ghada reviewing drawings for Medinet Habu X, Nov. 22, 2014.  Photo by Margaret De Jong

This past week a Spanish-Egyptian security team started trenching the Medinet Habu precinct for electrical cables that will power a new lighting and security-camera system being set up all over Luxor: Karnak and Luxor Temples, Deir el-Bahri, the Ramesseum, Gurna hill and the Tombs of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and Medinet Habu.  We have shared copies of Hölscher’s extremely detailed plans of the entire Medinet Habu precinct with the team to help them avoid buried walls and features that are not visible from the ground, and will be assisting wherever we can in the installation process.

Finally, on November 27th Chicago House hosted a festive Thanksgiving dinner with our friends and colleagues, including Nadine, Greg, and the Edfu team; Peter Brand and his University of Memphis team; many antiquities ministry directors and friends; numerous heads of foreign missions and colleagues; and even some US Embassy friends, Acting Deputy Chargé d’Affaires David Ranz and his family.  We were 80 total, and while the turkey was the size of a small car, there wasn’t anything left of it by the evening’s end.  A fine time was had by all, and the holiday season was well launched.

And so it goes in the Two Lands.  Best wishes to you all for a joyous December holiday season!  I will be back in touch in the New Year with a full report of our December activities.

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey


October 31, 2014

Dear friends of Chicago House,

I am writing to you from balmy Luxor, where Chicago House officially reopened its doors on October 15th,  and everything is going smoothly as we begin our 2014-2015 archaeological field season.  I signed the contract for the season at the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) in Cairo week before last with the new Foreign Missions director, Mr. Hany Abu el-Azm, who was very helpful.  Brett, Jen, Margaret, Keli, Jay, Frank, Anait, Lotfi, Marie, Krisztian, Yarko, Johannes, and I all arrived back in Luxor safely during the last couple of weeks; Tin has been in residence since September for the opening and cleaning.  Jay went immediately to Antinoupolis in Middle Egypt for a short autumn season with the Italian mission from the University of Florence directed by Rosario Pintaudi.  On October 20th Brett and I met with MAH Luxor director Abdel Hakim Karrar at the main inspectorate offices in Luxor and passed on the signed contract for the season, after which we met with Gurna MAH director Talat Abdel Hakim and met our two inspectors, Miss Fatma Ahmed Salem and Miss Sanaa Youssef Ahmed Ali in western Thebes.  We resumed our work at Medinet Habu on October 22nd, unblocked and unlocked the doors to the small Amun temple sanctuaries (and found it dry as a bone inside – the dewatering program funded by USAID Egypt continues to work well).  That day we also transferred four trucks of equipment and supplies, including scaffolding, ladders, lights, etc for our documentation, conservation, and restoration work.  This season Chicago House is sponsoring another Egyptian student conservator program, supervised by MH senior conservator Lotfi Hassan assisted by Nahed Samir, which will include the six students from last year plus another new group this year; there is more than enough to do, and this will give them all valuable field experience at the same time. They and the stone team will be working on the Domitian Gate restoration project; the Claudius Gate (prep work); the MH blockyard conservation project; restoration of the Ramesses III southern well blocks; desalination of the back sanctuaries of the small Amun temple; and condition studying, cleaning, and conservation of the House of Butehamon at the western end of the complex (which we started this week).  Our documentation programs will include the House of Butehamon plus the small Amun temple reliefs and graffiti.  We are also continuing the condition study, documentation, and analysis of the blocks and fragments of the western High Gate, destroyed in antiquity and excavated by the Epigraphic Survey in 1932.  All of the work at Medinet Habu is generously funded by a grant from USAID Egypt, now in its final six months.  

  Medinet Habu.  Domitian Gate Reconstruction 2014.  Photo by Ray Johnson

We reopened the Marjorie M. Fisher Chicago House Library on Friday the 24th and immediately had three patrons who joined us for lunch, including our old friend Andrzej Niwinski.  Tina and the Chicago House workmen did their usual amazing job in preparation for our return.  In addition to opening and cleaning the house and a zillion other maintenance tasks, they replaced all of the screens in the public rooms of the main house and did some pretty extensive plumbing work in the courtyard - onerous, but very successful.  Most of the work is done in-house now by our talented crew under Tina's capable and ruthless direction.  (Our workmen love her).

Luxor was surprisingly full of tourists when we arrived; there had been a couple of conventions in town, and it remained lively for days, with dozens on felluccas on the Nile, buses everywhere, and hotels busy - just like old times.  Week before last a huge tour boat chugged by Chicago House with people dancing on the deck to an extremely amplified rendition of 'Besame mucho' (!), quite surreal.  Everyone hopes it's a harbinger of better days to come.  It’s good to be back, warm during the day, cooler at night, and getting cooler as the days go by.  To mark the beginning of the new season, we resumed our annual  Halloween party on Thursday (October 30th); Nadine, Greg, and the Edfu team joined us, as well as a host of other missions.  We have a number of groups and visitors scheduled to come through town in November, including some US Embassy and USAID friends and perhaps even the new minister of Antiquities and Heritage, Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty.  It's going to be another busy winter.

So that's what is happening with us.  It’s been an excellent season beginning; the work is going smoothly, and it's been good renewing contacts with colleagues and friends.  Stay tuned for more monthly updates as the season progresses.

Warm best wishes from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey





The current Epigraphic Survey professional staff are: W. Raymond Johnson, director; J. Brett McClain, senior epigrapher; Jen Kimpton, Christina Di Cerbo, and Christian Greco, epigraphers; Richard Jasnow, epigraphic consultant; Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder, archaeologist/epigrapher consultants; Margaret De Jong and Susan Osgood, senior artists; Krisztián Vértes, Egyptologist/artist; Keli Alberts, artist; Julia Schmied, blockyard and archives assistant; Jay Heidel, architect; Yarko Kobylecky, staff photographer; Susan Lezon, photo archivist and photographer; Elinor Smith, photo archives registrar and photography assistant; Carlotta Maher, assistant to the director; Essam el-Sayed, senior accountant; Samir Guindy, administrator; Samwell Maher, assistant administrator; Marie Bryan, librarian; Anait Helmholz, librarian assistant; Frank Helmholz, master mason; Johannes Weninger, assistant mason; Lotfi K. Hassan, Medinet Habu conservation supervisor; Nahed Samir Andraus, conservator at Medinet Habu; Hiroko Kariya, Luxor Temple conservation supervisor; Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudiès, Chicago House Digital Archives database consultants; Louis Elia Louis Hanna, database architect; Conor Power, structural engineer; Jean Jacquet, consultant from afar; and Girgis Samwell, contractor.


The Epigraphic Survey began its long collaboration with the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (now the Ministry of State for Antiquities) in 1924, initially with documentation work in the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, and we maintain an ongoing commitment to the recording and conservation of all of the monuments that form part of the Medinet Habu complex. Over the years, however, the Survey has also devoted considerable effort to the recording and preservation of inscribed material from other sites, including Karnak, Luxor Temple, the Theban Necropolis, the Sakkara Necropolis (during the 1930s), and the Nubian salvage campaign (during the 1960s). At present, we have ongoing projects, in collaboration with the MSA, at the following four sites:


The Temple Enclosure of Medinet Habu with the 18th Dynasty Amun Temple in the foreground.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Medinet Habu  

 In 1970 the Epigraphic Survey completed its record of the reliefs and inscriptions in the principal buildings of Ramesses III’s mortuary temple, comprising Medinet Habu Vols. I-VIII. The temple enclosure nevertheless contains a number of lesser monuments, dating both before and after the 20th Dynasty, which still await documentation, and for this reason in the early 1990’s the Chicago House team resumed activity on the site, focusing on documentation of the small 18th Dynasty Temple of Amun with its later extensions. In 1995, a conservation component, funded by ARCE and USAID Egypt, was incorporated into our work on the Amun Temple, focused on cleaning of the painted reliefs within the temple’s inner chambers. Starting in 2006, with a grant from USAID Egypt, this program was expanded to include restoration of the subterranean wells, gateways, and other minor structures within the precinct, as well as cataloguing and conservation of over 4000 loose inscribed stone fragments found throughout the enclosure. Current projects thus include the epigraphic documentation of the small Amun Temple, for which the first volume, Medinet Habu IX, appeared in print in 2009, along with analysis and publication of fragment groups assembled in the on-site blockyard, with several articles on this material now in press. Conservation and restoration initiatives, aside from continued monitoring and restoration of the 18th Dynasty temple, include the dismantling, consolidation, and reconstruction of the sandstone gates of the Roman emperors Domitian and Claudius, physical reconstruction of numerous fragment groups, particularly those originating from the Palace of Ramesses III, and the creation of a small open-air museum for display of these reconstructed monuments. Our conservation plan also includes an ongoing training program for young Egyptian conservators employed by the MSA. We will continue both the epigraphic documentation and conservation efforts at Medinet Habu on a long-term basis as our primary mission in the years to come.

Luxor Temple from the north.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Luxor Temple

 In the late 1970’s, the Epigraphic Survey applied for and received permission to document the 18th Dynasty reliefs in Luxor Temple, which date mainly to the time of Amenhotep III and his successors. The great Colonnade Hall, with its festival scenes carved during and after the reign of Tutankhamun, was the primary focus of the Chicago House team throughout much of the 1980’s and 1990’s, resulting in the publication of Reliefs and Inscriptions at Luxor Temple, Vols. I-II. Throughout the same period, we have undertaken the systematic cataloguing, conservation, and analysis of the more than 40,000 inscribed stone fragments, collected from all over the Theban region, which are now stored within the Luxor Temple precinct. From 1995, a project funded first by USAID Egypt and ARCE, and then by the World Monuments Fund, permitted proper storage platforms to be created for all of the fragmentary material, emergency conservation measures to be undertaken for the most threatened pieces, and made possible the creation of an on-site open-air museum. It has also been possible to reassemble selected fragment groups in their original locations on the standing walls of the temple. Study and conservation of the Luxor Temple fragment corpus is ongoing, in particular a project to analyze and reconstruct fragments of the Church of St. Thecla, which once stood north of the Pylon of Ramesses II, an undertaking kindly funded by Nassef Sawiris and initiated in 2010. Within the temple proper, Chicago House partnered with the American Research Center in Egypt from 2005-2008 to facilitate the cleaning, preservation, and documentation of the unique Late Roman fresco paintings, dating to the First Tetrarchy, that are partially preserved in the central section of the monument. In 2013 we began the process of making detailed facsimile drawings of these paintings for definitive publication thereof, as well as of the underlying 18th Dynasty reliefs. Our continuing work on both the fragmentary material and the standing monument is part of the Epigraphic Survey’s long-term commitment to the preservation and publication of Luxor Temple.

The Temple of Khonsu in Karnak.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Khonsu Temple, Karnak

 Since the 1920’s, the Epigraphic Survey has undertaken a number of documentation projects within the great temple complex of Karnak, including the temples of Ramesses III in the first court and in the Mut enclosure, the Bubastite gate, the battle reliefs of Seti I, and the temple of Khonsu, located in the southwest corner of the main temenos. Our work in Khonsu Temple has resulted in the publication of two volumes on the wall reliefs, The Temple of Khonsu Vols. I-II, along with a third volume on the rooftop graffiti by the late Helen Jacquet-Gordon. In 2008 the Chicago House team resumed work on the site in cooperation with the American Research Center in Egypt and the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The focus of the present documentation program is the large corpus of inscribed blocks, originating from earlier monuments, which were used as building material when the present temple was built during the reign of Ramesses III. The foundations, floors, walls, columns, and pylons of Khonsu Temple consist almost entirely of reused fragments, many of which still bear their original decoration; and some of this decoration is still visible, exposed in the partially damaged 20th Dynasty walls, or reachable through cracks in the walls and flooring. Our current task is to document as many of these pieces as possible while they remain accessible. So far we have identified groups of material from other known monuments, such as Amenhotep III’s mortuary complex and that of Ay and Horemheb on the west of the Nile, but we have also discovered fragments of previously unknown structures, the most important of which appears to be an older Khonsu Temple, constructed during the 18th Dynasty, expanded during the 19th Dynasty, and then completely dismantled under Ramesses III, its blocks re-used to construct the present monument. The methodologies used to record this material are described below. As of 2013, we have completed the documentation of over 200 in situ blocks in the foundations, floors, and walls, and we have registered nearly 300 loose fragments found in and around the temple. The goal in upcoming seasons is to complete the documentation of all accessible reused fragments in the upper walls, roof areas, and pylons, material that will continue to enrich our knowledge of the history of Karnak and of the monuments of Thebes.

View of the Tomb of Nefersekheru (TT 107).  Photo by Ray Johnson

Tomb Of Nefersekheru (TT 107)

 In the years 1959-1970, the Epigraphic Survey added to its program the documentation of the tomb of Kheruef (TT 192), a senior courtier of the reign of Amenhotep III, whose beautiful reliefs, carved in limestone, exemplify the high standard of artistic achievement that characterized the late 18th Dynasty. Interest in stylistic and historical parallels from the same period, along with our objective of preserving the information contained in monuments that are particularly threatened with damage or destruction, has led the Chicago House team to undertake a program in the nearby tomb of Nefersekheru (TT 107), a contemporary of Kheruef and steward of Amenhotep III’s jubilee palace at Malqata. The construction of Nefersekheru’s tomb, though planned to be as large as that of Kheruef, was never completed, and only a small section of the reliefs on the tomb’s façade were carved before the monument was abandoned. The few completed scenes, however, exhibit some of the finest relief carving ever executed in ancient Egypt, comparable to that of Kheruef’s tomb and of the well-known tomb of Ramose. These reliefs are unfortunately in very poor condition, the limestone cracked and fractured by a combination of seismic movement and salt decay. The tomb thus merits special attention, so we began a program of photography and facsimile drawing in the tomb in 2010, the goal of which is the complete documentation of the surviving decoration and of the tomb’s architecture, prior to systematic structural consolidation of the monument and conservation of its decorated surfaces. Epigraphic work and architectural survey of the tomb will continue through the 2013-14 field season and beyond.




Medinet Habu IX, Plate 11.  Thutmose III led by Montu-Re and Atum into the presence of Amun.  Drawing by Sue Osgood

Founder James Henry Breasted committed the Epigraphic Survey to the preservation of Egypt's cultural heritage by non-destructive means: through documentation so precise it could stand alone as a replacement in the absence of the original monument. Large-format photography (8x10, 5x7, and 4x5 inch negatives) is an essential tool in this process, and one of the first goals of Chicago House was to create a photographic archive of as many of Egypt's accessible standing monuments as possible, photographed inside and out. Breasted understood, however, that photographs alone cannot always capture all the details of the often damaged or modified wall scenes of individual monuments, since the light source that illuminates also casts shadows that obscure details. To supplement and clarify the photographic record, precise line drawings are produced at Chicago House that combine the skills of the photographer, artist, and Egyptologist.

Yarko Kobylecky photographing with large format camera at TT 107.  Photo by Ray Johnson Margaret De Jong and Inspector Zeinab Mohammed with drawing enlargement at TT 107.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Jen Kimpton collating a drawing at Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson

First the wall surface is carefully photographed with a large-format camera whose lens is positioned exactly parallel to the wall to eliminate distortion. From these negatives, which are digitally scanned and duplicated, photographic enlargements up to 20x24 inches are produced, printed on a special matt-surface paper with an emulsion coating that can take pencil and ink lines. An artist takes this enlarged photographic print mounted on a drawing board to the wall itself, and pencils directly onto the photograph all of the carved detail that is visible on the wall surface, adding those details that are not visible or clear on the photograph. Then, in the studio, the penciled lines are carefully inked with a series of weighted line conventions to show the three dimensions of the relief, and damage that interrupts the carved line is rendered with thin, broken lines that imitate the nature of the break. This can now also be accomplished digitally (see below). In the case of hard-copy drawings, when the inking is complete, the entire photograph is immersed in an iodine bath that dissolves away the photographic image, leaving just the ink drawing. The drawing is then blueprinted, the blueprint is cut into sections and each section is mounted on a sheet of stiff white paper. These "collation sheets" are taken back to the wall where the inked details on the blueprint are thoroughly examined by two Egyptologist epigraphers, one after the other. These epigraphers pencil corrections and refinements on the blueprint itself with explanations and instructions to the artist written in the margins. The collation sheets are then returned to the artist, who in turn takes them back to the wall and carefully checks the epigraphers' corrections, one by one. When everyone is in agreement, the corrections are added to the inked drawing back in the studio, the transferred corrections are checked for accuracy by the epigraphers, and the drawing receives a final review by the field director back at the original wall.

Brett McClain checking a collation at Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson Ray Johnson and Krisztián Vértes finalizing a drawing at Medinet Habu.  Photo by Margaret De Jong

Consultations between artist, epigraphers, and field director, the consensus of all skill sets combined, ensures a finished facsimile drawing that is faithful to what is preserved on the wall in every detail. This is the essence of what is generally referred to as the "Chicago House Method." The corrected ink drawings, photographs, scans, text translations, commentary, glossaries, and duplicate negatives are then taken back to Chicago for processing and publication in large folio volumes for distribution worldwide. These publications are available for sale in hard copy and now also for free distribution in electronic format, part of a new program recently inaugurated by the Oriental Institute, and generously funded by OI Visiting Committee Members Lewis and Misty Gruber.

Krisztián Vértes and Inspector Fawzi Okhail discussing a tracing at Khonsu Tempe.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Keli Alberts assembling a drawing from foil impressions, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson Brett McClain, Jen Kimpton, and Keli Alberts discussing a tracing at Khonsu Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson

 In some instances, it is not possible to photograph the surface that is being recorded, or to observe it directly, since the stone in question is masked by an adjoining architectural feature. For such cases we have developed a special method of recording by indirect observation. Sheets of aluminum foil are inserted into the interstice and used to make rubbings of the carved surface, a labor-intensive process that results in the extraction of enormous amounts of completely hidden carved information. The impressions thus produced on the foil are then slipped beneath sheets of clear diacetate and traced as if they were the original surface of the block. Once a field drawing on diacetate is completed, the artist copies the original tracing onto another piece of diacetate in the studio in order to refine the ink lines of the original. At this stage the drawing, still at one-to-one scale and thus potentially rather unwieldy in size, is submitted to the photographer, who makes digital photographs of the drawings at a high enough resolution to ensure clear reduced printouts. These printouts are used by the epigraphers as collation sheets. In addition to collations of the drawings, the epigraphers also make notes on the content and condition of the reliefs, as well as measured isometric drawings of the blocks on which they occur. After the collation is completed, the epigraphers and the artist examine the block together to consider the suggested corrections and to reach an agreement regarding the changes to be effected on the drawing. In the last step of the field process, the field director makes a final on-site check of the corrected drawing. The diacetate is then scanned, reduced to scale, and overlaid with vellum, on which the lines of the inscription and other features are inked using the normal Chicago House drawing conventions. This method produces the most accurate possible copies of inscribed surfaces that cannot be seen by eye or camera, and would otherwise escape documentation.



Krisztián Vértes drawing an inscription on the digital drawing tablet, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson  

Recent advances in computerized drawing equipment and graphics software now make it possible to perform many of the stages of the Chicago House Method using digital technology. In the updated version of the Method, photographic enlargements are still used by the artist to pencil in the essential outlines and details of each scene or text by direct observation of the original. The penciled enlargement, however, rather than being inked in pen, is instead scanned at high resolution, and this image is used as the background for “inking” the sun-and-shadow lines digitally, using a large format drawing tablet. The artistic conventions used for raised and sunk relief, traces, damage, plaster, and other features of the decorated surface remain the same, and the care and skill required of the artist are as great as those required for inking on paper, but the digital drawing gives a greater flexibility in how the “inked” drawing can be manipulated, allows the transfer of the information in multiple scales and formats, and makes any necessary corrections go much more quickly. Collation sheets can be printed directly, avoiding the necessity of using (now hard to find) blueprint paper, and prints of the facsimile drawing in whole or in part can be used for a variety of other field research purposes as well. All digital files are carefully backed up in multiple locations, ensuring the security of the data, which adds an important archival loss-prevention component to the methodology. Then, when the drawing is complete, having undergone the same series of wall checks outlined above, it is already in digital format, and thus ready to be sent directly to the publishers for layout, avoiding the need for costly and technically difficult scanning of inked enlargements. This digital modification of the traditional Chicago House Method is now fully in place, thanks to generous grants from the Women’s Board of the University of Chicago and Dr. Marjorie M. Fisher, which have permitted the purchase of the necessary high-end tablets and computer systems. Digital epigraphic recording promises both to open new possibilities in terms of the accuracy of our recording and the breadth of information that can be captured, and to streamline our documentation process at a time when the need for rapid salvage of the threatened monumental material is increasingly urgent.

Tina Di Cerbo recording graffiti on the digital drawing tablet, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson Jay Heidel recording a fragment on the digital drawing tablet, Luxor Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson

A detailed instructional manual for the digital recording techniques now utilized by the Epigraphic Survey, authored by Chicago House staff artist Krisztián Vértes, is now available for free download in both e-book format at and PDF format at

Digital Epigraphy Manual


Medinet Habu IX, Pl. 63A, showing Thutmose III offering jars of water to Amun-Re. Drawing by Jay Heidel, Ray Johnson, Susan Osgood, and William Schenck   Medinet Habu IX, Pl. 127A, showing Thutmose III offering jars of water to Amun-Re. Photo by Yarko Kobylecky

The publications of the Epigraphic Survey are universally recognized as setting the standard for epigraphic recording. With our most recent volume, Medinet Habu IX. The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple, Part I: The Inner Sanctuaries (OIP 136, Chicago 2009), the Survey has resumed its series of publications dedicated to the reliefs and inscriptions of the Medinet Habu complex, a series inaugurated in 1930 with the publication of the war scenes and earlier historical records from the mortuary temple of Ramesses III (Medinet Habu I. Earlier Historical Records of Ramses III, OIP 8, Chicago 1930). The Ramesside temple and the High Gate were to occupy the efforts of the Survey for the next four decades, ending in 1970 with the appearance of Medinet Habu VIII. In resuming the Medinet Habu series, the Survey initiates what is envisioned to be a sequence of volumes documenting the Eighteenth Dynasty temple of Amun and subsequent additions thereto, culminating with the inscriptions in the forecourt of Antoninus Pius, carved in the mid-2nd Century A.D. The drawings and photographs slated to appear in the second and third volumes of this series, Medinet Habu X and Medinet Habu XI, are currently near completion.

OIP 123 Pl. 60, Khonsu Temple roof.  Drawing by Helen Jacquet-Gordon

Other recent publications include The Temple of Khonsu, Volume 3. The Graffiti on the Khonsu Temple Roof at Karnak: A Manifestation of Personal Piety (OIP 123, Chicago 2003), by Helen Jacquet-Gordon. Graffiti incised on the roof blocks of the temple of Khonsu at Karnak, written in the hieroglyphic, hieratic, and Demotic scripts and accompanied by the outlines of pairs of feet, caught the eye of Champollion and other early voyagers who succeeded in clambering up onto that part of the roof still remaining over the colonnade of the first court. Such graffiti have usually been interpreted as mementos left by ancient visitors passing through Thebes. A complete survey of all the graffiti on the roof and a detailed study of the inscriptions, carried out over a considerable period of time, revealed the unexpected fact that far from being casual tourists, it was mostly the priestly personnel of the temple itself whose graffiti have been preserved there. The inscriptions record the name and titles of the person whose footprints are depicted, as well as the name of his father and sometimes that of his grandfather, but only in three cases does the name of his mother appear. Prayers addressed mainly to Khonsu himself demonstrate the firm belief of these priestly servitors in the lasting protection afforded them by the god in whose sacred precinct their graffiti have been carved. The 334 graffiti recorded in the volume are richly illustrated by photographs and facsimile drawings. Transliterations, translations, line notes, and commentaries are provided, and the text concludes with general, name, epithet, and title indices.

  OIP 112, Pl. 83.  The Barge of the Queen, Colonnade Hall, Luxor Temple.  Drawing by Ray Johnson

 The latest volume in our Luxor Temple series, Reliefs and Inscriptions at Luxor Temple, Volume 2: The Facade, Portals, Upper Register Scenes, Columns, Marginalia, and Statuary in the Colonnade Hall (OIP 116, Chicago 1998) contains 99 plates of drawings and photographs as well as a booklet of text translations and commentary. The diversity of material in this volume makes it one of the most exciting publications in the history of the Survey. This volume (RILT 2) completes the documentation and publication of all the standing wall remains in the great Colonnade Hall of Luxor Temple, one of the largest, most beautiful, and most threatened monuments in Luxor. Its companion volume, Reliefs and Inscriptions at Luxor Temple, Volume 1: The Festival Procession of Opet in the Colonnade Hall (OIP 112, Chicago 1994), GIVE HYPERLINK contains 128 plates and a text booklet. The Opet volume, the Epigraphic Survey's largest ever, documents in detailed drawings and photographs the first register of decoration in the hall, built by Amenhotep III but largely decorated during the reign of Tutankhamun and his successors. It is one of the very few monuments of Tutankhamun to survive to the present day. The first register reliefs, executed in the lively style of the late Amarna period, commemorate one of the most important annual festivals in the Egyptian religious calendar, the great Festival of Opet, the occasion when the god Amun-Re traveled from his "palace" at Karnak to his birthplace at Luxor Temple to experience rebirth and rejuvenation. The Opet reliefs document in particular detail the lavish water procession associated with this festival, when Amun-Re, his wife, the mother-goddess Mut, and their son the moon-god Khonsu traveled from Karnak to Luxor Temple and, at the conclusion of the festival, back to Karnak in great, gilded divine barges towed by the elaborate royal barges of the king and queen. The royal barges in turn were towed by numerous smaller boats manned by dozens of oarsmen, while the entire water procession was escorted by a cheering populace on the riverbanks. It is hard to see on the wall now unless the light is just right, but you can see it all in our publication!


Hiroko Kariya treating inscribed fragments in Luxor Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Lotfi Hassan treating wall reliefs in Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson  Julia Schmied recording fragments, Medinet Habu Blockyard.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Under Lanny Bell's directorship more than twenty years ago, the Epigraphic Survey added conservation to its program and a conservator to the staff. Now, because of rapidly changing conditions in Egypt that are causing the monuments to decay at an ever faster rate, we have expanded our conservation programs even further. From 1996 to 2006 the Epigraphic Survey received a grant from the Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), administered through the American Research Center (ARCE) and generously approved by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), for documentation and conservation of the Thutmoside temple at Medinet Habu and its later additions. Thanks to this grant, Chicago House was able to seal the rooftop of the small Amun temple against rainwater (a more frequent occurrence recently) and clean the salt, dirt, and soot-stained painted reliefs below. As this cleaning was finished, newly exposed painted details were added to the drawings that have recently appeared in Medinet Habu IX. A current grant from USAID now supports the documentation and conservation in the small Amun temple plus the new blockyard storage area, the southern well of Ramesses III, and two Roman-period gates. Our program at the Medinet Habu small Aumn temple also included the restoration of the sandstone flooring in the two central chapels, which were largely missing since antiquity. This necessitated the careful cleaning of the floor debris, made up of the backfill from the excavations of our predecessors in the 1930s. Among the more interesting finds in the floor debris were six large and two-hundred medium to small fragments of a colossal granodiorite seated dyad of Thutmose III and the god Amun. During the 2000-2001 season, conservator Lotfi Hassan and stone cutter Dany Roy joined the largest base fragments and secured them with stainless steel dowels 2 centimeters in diameter and almost a meter in length, which were epoxied into place. The joined statue base was raised and moved into the exact center of the central sanctuary, where the dyad had originally been set up, over a damp-coursed, reinforced concrete foundation. On March 24, 2001, the top section of the statue was winched into position and epoxied, completing the joining of the six largest pieces of the group. The reassembled dyad, broken at the top, stands almost 3 meters in height, even without the heads.  Analysis of the smaller fragments, including sections of the king's legs and kilt, will be completed in future seasons, after which they will be joined to the core statue. It is a rare opportunity to restore a piece of Egyptian sculpture to its original architectural setting. Because this particular dyad was an integral part of the architecture of the central sanctuary, it is a dramatic addition to the room.

Reconstruction of the Granodiorite Dyad of Thutmose III and Amun, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson

In 2010 we noted that the 1st century AD sandstone gate of the Roman Emperor Domitian, reassembled in the late 19th century by Georges Daressy from scattered blocks behind the Small Temple, was in danger of collapse due to groundwater seepage and salt-induced decay of its foundations. After consultation with the MSA/SCA, conservator Lotfi Hassan, master mason Frank Helmholz, and our structural engineer Conor Power, it was decided that the gate had to be completely dismantled in order to replace the foundations with new sandstone, protected from groundwater infiltration by subterranean damp-coursing. Permission was granted by the MSA/SCA to begin that work in 2011. During the winter of 2012-13 Frank Helmholz and the Chicago House workmen cut and shaped seven new replacement blocks for the lowest courses of the gate, and put into place the bottommost course on a new reinforced concrete footing, installed in 2011-2012. One old stone was salvaged and joined to a new block, and all new stones were bolted to the new damp-coursed foundation with steel pins. The remaining blocks from the gate, stored nearby, will be consolidated by the conservation team, and then will be reassembled along with additional newly cut stones during the coming field seasons. Another Roman-period gate from the time of the Roman emperor Claudius outside the Medinet Habu eastern enclosure is in bad condition due to ground water salt decay and will also be dismantled and restored.

Restoration of the Domitian Gate, Medinet Habu.  Photo by Ray Johnson

Although the Epigraphic Survey has in the past dealt exclusively with standing wall remains, an exciting opportunity presented itself at Luxor Temple to incorporate fragmentary material in our publication program. The upper walls of the Colonnade Hall and other parts of Luxor Temple are mostly missing, quarried away in the medieval period when stone was needed for house, church, or mosque construction. Excavations in the 1950s and 1960s, which exposed the southern end of the sphinx road linking Luxor and Karnak temples, also exposed hundreds of buried stone foundations made up of reused block fragments that had been torn off the upper walls of the temple. When the excavations were finished, the fragments were piled in dozens of rows around the temple for future analysis. From this pool of material, the Epigraphic Survey has identified over 1,500 sandstone fragments from the Colonnade Hall alone, and is including them in the publication of the hall. Each block fragment is drawn by the Chicago House team the same way a wall section would be drawn using photographic enlargements or the digital drawing tablet, and when the drawings are collated and finished, each fragment drawing is photographed (or scanned) so that scale prints of the drawings can be reassembled for the publication. Many of the fragments join like huge, stone jigsaw puzzles to form long strips or sections from numerous identifiable scenes, and augment considerably our understanding of the decorative scheme of the missing upper registers. RILT I, our publication of the Opet Festival reliefs, features joined fragment groups from the first register of the hall, and RILT 2 illustrates joined fragments from the Colonnade Hall facade that preserve important information about its original decorative program. The third volume in the Luxor Temple Colonnade Hall series will be devoted primarily to the upper register fragment groups, one of which is over 75 feet long, and to an architectural study of the hall.

OIP 112, Pl. 88.  Reconstructed fragment group, Colonnade Hall, Luxor Temple.  Drawing by Tina Di Cerbo and Ray Johnson  

 In 1995 the Epigraphic Survey received a five-year grant from the Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP), USAID, ARCE, and the SCA for conservation and consolidation of the deteriorating decorated sandstone fragments in our Luxor Temple blockyard. Originally under the supervision of conservator John Stewart, the project is now overseen by head conservator Hiroko Kariya. In 1998 we erected an onsite conservation lab, which now allows greater control of the fragment treatment, and we also received permission from the SCA to expand our fragment documentation and conservation efforts at Luxor Temple. Between 1999 and 2009, thanks to Robert Wilson matching grants and the World Monuments Fund, we largely achieved our goal of raising all the fragmentary material around Luxor Temple up off the ground onto protected storage platforms, by category, for documentation, treatment, and eventual reconstruction. Another recent milestone, also supported by the World Monuments Fund, is the Luxor Temple blockyard open-air museum, three years in preparation and opened to the public on March 29, 2010.

Luxor Temple Open Air Museum illuminated at night.  Photo by Yarko Kobylecky

 Among the fragment groups found in the Luxor Temple blockyard is a series of architectural components originating from 6th Century A.D. Coptic church dedicated to St. Thecla, which stood originally in front of Luxor Temple. Its surviving sanctuary foundations, which are themselves made of reused Pharaonic blocks, can be seen just beyond the present entryway to the Luxor Temple precinct. The sanctuary foundations were the focus of a previous Chicago House conservation condition study, and many decorated blocks in the blockyard appear to come from that area of the church. Conservator Hiroko Kariya has cleaned and conserved several of the blocks from the Thecla Church, and, thanks to a grant from Nassef Sawaris, architect Jay Heidel is currently undertaking a complete analysis of the fragments, including detailed drawings of the decorated surfaces of each block, as well as AutoCAD reconstructions of the joined architectural fragment groups. It will eventually be possible to reconstruct on paper a number of major architectural components from the church, and we envision being able to reassemble at least one of the large arches of the apse in its original location before the pylon of Luxor Temple.

Jay Heidel recording blocks from the Church of St. Thecla, Luxor Temple.  Photo by Ray Johnson


Chicago House, the Oriental Institute headquarters in Egypt, functions as a major center of Egyptological studies for Egyptian and foreign scholars alike, and is open from October 15 through April 15 every winter season. The research library, among the finest in Egypt, has more than 20,000 volumes. The Chicago House photographic archive is a major research collection containing over 21,000 negatives and 21,000 prints ranging in date from the late-nineteenth century to the present. A project to conserve, register, and provide proper archival storage for the collection was funded by the Getty Grant Program and a catalog of the archival holdings, The Registry of the Photographic Archives of the Epigraphic Survey, was published in 1995. Beginning in 1999, we undertook the process of scanning all of the negatives in the archive for inclusion in our Photo Archives database, a work of many years that has now been extended to incorporate other photographic collections housed in our facility, such as the Labib Habachi archives and the photographs of Helen and Jean Jacquet.

The Epigraphic Survey is the flagship field project of the Oriental Institute and demonstrates a commitment to long-term documentation and conservation projects of the highest quality that benefit the entire field of ancient Near Eastern scholarship. Partly funded by the University of Chicago, the Epigraphic Survey relies heavily on tax-deductible private and corporate support for its continued efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of ancient Egypt.

For further information on contributions to the work of the Survey, contact the Development Office at (773) 702-9513 or

For online donations, go to Click 'Pledge online,' and check the "Epigraphic Survey/Chicago House" box. Thank you!

Visitors to Chicago House are always welcome, but please contact us in advance for the most convenient times for a visit. Feel free to contact the director, Dr. Ray Johnson, directly at:, or call him (in Egypt, direct dial from the U.S.) at: 011-20-122-322-5019. Our field season is from October 15 to April 15. Weekday hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 12:00 noon, then 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm; Saturdays 8:00 to 12:00 noon; closed Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Direct dial from the U.S.: 011-20-95-237-2525; fax 011-20-95-238-1620.