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.

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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

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