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

Epigraphic Survey/Chicago House Professional Staff 2012-2013. Top row, left to right: Samir Guindy (administrator); Essam el-Sayed (senior accountant); Samwell Maher (assistant administrator); Girgis Samwell (chief engineer). Second row from top, left to right: Melinda Hartwig (visiting scholar);Tina Di Cerbo (epigrapher/artist); Jen Kimpton (epigrapher); J. Brett McClain (senior epigrapher); Krisztián Vertés (egyptologist/artist); Keli Alberts (artist). Second row from bottom, left to right: Marie Bryan (librarian); Anait Helmholz (librarian assistant); Frank Helmholz (stone mason); Margaret De Jong (senior artist); Ellie Smith (photo archives registrar); Lotfi Hassan (conservator); Joia Samir Andraos; Nahed Samir Andraos (conservator); Jay Heidel (architect/artist); Ray Johnson (director); Hiroko Kariya (conservator); Yarko Kobylecky (photographer). Photo by Sue Lezon.

Full Chicago House Staff 2011-2012


2013-2014 Field Season


May 4, 2014

Dear Friends,

On April 15th, 2014 the Epigraphic Survey completed its 2013-2014 archaeological field season (its 90th!) in Luxor. All of the staff except for Tina departed at that time, and the closing commenced immediately. Actually the closing of the house started before we all left to help maximize Tina's time. By the 15th all of the public rooms in the residence were closed, the furniture stacked in the middle of each room and covered with sheets, the carpets carried out for beating and washing, the shutters pulled down and secured over the windows, and the doors boarded up. Tina and our fabulous workmen have the closing process down to a real science, and they don't waste any time. Rule number one for the rest of us, even me, is don't get in the way!

The last few weeks went smoothly as we tied up and closed down our documentation, conservation, and restoration programs at Medinet Habu, Luxor Temple, and Khonsu Temple for the season. (Our TT 107 work was finished in February). Before we left we wrote, compiled, and I distributed preliminary reports of our season's activities to the local antiquities offices on both sides of the river, and conveyed our goodbyes to our Antiquities Ministry friends. I also distributed copies of the reports and to Mme. Amira at ARCE Cairo for official distribution to the main office of the Antiquities Ministry in Zamalek. At the same time I dropped off copies of the paperwork of the Chicago House staff, security form applications, photos, passport information, etc, for next season.

This time I also had the sad duty of submitting a report on a theft that took place in the Luxor Temple blockyard open-air museum on April 8th, in the middle of the day, two days after we had finished our work at Luxor Temple. Two small limestone Coptic lion heads in our 'animals and birds in Egyptian art' section were stolen from their mounts and are still missing. This season, because of the low numbers of tourists, the usually well-guarded blockyard area often was deserted, and this was obviously noted and taken advantage of. Both objects were bolted to the platform with aluminum bands and in a part of the blockyard visible from all sides, so it's still pretty shocking that the theft occurred at all. We assisted the Luxor Temple antiquities inspectors with documentation and descriptions of the missing objects, and my report was distributed locally and to the ministry. The small Coptic lion (or cat) heads decorated the ends of architectural elements set into mud-brick walls that supported rafters or lamps. They were excavated in the remains of buildings from the medieval Luxor settlement tell to the north of Luxor Temple that was removed in the late 1950s to expose the sphinx road beneath.

And so it goes. As I write this, Tina is just a few days away from departing Luxor after a successful closing of the Chicago House facility. Before I left she and our workmen had already shifted the Chicago House Library books to their new positions in the stacks now that the Library of Congress conversion process is finished, so it is all ready for next season's use. Mabruk, Tina! Administrator Samir, assistant Samwell, and Finance manager Essam have already moved into their summer office in Healey House (the only room in the complex with a functioning air conditioner), where they will oversee our 40 workmen over the summer months. This is where we will also hold our annual audit after Ramadan in late August, for which I will return to Luxor briefly as I always do. It is always bittersweet to be back in Luxor in the blazing hot summer, and to see Chicago House asleep and awaiting our return. By then the presidential elections will be long over, and the country will be adjusting to its new president and administration. For our friends and colleagues in Egypt it can't happen soon enough.

In the meantime, there is much to do back here at the 'mother ship,' the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. There are many more reports to be written, articles to edit, symposia to attend, facsimile publications to produce, lectures to give, and the next Chicago House Bulletin to put together and send out. AND our annual donor appeal to initiate. You'll be hearing from me again about that soon! Bless you all for your interest and support. Have a great summer!

Warm best wishes from Chicago,
Ray Johnson, director

April 2, 2014

Dear Friends,

It's hard to believe that in two weeks everyone at Chicago House will be heading back to their various homes after a very successful and productive archaeological field season here in Luxor. Everyone, that is, except Tina, who will stay for another few weeks to supervise our workmen in the packing up and closing of the house, library and entire Chicago House facility for its five-month summer sleep. One room in Healey House - that has an air-conditioning unit - will stay open for the administration and finance team, Essam, Samir, and Samwell to use throughout the summer. Our annual audit will also take place there, for which I will return in late August. Tina and the workmen have already started cleaning out the food and kitchen magazines and are making sure that all foodstuffs are consumed before we leave. Unused dishes and cutlery are already being packed away. As is usual for this time of year, when the seasons start to change, khamsin winds prevail, and the temperatures have fluctuated up and down; last night a tremendous wind blew in cooler air, so we have a respite from the heat for a few more days. But the temperatures are definitely climbing, and it's time to go home.

At the moment we are all generating reports that I will synthesize into a short preliminary report for the Ministry of Antiquities and submit next week, basically an illustrated outline of our main activities and accomplishments since October based on the reports I receive from Brett (epigraphic documentation at Medinet Habu, Luxor Temple, TT 107, and Khonsu Temple), Lotfi (Medinet Habu conservation), Hiroko (Luxor Temple conservation), Frank (Medinet Habu stone restoration), Jen (Medinet Habu west gate survey), and Jay (Luxor Temple blockyard database). I will generate a longer, more detailed final report for submission to the Antiquities Ministry by late June, when we submit our proposal for work next season, and security applications for each staff person (reviewed by the security police each year months in advance of our arrival in October). On March 31st we completed the end of the Chicago House fiscal year, with all the accounting and administrative work that entails. So, the end of March/beginning of April is always a time of tying up administrative and financial loose ends, assessing our archaeological work, writing reports, and packing things up at our antiquities sites. In a week we will officially close our operations for the season at Medinet Habu, Luxor Temple, and Khonsu Temple. We have already finished our work at TT 107. At that time all of our equipment: ladders, scaffording, tables, chairs, carts, winches, tools, saws, lights, etc will be piled onto trucks for transportation back to Chicago House for cleaning (all the wooden ladders are oiled) and storage over the summer. This year, after the library closes on April 9th for the season, we will also be shifting the remaining books that were converted to the Library of Congress classification system to their final shelf position in the Chicago House Library main stacks, a major milestone, thanks to librarians Marie and Anait and OI VC member Andrea Dudek who helped things along.

It was a busy month, with lots of colleagues and staff in and out. Structural Engineer Conor Power left frigid Massachusetts in the middle of March and joined us for a few days to continue his annual assessment of the Luxor Temple structure and efficacy of the USAID-sponsored dewatering program(s). We both went up into the Luxor Temple Ramesses II pylon where we have installed a calibrated telltale measuring device that very simply records any movement during the course of the year, and we also have a three plumb bob lines that were set up long ago over targets embedded in the ground. Conor noted no sign of movement of any kind, indicating that the dewatering program is doing its job and the foundations of the immense architectural elements of Luxor Temple, particularly the Ramesses II pylons and great Colonnade Hall of Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun, are stable. Conor arrived for the last day of a three day rainstorm, a phenomenon that can do terrible damage to modern villages and local antiquities sites. This one was accompanied by hail and some amazing lightning displays in addition to the rain, but we were lucky this time; while there was some migration of salts to the surface of walls and fragments, all over Luxor, damage was fairly minimal. Despite the rain, Conor noted an overall, continued diminishing of salt efflorescence on the temple walls and foundations, another excellent sign that the dewatering program - inaugurated in 2006 - is working well. We are noting the same thing on the west bank where the dewatering program was inaugurated considerably later, in 2011.

The big excitement in Luxor this month was the completion and inauguration on March 23rd of two more quartzite colossi of Amenhotep III restored by our colleague Hourig Sourouzian at the Amenhotep III mortuary temple (the 'Memnon Temple') in western Thebes. These include a seated colossus from the second pylon, and a striding colossus from the great north gate, studied by Labib Habachi many years ago. Both will have company in the coming years, since both were paired with other colossal statues, now fallen and in pieces, which will also be restored and re-erected. Hourig has also partially re-erected several granite colossi that lined the southern half of the great, stone peristyle court. This year they made another join that actually involved Chicago House. In our blockyard at Medinet Habu years ago we noted a quartzite block inscribed with part of the first name (prenomen) of Amenhotep III, Nebmaatre, in large, very deep-cut sunk-relief hieroglyphs, obviously from an inscribed, Amenhotep III colossus base. We passed the block on to Hourig and her team along with a few other statue fragments in the blockyard that also clearly came from the mortuary temple. This year Hourig's team discovered where the block came from: the northern Memnon colossus, the famous 'singing colossus' of classical antiquity, where our fragment directly joins the inscribed base and completes the cartouche. How it got to Medinet Habu will always be a bit of a mystery, but it has now been restored to the original, inscribed base of the northern colossus, northern side, and is sweet to see.

There were many colleagues, friends, and associates in Luxor this month: Among them Geoffrey Martin, Mohsen el-Kamel, Piers Litherland, Judith Bunbury, and their team were in town for their western wadi geological survey. Angus Graham, Kris Strutt, and their team are just finishing their 2014 season for the Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Project. Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies were with us for two weeks' of work in the Photo Archives (that went all too quickly), and conservator Hiroko has already departed for home after a good two months in the Luxor Temple blockyard. Krisztian is preparing to leave for Hungary this weekend.

And so it is that time again. When next I write it will be from Chicago, with an update of our last two weeks and the transition to home. It has been a full and productive field season, thanks to our Antiquities Ministry friends, our colleagues back home, and to all of you out there who have supported our work and thereby made it all possible. Warm best wishes - and thanks - to all of you.

Best from Luxor and Chicago House,
Ray Johnson, director

March 1, 2014

Dear Friends,

February has certainly shot by quickly, but most productively. This past Thursday we finished our work for the season at the tomb of Amenhotep III's Malqata Palace steward Nefesekheru, TT 107. Senior artists Margaret De Jong and Sue Osgood finished up their drawings of the inscribed and decorated portico, and Sue drew the handful of small, inscribed limestone wall fragments that we have collected during the past couple of years. In fact, she and senior epigrapher Brett McClain found a join for one of them on the wall, the first of many to come we hope. Sue's drawing - done on one of our new Cintiq 'Companion' digital drawing tablets - will be digitally grafted onto the wall drawing. Brett initiated collation of the portico drawings starting with the inscribed column (drawn by Sue), and he finished that this past week. Work at the tomb will resume next season, and it is hoped that the entire façade will be mostly collated then.

At Medinet Habu Tina Di Cerbo has adapted her 'Companion' drawing tablet to her own graffiti drawing requirements in the north Ptolemaic annex. On February 22nd, Peter Grossmann journeyed from Sheikh Abada Antinoupolis (where he and Jay Heidel have been working this month as part of the Italian Mission from Florence under the direction of Rosario Pintaudi) to consult with Tina about the Christian-period graffiti in the annex and its function at that time. Stone masons Frank Helmholz and Johannes Weninger have been cutting and preparing newly quarried Gebel Silsileh sandstone blocks for the restoration of the Egyptian-style Domitian Gate, now up to its fourth course. Conservator Lotfi Hassan assisted by Nahed Samir Andraos finished the condition surveying and treatment of the Domitian Gate blocks with our six Egyptian conservation students, and transferred their operation to the southern well of Ramesses III. The area around the well, in the past notoriously low and wet, has - I am pleased to report - dried out considerably since the activation of the USAID-sponsored west bank dewatering program in 2011, allowing us to continue our consolidation and restoration program there. The students are now carefully consolidating and putting back together the shattered upper blocks of the partly collapsed and now stabilized well, and in some cases the broken halves of the blocks will be rejoined with fiberglass dowels. Next season we will remove the decayed foundation stones on the eastern side of the well for replacement with new, damp-coursed stone blocks. At the small Amun temple photographer Yarko Kobylecky took large-format photographs of the undersides of the bark sanctuary portals - embellished with protective sun disks and vultures with outspread wings - for drawing enlargements, while Margaret and Sue continued digital drawing of the 21st Dynasty Pinudjem marginal inscrition that wraps around the exterior of the 18th Dynasty Temple. Yarko is also taking large-format reference photos of the Claudius Gate outside the the temple before we move the blocks inside later this season for treatment, and restoration starting next season. Epigrapher Jen Kimpton is continuing her cataloguing and mapping of the destroyed western High Gate blocks and fragments in preparation for a new site management program that includes moving, consolidation, and rejoining of the material starting next year.

At Luxor Temple Krisztián Vertés finished drawing another major section of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber, south wall eastern side, for digital inking over the summer. Jay Heidel continued his digital penciling of the Bentresh block material before being loaned to the Antinoupolis team in Middle Egypt on the 13th. Brett, also loaned for a few days, accompanied him north and collated a couple of blocks at the site inscribed with hieroglyphic texts that are probably contemporary with the Hadrianic city. Looting has continued at the site, despite the presence of some new guards, and cemetery encroachment has now breached the ancient city walls, so the presence of the team even for a few weeks is important. Hiroko Kariya started her annual condition review of the Luxor Temple blockyard and with Chicago House engineer Nashet and Tina has coordinated the replacement of the canvas siding of our aluminum, covered 'hospital' mastaba/platforms. We found that a small pack of dogs had made one of them their home over the summer; the mother had obviously given birth there, and the grown dogs are now using it as their base. Nashet and Hiroko are preparing a humane mesh barrier, to keep them out of where they definitely do not belong! As part of her work this season Hiroko is also designing a maintenance program with the Luxor Temple inspectors at the site that will allow for monitoring, cleanup, and maintenance of the blockyard open-air museum.

Finally, the Khonsu Temple work this month has gone extremely well, thanks to the floor-restoration efforts of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and Antiquities Ministry in the small hypostyle hall. Interestingly, all of the major reused material that epigrapher Jen and artist Keli Alberts have been carefully recording in the flooring belongs to a monument of Amenhotep III. The scenes show the king in various scales offering to both ithyphallic and anthropomorphic Amuns, but no sign of Khonsu. And no sign of any of the other types of blocks we have documented in the sanctuaries beyond, or in the court that approaches the hall. Nor are there any definitive indications of where the blocks originally came from. The material has turned to be of enormous importance and interest, as we suspected would be the case.

Between February 18th and 20th ARCE and Chicago House hosted a group of USAID Egypt friends led by Sylvia Atalla on a review of the USAID sponsored/funded work in Luxor, always a pleasure to show them our progress. The Malqata team led by Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Department director Diana Craig Patch has finished their work for the season and will be heading home in a few days; Peter Lacovara from Emory has already departed after coordinating more brick restoration work in the main palace of the king. Betsy Bryan from Johns Hopkins has been in town this week for work at Mut Temple, and is heading home soon. It has been lovely having both groups here. Our colleague Nozomu Kawai from Waseda University, Tokyo, has been staying with us this week as he conducted research at Karnak, a special treat.

And so it goes. It's been busy! I won't tell you how beautiful the weather has been this month; you don't need to know. As we head into the last month and a half of our archaeological field season, I am pleased to report that all is well with us, and with Luxor. I will report again next month. In the meantime, best wishes from all of us here, to all of you out there!

Best from Chicago House,
Ray Johnson, director

February 4, 2014

Dear Friends,

It is hard to believe that it is already February; it seems like yesterday that I wrote to you last, a whole month ago. We are all well, but January was a momentous month for Egypt. The constitutional referendum voting took place successfully on January 14th and 15th and the country is now preparing for presidential elections perhaps as early as the end of this month or the beginning of March, with parliamentary elections afterward. Luxor was peaceful during the constitutional referendum with a good voter turnout (including our entire Egyptian staff), and even Police Day/Revolution Day on January 25th passed here joyously and peacefully, despite some disturbances in the north. Millions of people throughout the country took to the streets in celebration of the revolution, and celebrated the possibilities for real change. We share our friends' hopes.

Our January was spent working steadily and productively. We resumed our documentation work at Khonsu temple on January 20th, focuissing our efforts on reused blocks in the flooring of the Khonsu Temple Hypostyle Hall, many from the time of Amenhotep III. This hall is being cleaned and the flooring opened up by the American Research Center under the direction of ARCE associate director John Shearman in preparation for paving the areas lacking original paving stones, pried up during the medieval period. Epigrapher Jen Kimpton is coordinating the work and artist Keli Alberts is doing the drawing of the reused blocks as the ARCE workmen expose them. Brett McClain and I will do final checks of the drawings before the new floor blocks hide the reused blocks from view forever. The eastern side of the hall is now cleaned with two large, inscribed blocks exposed plus a handful of smaller fragments. Photographer Yarko Kobylecky assisted by Ellie Smith started the photography of the accessible blocks today. When the western side of the hall is finished we will tansfer our efforts there. In the meantime Keli is penciling two reused blocks visible over the doorway of chapel 11.

Krisztián Vertés returned to us on January 21st and almost immediately resumed his work penciling the Tetrarchic Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult chamber at Luxor Temple. He joins Jay Heidel who is doing facsimile drawings of the Bentresh block material in the blockyard originally identified by former Chicago House director Lanny Bell in the early 1980s, and now being readied for publication by Robert Ritner and Brett McClain for the first volume of our Luxor Temple blockyard publication series. Jay is using the new Cintiq 'Companion' drawing tablet for the initial digital 'penciling' stage of the recording process with great success. Sue Osgood has been using another 'Companion' tablet in her penciling of the 21st Dynasty Pinudjem marginal inscription that wraps around the outside of the small Amun temple across the river at Medinet Habu, and enjoying it very much. Sincerest thanks must go to our friend and colleague Dr. Margie Fisher for her generous grant that has allowed us to purchase these vital new tools a year ahead of schedule, thereby allowing us to hone our skills with them now rather than later. Thanks to Margie's generosity, Krisztián has been able to add a section to the new Digital Epigraphy manual on digital penciling techniques in addition to digital inking, again, a year ahead of schedule. The manual is bing reviewed now at the Oriental Institute and will be ready soon for uploading as an iBook, insha'Allah later this month.

Today we resumed our work at Theban Tomb 107, the tomb of Amenhotep III's Malqata palace Steward Nefersekheru. Senior artists Sue Osgood and Margaret De Jong are finishing up some drawing details on the pillared façade of the tomb, including drawing the few inscribed loose fragments that we have found so far. Senior epigrapher Brett McClain has started collating Sue's drawings of the one surviving inscribed pillar, and begun a process that we hope will be completed next season. Our resumption of the work in this tomb is well-timed, since our Metropolitan Museum of Art and Emory University colleagues (Diana Craig Patch and Catharine Roehrig from the MMA, and Peter Lacovara from Emory) have just returned to resume their archaeological and restoration work at the palace itself, and will be in residence here for the next month. As usual we are providing them with the use of one of the Chicago House Land Rovers to help facilitate their work in that extraordinary site.

At Medinet Habu, the Domition gate is rising again; under the supervision of master mason Frank Helmholz assisted by stone mason Johannes Weninger, the second course is finished and in place, and the third course is well underway. Lotfi Hassan and the six Egyptian conservation students condition-surveyed, cleaned, and consolidated (where necessary) each original block before it was put back in place, and have been working ahead of the stone masons so that each block is ready in the order in which it needs to be repositioned. It's quite a process, recquiring lots of coordination, and the results are quite beautiful. This week Lotfi and the students have turned their attentions to the shattered upper blocks of the Ramesses III southern well , threatened with collapse, that we dismantled several years ago. Now that the low area around the well is much drier, thanks to the activation of the USAID-funded dewatering program for the west bank of Luxor, it is time to start the restoration of the damaged blocks, and the replacement of the lower courses, completely decayed and turned to sand because of groundwater salts. Replacement of the foundations is scheduled to begin next season. When she is not working at Khonsu Temple these days, epigrapher Jen is continuing her survey of the destroyed and fragmentary western high gate, the preliminary stages of what will be a major documentation, conservation, and restoration effort in the seasons ahead. Richard Jasnow joined wife Tina Di Cerbo in late December to continue their graffiti documentation work at Medinet Habu until january 10th; as always it was a pleasure to have him back with us. Conservator Hiroko Kariya arrived back with us last week and is back at work in the Luxor Temple blockyards for the next couple of months. And at the moment Lotfi's wife Dina, their two sons Karim and Hani, and Dina's sister Nora are with us for an extended holiday, also a pleasure.

Photo Archivist Sue Lezon, fleeing the blizzards plaguing the midwest and east coast, spent the latter part of December and first part of January with us coordinating the Photo Archives work, optimizing scanned images for the database, supervising procurement, and preparing the way for Alain and Emmanuelles Arnaudies, who are coordinating our master database, which includes the Helen and Jean Jacquet photo archives. In addition to her work assisting Yarko photographing in the field, Ellie Smith has been scanning the Chicago House dictionery card files, a seemingly endless but extremely important task, for which we are very, very grateful.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. We are having an entirely normal season in almost every way, and continuing to maximize our time out here. Before I sign off for this month, I must say that I work with an extraordinary group of people here at Chicago House. This evening at dinner I was given a special cake to commemorate my return to Luxor exactly one year ago today after my 'cardiac episode' and two months' convalescence in Chicago last year. I had forgotten, but the team hadn't. I am definitely blessed to work with such a remarkable group, and I am very lucky to be here, in every way.

I will write again next month with a report on our activities this month. In the meantime, please accept our very best wishes, from everyone here. Happy Valentine's Day!

Best from Chicago House,
Ray Johnson, director

January 6, 2014

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year 2014! Chicago House rang in the New Year this week with a festive, in-house dinner, just the Chicago House team and our friends, former Egyptian Museum director Dr. Wafaa El-Saddik and husband Azmy El-Rabbat who have been with us over the holidays. While tourism is still low, Luxor saw a noticeable increase in visitors after Christmas for the New Year celebrations. At Medinet Habu the other day I met two small American tour groups, among a number of other foreign and Egyptian groups. Progress is slow but steady.

We expected this winter to be fairly quiet, but it’s been anything but; the month of December was a full one. On December 2nd I had a very cordial meeting with the current Governor of Luxor, Dr. Tarek Saad El-Din who was appointed this past summer; later in the month he paid us a visit at Chicago House. From December 3rd – 5th we were pleased to help host the visit of acting US Ambassador, Charges d’Affairs David Satterfield on a review of USAID, ARCE, and Chicago House projects in Luxor. ARCE director Gerry Scott, ARCE Associate Director John Shearman, the Chicago House team and I had much to show him, and the conversations on site and at Chicago House were stimulating and lively. On December 8th stonemason Johannes Weninger arrived to assist Frank Helmholz with the Domitian Gate reconstruction work at Medinet Habu. The first course is now complete, mostly newly quarried and shaped sandstone, and the second course is almost finished. Because more new stone is necessary for reconstruction than we originally realized, Johannes’s expertise will help us achieve our goal to finish the re-erection of the sandstone gate by the end of next season. Medinet Habu conservator Lotfi Hassan, assisted by conservator Nahed Samir and the six Egyptian conservation students have been condition-surveying, cleaning, and conserving the blocks of the gate prior to reconstruction, in coordination with the stonemasons, and doing an impressive job. Senior epigrapher Brett McClain, epigrapher Jen Kimpton, and senior artist Sue Osgood worked with artists Keli Alberts and Krisztián Vertés on the final collations and reviews of the drawings for the next volume in the small Amun temple series, Medinet Habu Volume X (as well as some drawings for Medinet Habu Volume XI), for which I have done a number of director’s checks on site. Richard Jasnow joined wife Tina Di Cerbo at Medinet Habu at the end of December to continue work on the Demotic graffiti they have been recording – and preserving – throughout the complex. All of this work, including the epigraphic documentation, is supported by a grant from USAID Egypt.

December and now January have also been a time of lots of in-house work, including updating our various databases. Photo Archivist Sue Lezon and Registrar Ellie Smith arrived in mid-December to coordinate Chicago House’s image management and have been upgrading the Filemaker-Pro Photo Archives database to Filemaker-Pro 12. Oriental Institute Visiting Committee member Andrea Dudek helped Jay Heidel adjust and expand the new Luxor Temple blockyard Filemaker-Pro database that he is now filling with data. Andrea also helped us achieve our goal of the conversion of our library holdings to the Library of Congress classification system, which was finished on December 12th. Mabruk to Chicago House librarian Dr. Marie Bryan, assistant librarian Anait Helmholz, and Andrea for this momentous achievement. There’s still some followup work to do, and the moving of the books to their final position, but the bulk of the work is now accomplished.

Next week after the Mulid Al Nabi, the Prophet’s Birthday, we will resume our work at Khonsu Temple, Karnak, recording inscribed, reused blocks in the flooring of the Khonsu Temple small Hypostyle Hall currently being cleaned for restoration by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE). The ARCE workmen will eventually fill the gaps in the flooring with new sandstone slabs, but before they do, the Chicago House epigraphic team (epigraphers Brett and Jen and artists Keli, Sue, and Jay) will record whatever inscribed surfaces are exposed, and will integrate the new data with the hundreds of other inscribed blocks we have already recorded in conjunction with ARCE’s floor restoration program throughout the temple. The entire building is constructed of blocks from earlier monuments taken down and reused by Ramesses III for quick construction of his new temple to Khonsu, and this is the first time we will have access to the reused material in this area.

This week Jay has been working with Dr. Wafaa on tweaking the Arabic of three new educational signs for Luxor Temple that describe and illustrate the setting in Thebes/Waset; the pylon of Ramesses II; and the Ramesses II first court. Later in the week Jay will be resuming his digital facsimile drawing documentation of the ‘Bentresh’ and Ptolemy I blocks at Luxor temple. He will be utilizing a new tool, the Cintiq ‘Companion,’ a digital drawing tablet that now allows us to reproduce the first-stage penciling of our facsimile drawing documentation digitally. We obtained the first two of these new digital drawing tablets in December, and Tina and Krisztián have used them at Medinet Habu, testing them with great success. Kristián has already been obliged to add an appendix to the digital drawing manual on the use of the tablet as an initial penciling/documentation tool. He is back home in Hungary now with Julia and little David, putting the finishing touches on the manual that we hope to publish online very soon.

Our Christmas holiday was festive and warm. No blizzards here! (Although, as you might have heard, parts of Cairo and Sinai DID get snow in December – an extremely rare event). While a number of staff traveled home (or simply traveled) over Christmas, there were enough of us still here to enjoy a traditional holiday, with Christmas cookie decorating and distributing to our friends, Christmas tree decorating, and a lovely dinner on Christmas day with about forty Egyptian, foreign, and American guests. Our friend Ali Asfar, former Gurna Inspectorate director and Director General of Upper Egyptian Monuments, was in town and helped us celebrate. Last week Ali received a major promotion and is now Director General of Upper and Lower Egyptian Monuments – we like to say we knew him when he was ‘small.’ Mabruk, Dr. Ali!

It has been a good and productive month. But I am saddened to acknowledge the passing of World Monuments Fund philanthropist Robert W. Wilson on December 23, 2013. The Epigraphic Survey was the lucky recipient of Robert W. Wilson’s generosity through the WMF from 2001 until 2012 with a series of ‘Wilson Challenge to Conserve our Heritage’ grants. His support allowed us to properly store and protect roughly 50,000 inscribed sandstone wall and architectural fragments in the precinct; conserve more than a thousand of them; transform the Luxor Temple blockyard eastern storage areas into a secure, protected storage facility and open-air museum; and even re-erect and restore two major fragment groups back onto their original walls, one group in the great Colonnade Hall, and another group in the Amenhotep III court. The loss to the WMF, and the world, is profound; he was a good friend to us all, and his legacy is extraordinary. We in Luxor are very grateful and proud to have had his help over the years, and we honor his memory now.

We await Egypt’s constitutional referendum and new elections this month with great anticipation, and great hope, and I will have more to say about that next month. For now, best wishes to you all, and particularly to Egypt, for a peaceful, prosperous, joyous, and productive New Year 2014.

Ray Johnson,

November 29, 2013

Dear friends,

The Epigraphic Survey successfully resumed its archaeological activities at Medinet Habu on October 28th and reopened the Chicago House Library on the same day. Luxor remains peaceful; the weather continues to be warm and balmy, cooler at night; the work is going smoothly; and it is very good to be back. Instead of our annual Halloween party, this year we had a quiet, in-house dinner for all the staff on October 31st to celebrate the beginning of the season. It was the first we had seen of Nahed’s, Essam’s, and Samir’s families since April, and all of the children had grown several inches! Since we reopened, library use has been steady; we have several Egyptian students working on Master’s theses, plus two working on their PhDs, in addition to the foreign missions and MSA inspectors who routinely use the library for checking references. It’s been busy.

During the first week of November I traveled to cold, wet England to give the Amelia Edwards Memorial Lecture at the University of Bristol on November 7th about Chicago House's current work in Thebes. On my return to sunny Luxor we were pleased to host friends and colleagues Geoffrey Martin, Mohsen Kamel, and Piers Litherland, in town for their KV project, to Chicago House for a few meals and stimulating discussion. We look forward to their return in the spring. There are numerous other missions working in the area: the Spanish team working at the Mortuary Temple of Thutmosis III, the Franco-Egyptian team at Karnak, the American Research Center in western Thebes and Mut Temple, another Spanish mission at the Theban tomb of Amenhotep III’s vizier Amenhotep Huy, the Polish-Egyptian mission at Deir El Bahri, the Hungarian mission to the tomb of Imiseba, etc. More are coming, and our community is growing. A group from the US Embassy Cultural Affairs Office came by for tea and a quick library tour on November 11th after a trip south. We are noticing a slow but steady increase in tourism as the weeks have gone by and as more countries relax their travel restrictions to Egypt. It is the perfect time to come, actually. Ahlan was ahlan!

Librarian Marie Bryan returned to Chicago House on November 15th, the same day that we started a new conservation student training program at Medinet Habu under the direction of Medinet Habu conservation supervisor Lotfi Hassan, and funded by our current USAID Egypt grant. Six students who have never had field experience are now getting some excellent, hands-on experience under the watchful eye of Lotfi. The students are learning the skills needed to condition-survey and treat deteriorating stone, and are assisting in the documentation, evaluation, and treatment of the sandstone blocks of the Domitian gate, now dismantled and awaiting restoration. Later they will turn their attention to the shattered blocks of the dismantled southern well of Ramesses III, a small gate of Roman Emperor Claudius that we will be dismantling and bringing inside the blockyard for treatment this season, and numerous miscellaneous fragments in the blockyard that require consolidation. There is much to keep them occupied!

On November 17th Chicago House celebrated its 89th birthday; it’s amazing to think that we are now in our 90th year of operation, rapidly catching up to the Oriental Institute’s Assyrian Dictionary Project for longevity! On November 18th Dr. Rosario Pintaudi, director of the Istituto Papirologico “G. Vitelli” of the University of Florence, Italy, and also director of the Sheikh Abada/Antinoupolis mission, took a break from building a new guard house at Sheikh Abada, traveled to Luxor with MSA inspector Fathi Awad and stayed with us at Chicago House for a few pleasant days. That day I also took a group of about 30 members of the Luxor Syndicate of Guides through Medinet Habu to meet our team, and to brief them on our work activities, new information (including the latest gory details about Ramesses III's assassination thanks to recent DNA and CT scanning work), and current issues. The local guides are a very important bridge between the scientific community and the public, and it is important to keep them well informed; they always have terrific, thoughtful questions.

Back in the studio Krisztian has been putting together a 'manual' of our new digital inking and penciling methodologies. We are going to publish the manual in e-book format, a first for Chicago House, and perhaps even a first for the OI. It will include detailed instructions for using the new digital tools with which we have been experimenting, plus a chapter on our inking conventions, with lots of illustrations, sidebars, even videos. We hope to have it ready by the beginning of the new year to share with our interested friends and colleagues. OI VC member Andrea Dudek arrived on November 23rd and has been assisting Marie and Anait with the final stages of the Library of Congress classification conversion project. She has also assisted Jay Heidel in the designing of the new Luxor Temple blockyard database. PLUS she brought cranberries that she personally made into delicious cranberry sauce for our Thanksgiving feast last night – thank you, Andrea! We had a very good crowd, and were about 50 total, including Egyptian and foreign friends and colleagues, and lots of children. The turkey was the size of small car, and fed the whole crowd quite nicely. God bless our kitchen crew.

I should close with the news that most of you already know, the unexpected death of our friend and colleague Harold Hays in Leiden on November 20th in his sleep as a result of heart failure. He was only 48. Harold was famous for his extraordinary energy, his keen intellect, and his intense love of life. He was one of THE authorities on ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, and while writing his dissertation on that subject worked for five seasons with us at Chicago House as epigrapher. The year he finished his PhD, he was appointed University Lecturer in Egyptology at Leiden University. We will miss Harold’s voice, and his spirit. Our hearts are with his wife and daughter, Marga and Margui at this time.

Otherwise, we are all well, safe, working hard, and looking forward to the Christmas and New Year holidays. Seasons’ greetings in advance to you all!

Best wishes from Chicago House,

October 27, 2013

Dear Friends,

All is well with us in Luxor as the Epigraphic Survey begins its 2013-2014 archaeological field season. We are enjoying a long, slow opening, in part due to the Eid al-Adha holiday in mid-October, which delayed the completion of the paperwork by about a week, giving us some extra time to settle in. I was in Cairo at the beginning last week signing the contract for the season at the Ministry of State for Antiquities and meeting with our MSA, ARCE, USAID, and US Embassy friends. We received our work permissions and all of our security clearances, and I delivered copies of the signed contract to the east and west bank inspectorates a few days ago. We are all set to resume our epigraphic, conservation, and restoration work at Medinet Habu tomorrow (Monday, October 28th) when we will transfer our equipment to the temple site, meet our MSA inspectors, and reopen the small Amun temple and blockyard. We will also be opening the Chicago House library.

Egypt is a very different place from when the team was last here in April, but we have been warmly welcomed back. There are modern, armored troop carriers everywhere, in front of churches and hotels, and security is excellent. The mood is calm, even in Cairo. Luxor is quiet, but not entirely bereft of tourists. There were tour groups on my flights to Luxor, and the official word from the Luxor governor is that tourism is 12% now, up from 2% last month. We've seen a couple of tour boats on the Nile, and I saw a bus full of tourists the other day. It will take some time, but more and more countries are easing their travel restrictions, and we expect to see a steady increase as the weeks go by.

The days are warm, but the nights are unseasonably cool, even in Luxor (not a complaint!). The house and grounds are clean and beautiful, thanks to the efforts of our workmen and Tina Di Cerbo, who came a month early to supervise the opening and maintenance work. The kitchen plumbing (from 1930) failed at the end of last season and had to be completely replaced. Since the floor tiles had to be torn up they were replaced as well, the stove fan was replaced, and all the woodwork was redone. The kitchen is now sparkling new and fully functional, again thanks to Tina and our intrepid, skilled workmen.

But there has been sadness as well. On October 16th, on his way to work, Chicago House assistant cook Ibrahim Elias had a heart attack and died before the ambulance could get him to the hospital. A big, burly, gentle man, Ibrahim began work with us in 1995 and was one of the pillars of our staff. He always arrived around 5:00 AM each day to start the prep work in the kitchen and feed the early risers, and was one of the most sweet-natured human beings I have ever known, always smiling, always with a good word for everyone. A number of us attended his funeral at the new St. Malak Church and his burial in the historic St. Pakhom Monastery (Deir El Shayeb) cemetery outside of Luxor. He leaves a real hole in our ranks, and we will miss him terribly.

Otherwise, everyone else is well. The workmen are cleaning and preparing the ladders, scaffolding, and other equipment for transport on Monday, and we are looking forward to resuming our work at the temple sites.

I will be in touch again next month with an update on our activities. In the meantime, best wishes to you all for an excellent autumn from everyone here. Happy Halloween!

Best from Luxor,
Ray Johnson, Director

September 1, 2013

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to report that despite the disturbances in Egypt during the month of August, Chicago House remains secure and safe. Our Egyptian administration staff, Samir Guindy and Samwell Maher, and senior accountant Essam El-Sayed report that Luxor is peaceful and quiet. Our Egyptian workmen, who double as guards during the summer months we are away, have done a beautiful job of protecting the Chicago House facility, and things are getting back to normal. The annual Chicago House audit with KPMG started this past Sunday, August 25th in Luxor and is scheduled to finish on September 5th. I am departing for Egypt on Monday, September 2nd and will be present for the conclusion of the audit on September 4th, our usual program. While in Luxor I will touch base with our antiquities friends and colleagues, visit the new Antiquities Ministry Luxor director and the new governor, and arrange for our archaeological field season. I will spend two days in Cairo afterward and will see more colleagues there, and be back in Chicago on September 11th.

If things remain peaceful we plan on returning to Luxor to resume our documentation and conservation programs at the usual time, October 15th – April 15th. If the situation changes, we will modify our program accordingly. Tina Di Cerbo is arriving in Luxor the first week of September to resume maintenance work at the house (all the kitchen water pipes are being replaced) and start the opening and cleaning process.

Thank you all for your thoughts and concern. Things are good in Luxor, and Chicago House is well-guarded, by our workmen and by the Luxor City police. As is usual during the summer months the house is still closed (except for the finance and administration office) and the foreign professional staff members are all in their respective home countries for the summer: the USA, Canada, Hungary, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and France. We are all looking forward to returning in October to resume our preservation work in Luxor, inshallah.

I will keep you all posted, and will be in touch again in early October. Best and thanks for your concern, your friendship, and your support.

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:

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

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.

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.

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.




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. 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. 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 an exciting new program recently inaugurated by the Oriental Institute, and generously funded by OI Visiting Committee Members Lewis and Misty Gruber.



In some instances, as with the reused fragments in the floors and walls of Khonsu Temple, 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.




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.


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.

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.

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!


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. INCLUDE PHOTOS OF DYAD REASSEMBLY FROM EXISTING WEBSITE 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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.