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MAJOR CONSERVATION PROJECT IN EGYPT ANNOUNCED

The University of Chicago announced that "Chicago House," the permanent field mission in Egypt of the University's Oriental Institute, has received a grant for $455,000 (1.36 million Egyptian pounds), from the Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) administered by the American Research Center in Egypt based in New York, for the restoration and documentation of the pharaonic Temple of Amun at Medinet Habu. The project, which is funded for a five-year period, has been approved for implementation by the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, which approves all archaeological work in Egypt. The grant will allow for the next phases of cleaning and restoration of the temple, as well as for the installation of floors, signage and lighting to make it available to tourists. Later stages of the grant provide for documentation of the scenes and inscriptions and for additional research to assist in publishing a series of definitive volumes on the temple's history, architecture and religious significance.

The Temple of Amun is located in Luxor in southern Egypt. The carved scenes and hieroglyphic inscriptions on its walls constitute a vast untapped resource of historical, art-historical and religious information about Egypt in the period 1500 B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. As it stands today, this monument was built by the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (ca. 1500 B.C.), and expanded by her successors for 1500 years into the Roman era. The temple was also considered to be sacred because it was associated with the funerary mound in which the group of eight gods of creation were thought to be buried.

The project consists of conservation, documentation and restoration activities which will be carried out over a five year period. The grant provides for the partial restoration of the temple, whose condition has badly deteriorated over the last century, mainly from settling of the stone foundations. As the foundation blocks have subsided, the upper courses of the walls have become unstable, and some of the decorated sandstone blocks have cracked. The Chicago team, aided by structural restoration and conservation consultants, will restore the walls either by jacking up the Ptolemaic-era walls or by completely dismantling them, then reconstructing the walls on modern concrete footings. Of particular interest to this phase of the project will be the recovery of foundation blocks which were reused in antiquity. Many of these stones are covered with scenes of the Kushite kings of Sudan, who conquered Egypt in about 750 B.C. Once recovered, the blocks have the potential to tell much about the period of Kushite domination in Egypt.

The work funded by the grant will also allow conservators to clean the walls of the temple of dust, soot, grim and bird droppings which obscure many of the scenes. The Chicago House team will make facsimile copies of the decorated surfaces of this part of the temple, employing their hall-mark system of team work between Egyptologists, photographers and specially trained artists. Peter F. Dorman, Field Director of Chicago House commented that "the award will facilitate the restoration of the temple and the definitive documentation of its inscriptions, preserving both the structure and its irreplaceable historical and religious record for future generations."

In the Summer of 1995, Chicago House received a grant for $135,000 (400,000 Egyptian pounds) from Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) for their continuing work at the Luxor Temple on the east side of the Nile. That project involves the conservation of decorated sandstone blocks from the time of King Tutankhamun. The stones have been badly damaged by ground water and by salt which naturally occurs in the local soil. The blocks once formed the upper registers of the stone walls which flank the 60 foot-tall columns in the Colonnade Hall. Once the individual blocks are stabilized, Chicago House artists and Egyptologists will document the decoration on their surfaces. This study will allow them to recreate the original decorative and architectural scheme of the hall.

Chicago House is the informal name of the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, the oldest continuously running field expedition in the Middle East. Since 1924, Chicago House teams have documented large portions of the Karnak Temple, the Luxor Temple, several private tombs and all of the reliefs and inscriptions on the Great Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.

Revised: February 7, 2007

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