Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Dec 10, 2016

Photo by Frank Helmholz

March 24, 2017

Photo by Frank Helmholz

March 24, 2017

Current Season

Epigraphic Survey Season Update March 15, 2017

W. Raymond Johnson

Belated but warm New Year 2017 greetings from Chicago House!  I am happy to report that the Epigraphic Survey received all of its permissions from the Ministry of Antiquities and Egyptian State Security and has been back in operation in Luxor since mid-October.  The 2016-2017 archaeological field season has been so busy there has been very little time to write, which is why you have not heard from me before now, but all is well, and it’s now time for a much-delayed update.

LUXOR TEMPLE.  At Luxor Temple we have launched a new documentation initiative in the blockyard open-air museum and storage areas supervised by blockyard site manager Jay Heidel.  Photographers Hilary McDonald and Owen Murray working with Jay developed a system this season that utilizes digital photography and Agisoft Photoscan software to create photogrammetric ‘maps’ of stacked block rows for reference, starting with the Akhenaten Karnak talatat holdings, (which will be among the first groups to be transferred back to Karnak from whence they came).  The digital photographers are assisted by Gina Salama and Ellie Smith who help tag the blocks with numbers and place small targets on each block for squareness.  The end result is a tif image that can be used for Jay’s blockyard database, archiving, drawing, and publication; 1780 Akhenaten Karnak talatat blocks have been recorded so far using this new process, with around 840 to go before we finish for the season in April.  The digital archive will be invaluable for referencing the data within and outside of Egypt, and will be augmented by film photography as groups of blocks and fragments are analyzed and joined.  Jay continues to develop the blockyard database and update the records for fragments, including photos and location data from our records at Chicago House; so far he has created 3,672 records in the database, excluding talatat.  In the blockyard itself, his work consists of verifying the location of each fragment based on the recorded data, locating fragments whose data has been lost, figuring out the numbers assigned to fragments we have studied in the past whose numbers have fallen off or become illegible, and adding new fragments to the database based on what is found, especially, at the moment, the Akhenaten Karnak talatat.  The process of checking in the field proceeds mastaba by mastaba and will continue until all relevant fragments have been accounted for (approximately 50,000 total) and all new, relevant fragments have been added to the database. Conservator Hiroko Kariya rejoined the team in January and has been condition-surveying the blockyard holdings, plus doing necessary cleaning and repairs on selected fragments and blocks in the open-air museum display and storage areas.  She is utilizing the new blockyard database to record necessary conservation treatment, pending or accomplished, in coordination with Jay.  During the month of February Chicago House ‘lent’ Jay to the Italian Mission from Florence working at Sheikh Abada / Antinoupolis headed by Rosario Pintaudi, where Jay and the team uncovered major new material from the Osiris Antinous temple complex built by the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.  Now that he is back, Jay is coordinating the move of about 100 Colonnade Hall block fragments from the sphinx road area to the main blockyard east of the Amenhotep III court.  These fragments are from the Colonnade Hall 3rd register, west side, south end, an area whose carving was started by Tutankhamun and finished by Sety I.

In the Luxor Temple King’s Chamber/Roman Imperial Cult Chamber Egyptologist artist Krisztian Vertes is continuing his precise digital drawings of the Diocletianic frescos, southern and eastern walls.  He has been greatly assisted by Owen who provided the digital images stitched together with Agisoft Photoscan software for the photographic ‘layer’ of Krisztian’s drawings.  He also produced the background digital photography for the sample digital drawing of a scene in the same chamber showing a kneeling Amenhotep III blessed by an enthroned Amun that Krisztian will be presenting in all stages of photography, drawing, and collation for the updated Digital Epigraphy ebook.  The second edition of this invaluable reference work will be available for free download from the Oriental Institute Publications web page this summer.

Structural engineer Conor Power returned in February to review the structural stability of Luxor Temple and found that the temple is stable and secure, with no signs of change.  This is totally the result of the successful dewatering initiative for Karnak and Luxor temples that was sponsored by USAID and activated in 2007. 

MEDINET HABU. The Medinet Habu documentation, conservation, and restoration programs have been in full swing thanks to grants from USAID Egypt and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF).  These grants have allowed us to continue and expand our development of the southern and western sectors of the complex around the Ramesses III mortuary temple (USAID), to continue the Ramesses III southern well restoration project (RBF), to hire more workmen and conservators for both sets of projects, and to inaugurate another training program for conservation students.  There are several primary areas of focus for the USAID grant, the first being the sandstone pavement of Ramesses III bordered by a mud-brick enclosure wall that runs along the exterior southern wall of the mortuary temple.  The restoration of this walkway is one of our immediate goals, since it will allow visitor access to the western sector of the complex, also part of the program.  The mud-brick wall that ran parallel the walkway is being restored up to a certain level to contain the sandstone paving slabs, to direct visitors to parts west, and to keep them from straying off the path into fragile, unrestored areas.  This important restoration work is by necessity a collaboration of our conservation and restoration teams, headed by senior conservator Lotfi Hassan and master stone mason Frank Helmholz respectively, who together are synchronizing truly beautiful work.  We are creating our own mud bricks for the restoration, stamping them with a ‘U’ and ‘C’ (for the University of Chicago), and Lotfi is carefully matching the size of the new bricks to the period of wall being capped. For instance, Ramesses III bricks are considerably larger than the bricks used in later 25th Dynasty walls that intrude in places, and our new mud bricks match the dimensions of the originals exactly.  Sincerest thanks to ARCE Luxor director John Shearman for the donation of mud brick material from ARCE’s cleanup work in Dira Abu El-Naga that has greatly speeded up our restoration work.

The second focus of the USAID grant is the ‘House of Butehamun’ in the southwestern back corner of Medinet Habu.  Its four white-plastered pillars from a central hall stand in stark contrast to the brown enclosure walls behind them and are clearly visible across the site.  This complex – part house, part office, and part chapel – was cleared by archaeologist Uvo Höscher for the Oriental Institute in 1930 and 1931, but the extent of his excavations was not known.  Oriental Institute archaeologist Gregory Marouard’s test excavations at the site last season determined that Hölscher had indeed completely excavated, cleaned out, and refilled the brick casemate platform upon which the hall columns were erected, and this new knowledge has allowed us to proceed with our restoration work.  This season Lotfi’s conservation team has carefully consolidated and remapped the area, and has capped mud-brick walls from the original structure, as well as walls partly restored by Hölscher, clearly differentiating one phase from the other.  Next season we will construct a walkway around the structure for public viewing, accompanied by educational signage.

The third focus of the USAID grant is at the back center of the complex, the destroyed western High Gate.  This fortified stone and brick entryway served as the main administrative and supply entryway to Medinet Habu, and while similar to the intact eastern High Gate that fronts the Medinet Habu precinct, it was considerably bigger, and constructed mostly of mud-brick faced with stone blocks.  Unlike its mate on the east, the western High Gate was completely destroyed at the end of Dynasty 20 during a period of civil war.  Like the eastern tower, it was inscribed with battle-related scenes on the exterior, and domestic scenes on the interior, and like the eastern tower it appears to have been used as a royal residence.  The blocks from the crenelated tower were thrown down in two phases, the top two stories of the tower in the first phase, and the rest of it in a second, final destruction phase.  The passage was eventually completely bricked up, and the great sandstone blocks from the main body of the tower were quarried for reuse; some are to be seen in a Ptolemaic side gate leading to the small Amun temple.  Egyptologist Jen Kimpton is directing the team working on the documentation, analysis, and database entering of the blocks and fragments that remain, and to date they have recorded over a thousand.  Jen is assisted by Anait Helmholz with the processing of the data, and Keli Alberts, who is drawing the inscribed material.  Staff photographer Yarko Kobylecky has photographed in large-format film and digital photography over 500 inscribed blocks and fragments this season, making a total of over 800 photographed so far in the project, with the goal of documenting them all.  As we clean and organize the area more are constantly turning up.  Photographer Owen has supervised the creation of a photogrammetric map of the entire area using Agisoft Photoscan software to stitch together thousands of digital images, taken by hand and with an aerial camera. He is also keying the 3-D plans into a topographic plan initially created by archaeologist Uvo Hölscher, with the help of topographers from ARCE and the Franco-Egyptian Center (sincerest thanks to John Shearman and Christophe Thiers for the ‘loans’!).

This season saw the completion of the Domitian Gate restoration project, with the final restoration floor blocks laid in place by Frank and assistant stone mason Johannes Weninger (who cut and shaped most of the sandstone floor blocks), and the infilling with mortar between the courses finished by the conservation team supervised by Lotfi.  Frank and Lotfi are now designing a small open-air museum around the gate with displays on platforms of some of the completely salt-decayed lower-course blocks and educational signage that will explain the history of the site and the reasons for the project.  We may decide to do some more work on the monument itself, initially put together by Georges Daressy in the 19th century from blocks he found reused in buildings of the Christian city of Djeme on the site, but for now the basic reassembly and restoration is finished.  Mabruk to the stone and conservation teams for a magnificent collaboration, and a job well done!

While he was with us in February, structural engineer Conor Power  studied the structural stability of the 25th and 26th Dynasty God’s Wives Chapels at Medinet Habu.  He left specific instructions on how to repair some loose blocks at the back end of the Amenirdis chapel, which we will start this season and finish next winter, but otherwise reported that the God’s Wives Chapels and all other structures at Medinet Habu were stable, thanks to the USAID-funded west bank dewatering project, which is doing exactly what it was intended to do.

The epigraphic documentation work in the small Amun temple, coordinated by senior epigrapher J. Brett McClain, primarily focussed on the drawings of Medinet Habu Volumes XI and XII.  Brett also worked with Photo Archivist Sue Lezon this winter finalizing the photography for Medinet Habu Volume X, whose drawings are completely finished and awaiting publication production back in Chicago.  This season we have had the pleasure of training two new epigraphic team members: student epigrapher Jonathan Winnerman, and artist Dominique Navarro.  We were joined in the training program by two Antiquities Ministry inspectors, Nadia Ahmed Abd El-Latef from Luxor Temple, and Al-Shimaa Mohamed Mahmoud Mohamed from Karnak.  The ministry is encouraging the inclusion of interested inspectors in training programs sponsored by the archaeological missions, and we were very happy to include Nadia and Shimaa in ours.  Lotfi continued a student conservation training program at Medinet Habu this season as well, and Ministry conservator Radwa Ibrahim Naeem from Karnak joined the conservators for that.   

Tina Di Cerbo, assisted during the first two weeks of January by husband Richard Jasnow, continued her painstaking documentation of Demotic and Christian graffiti in the small Amun temple north Ptolemaic annex, focusing on the west interior wall.  Utilizing the software program ImageJ with the filter DStrech that allows almost invisible ink traces to become visible, she has detected at least four distinct layers of text and images on the wall, including at least two Christian phases. This is true detective work, and it is critical that it be done now, with increasing humidity in the air causing much of this data to fade to invisibility.

TT 107. Debris clearance work in the portico of Theban Tomb 107 (TT107) of the Steward of the palace of ‘Nebmaatre-is-the-Dazzling-Sun-Disk,’ the noble Nefersekheru, was resumed by Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder on January 19th 2017 for Chicago House, and was finished on January 30th.  More decorated limestone fragments from the inscribed wall and several large fragments of inscribed doorjambs (completely broken away) were recovered from the debris, including another patchstone.  Some of these substantial fragments were found broken into several pieces and were consolidated / rejoined by conservator Hiroko on site.  Once that was accomplished Yarko photographed each piece in both large-format film and digital photography during the first week of March for integration with the wall-relief photography and drawing.  When the blocked doorway is cleared next season for the installation of a steel gate we expect to recover more fragments that washed into the tomb entryway during repeated flooding of the sunken court over the millennia.  Once the cleaning was finished for this season, Brett and I returned to the site in February to continue the collation of the beautiful wall-relief drawings done by Sue Osgood and Margaret De Jong.  I finished the second collation of the inscribed faceted column of the façade, and after meeting with first epigrapher Brett, director’s-checked it with artist Sue Osgood at the wall, and all corrections were added before Sue departed for home at the end of February. 

CHICAGO HOUSE After the Chicago House staff departs for home in April and before we return in October Tina and the workmen do maintenance and construction work throughout the Chicago House complex.  This fall they raised the southern enclosure wall another two meters in response to increasing Luxor City activity in the vacant lot to the south of Chicago House.  And, just before our arrival in October, a new solar water-heating system was installed at Healey House, the Photo Lab, and the library wing, replacing energy-draining electric water heaters.  These improvements were laboriously effected by Tina and our workmen while it was still quite hot (bless them), and were funded in part by a gift from our ‘Friend of Chicago House’ Shafik Gabr, to whom we extend our sincerest thanks.

The Marjorie M. Fisher Chicago House Library now has a new head librarian; Anait Helmholz took on the position this fall after the retirement of former librarian Marie Bryan.  Anait has had years of experience as assistant librarian, and now has her own assistants: Gina Salama and Martina Roshdy Maher.  They are a very dynamic trio indeed, cheerfully serving patrons, shelf-reading, repairing books, ordering new books, creating a digital catalogue of the library holdings, and reorganizing the librarian’s office.  They have brought some very good energy to the library.

The Tom and Linda Heagy Photo Archives has been filled with digital photographers downloading and processing images as well as Photo Archivist Sue Lezon, registrar Ellie Smith, Tina, and Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies (in March).  In addition to the registering and housing of our own film images and processing/organizing of our archives, they have been working on the scanning, organizing, and archival housing of our colleague Ted Brock’s photographic archives, partly funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America grant to the Oriental Institute for digitizing records for inclusion into the University’s Integrated DataBase (IDB).  There is never a dull moment in the Photo Archives, the heart and soul of our operation, and it has been a very busy place these days.

And so it goes.  Tourism has been noticeably increasing all winter, and is quite brisk in Luxor at the moment.  We have had an amazing array of friends, colleagues, and visitors passing through, including the Oriental Institute November and March tours to Egypt led by former Chicago House director Lanny Bell and OI Development Director Brittany Mullins; US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft; USAID mission director Sherry Carlin; Marnie Pillsbury, Ana Heeren, and Stephen Heintz of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF); David and Susan Rockefeller, Jr and friends; Margie Fisher; Wafaa El-Seddik; and a host of others.  We are eagerly looking forward to the four-day ‘Sekhmet Omnipresent’ Conference in Luxor from March 23th-26th at which 17 colleagues and I will be speaking about the powerful lion-headed goddess so beloved of Amenhotep III, an event organized by Betsy Bryan and Hourig Sourouzian. 

Before I close, I should mention that Chicago House participated in the filming of two documentaries this fall.  One was for the University of Chicago and featured all aspects of our work, and is being edited now.  More on that in time.  We also took part in the filming of a BBC documentary on the career of the photographer Harry Burton, best known for his extraordinary photography of Tutankhamun’s tomb and its contents. Both Sue Lezon, who is an authority on Burton and early photography, and Yarko were interviewed and filmed, and our on-site work was featured, since we still shoot large-format film as well as digital photography.  The documentary aired on Wednesday, March 8th, and is available for viewing on Vimeo (password is 'wavelength'):

https://vimeo.com/wavelengthfilms/review/202212199/47c5478993

We have one more month left of work before we fold up our tents and return home on April 15th but the temperatures have already begun their slow ascent.  It’s been a busy winter, and a busy spring, and soon it will be time to start getting those reports ready before we leave.  In the meantime we send our best to you, our friends, wherever you may be, and our sincerest thanks for your support.   There is too much to do out here, and we could not do a fraction of it without you.  Thank you!