Current Season

Epigraphic Survey Current Season Update September 20, 2020

W. Raymond Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

Usually Spring marks the return of the Epigraphic Survey from Egypt to the USA after its six-month archaeological field season in Luxor.  Not surprisingly this season was far from normal due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  When the seriousness of the situation made itself known and it became clear that we had to return home early, the Chicago House professional staff and our resourceful workmen rose to the challenge and started closing down our operations at Medinet Habu, Luxor Temple, and Theban Tomb 107 a month and a half early.  Half of the Chicago House team departed Egypt on commercial airlines in mid-March, and when commercial flights dried up the other half were evacuated by the University on a special charter jet on March 28th, thanks to the efforts of Oriental Institute Director Chris Woods and the University of Chicago Risk Management Office, to whom we owe enormous thanks.  Tina Di Cerbo selflessly remained in Luxor to do maintenance work in the house and library with our core team of workmen, all carefully socially distanced and masked, and returned safely home in Germany.  The debt we owe her is beyond words.   

I am happy to report that the Epigraphic Survey team - professional staff and local workmen alike - are safe and in good health.  The Chicago House facility is now closed and sleeping under the watchful eye of our administrators and local workmen who guard the facility and tend the gardens.  The professional staff members are now hunkered down back home, as is our usual summer schedule, carrying on the good work of the Epigraphic Survey and Oriental Institute.  Our artists are digitally inking beautiful facsimile drawings; the Egyptologist epigraphers are researching and translating the hieroglyphic texts we are copying and preparing our publications; our photographers and archivists are organizing and archiving massive amounts of photographic images; and the conservators are compiling reports on the conservation, restoration, and site management work that we accomplished this season.  Everyone is laying the groundwork for next season when we return to Luxor to help Egypt preserve, protect, and make accessible its marvelous past. 

Postponing the 2020-2021 Field Season

We had hoped that it would be possible to keep to our normal schedule this Fall, and to return to Luxor by October 15th, but the COVID-19 situation is not improving, and travel is still not safe.  The University of Chicago is still not allowing any research travel at the moment,  In discussions with the Oriental Institute and the University of Chicago, we have decided to postpone the Chicago House 2020-2021 field season, work remotely at home for a few months, and re-evaluate the situation at the beginning of the New Year.  All Chicago House team members have work to do remotely at home this Fall, into the New Year.  Inshallah we will see the development of a vaccine by then, which will allow safe traveling, and a safe return to Egypt.  We will keep you posted about our plans.

The Epigraphic Survey and Oriental Institute Online

As many of you know, the Oriental Institute has adjusted to the pandemic and social distancing by making more and more resources available online - including lectures - and Chicago House is a major part of that effort.  Our digitalEPIGRAPHY web site, masterminded by ES senior artist Krisztián Vertés, posts regular news and articles on current epigraphic work in Egypt (ours and others), on new digital technologies utilized in current epigraphic recording, on the history of epigraphy in Egypt, links to epigraphic publications, and many other online resources:

I am very pleased to announce that the Harvard University Giza Project and KU Leuven University recently have joined forces with the Epigraphic Survey to make digitalEPIGRAPHY a collaborative effort.  

Also, digitalEPIGRAPHY features are regularly posted on Instagram and Facebook: 

Additionally, every week the Oriental Institute posts articles and news items from the digitalEPIGRAPHY web page on the OI's Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter platforms.  New articles appear regularly on the digitalEPIGRAPHY web page itself on current epigraphic work in Egypt (ours and others), on new digital technologies utilized in current epigraphic recording, on the history of epigraphy in Egypt, links to epigraphic publications, and many other online resources.

And if you would like to access the regular Oriental Institute lectures, including one I gave in June and another that Brett gave in August, click this link:

So we are fine, adjusting to our new pandemic world, and continuing the good work of the Oriental Institute with the help of our friends.  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers during this challenging time, and bless you for your friendship and support.   

What follows is a report on our activities in Luxor from October 15th 20219 until March 28th, 2020.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy Fall and Winter, 




Work in Luxor Temple coordinated by site manager Jay Heidel focused on the tracking, numbering, cataloguing, and digital photography of the 50,000 fragments in the Luxor Temple blockyards, including digital drawing and collation of selected fragment groups, and the facsimile copying of the inscribed walls of the temple proper.  This part of our program includes the Late Roman fresco paintings and pharaonic reliefs in the Imperial Roman Cult Chamber being digitally drawn by senior artist for digital drawing Krisztián Vértes, and the Amenhotep III reliefs in the adjoining Hall of Offerings, being digitally drawn by Jay.  Photographer Owen Murray continued to create digital photogrammetric background imagery in both chambers used as the basis for the drawings.  Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) inspectors with whom we worked at Luxor Temple during the 2019-2020 season were Wael Abdel Satar Ahmed, Hala Ahmed Mohamed El Samann, and Dalia Mohamed Bahaa El Din. 

This season Krisztián focused on digitally penciling Amenhotep III reliefs in the Imperial Roman Cult Chamber, particularly on the south-eastern wall for inking this summer. In future seasons, he will continue digitally drawing the chamber’s pharaonic reliefs for publication in a second volume additional to the – now finished – Roman murals that will appear in a separate volume, the final plates on which Krisztián is working now.  Before Krisztián began, Owen used photogrammetry to create a high resolution photo coverage of the entire wall, with each segment output as flat, rectified drawing enlargement tifs for Krisztián’s drawings.   

Last season we began implementing our new end-to-end digital process by inaugurating our documentation of the back shrine area of Luxor Temple. The first room chosen was Amenhotep III’s Great Offering Chamber, between the Imperial Cult Chamber and the Bark Sanctuary. Season before last Owen completed photography for the room’s east wall, and this past season, with assistant Azab Ahmed, he completed the photography for the chamber’s west wall after a light brushing by Chicago House conservator Lotfi Hassan. During the summer Owen produced the drawing enlargements for the chamber’s second register for Jay, who was able to finish the penciling of the first register and most of the second before the end of our season.  

This year the work in the Luxor temple blockyard centered on continuing to develop the Luxor Temple Fragment Database. Since its creation six years ago, the Database has moved beyond entering our “core group” of fragments that have been periodically studied over the last forty years, and we began photographing and entering new material. Photographer Hilary MacDonald, assisted by Digital Data Engineer Gina Salama and Conservator Hala Mohamed, continued to expand the number of fragments documented using photogrammetry, the database, and spreadsheets to record location data. This year we were joined by two new team members Nadia Ahmed Abdul Latif and Al Shaimaa Mohamed Ahmed who were able to help photograph the iPad reference shots for the database. They made reference shots for 5 mastabas that contain 909 blocks in total. Before the team could begin photography and tagging, most of the mastabas were dismantled by our men, and several large mastabas required restacking and reorganizing, all overseen by Gina.  This season Hala glued 3479 block number tags on 28 mastabas. 

Hilary and Owen have pioneered a technique whereby completely square, orthogonal, aspective (that is, without perspectival diminution) images of carved wall and fragment surfaces can be extracted from a digital 3-D model created using the software Metashape. Hilary used this technique this season to continue photographing the corpus of Akhenaten-period talatat blocks (originally from the Karnak Aten temples) stored in the “western talatat magazine” at Luxor temple that she began last season. Hilary began shooting on December 26, 2019, and in 51days at the temple photographed 750 talatat and also completed all reshoots from last season, around 50 fragments. With Owen’s assistance, Hilary also shot master map 3-D models of all mastabas in the magazine. In the west talatat magazine there remain about 100 blocks to be shot next season, after which our work in the magazine will be completed.  The documentation from the first season of shooting 2016-17 has now been completely turned over to archivists Alain and Emmanuele Arnaudiès, and this summer (2020) all post-processing from the 2017-18 season will continue and post-processing of the current season will begin. Altogether, since digital photogrammetry of fragments began, Hilary has photographed 7,278 fragments, with each fragment requiring 25-30 photographs per decorated side for digital ‘stitching’ into 3-D images. The next priority is the thousands of Amenhotep III fragments located at the south end of the main block yard that have been identified as belonging to the back shrines of Luxor temple.  

Chicago House Assistant Director Brett McClain continued collating the Ptolemy I fragment group of 163 blocks and fragments drawn by Jay, of which the Bentresh inscription is found on 39 blocks.  All of the core Bentresh text blocks have now been collated by Brett and epigrapher Ariel Singer, analyzed, and corrections transfered.  Ariel has also been doing photogrammetric documentation of the core group for virtual 3-D model making.  


Conservator Hiroko Kariya arrived this year on January 15 and alternated her work time between Luxor temple and Tomb of Nefersekheru (TT107). She worked in the Luxor temple block yard and focusing on treatment of broken inscribed blocks that were noted by Hala during the tag gluing process for the database. She also conducted a condition assessment of talatat blocks in the western magazine and consolidated about 20 pieces. In the block yard/open air museum, she conducted a condition survey and regular maintenance, including spotlight lamp repair and replacement of 20 canvas covers for the covered-shelf storage. Structural engineer Conor Power was not able to return to Luxor this winter to conduct his annual condition study of the Luxor Temple structure, but we hope to get him back for a review next winter.   


This season Chicago House was pleased to continue assisting our SCA and Tourism and Antiquities Ministry friends at Luxor Temple in the reassembly and re-erection of the northernmost standing colossal granite statue of Ramesses II in front of the Luxor Temple first court exterior west gate.  These two colossal statues, in the standing Osiride pose holding the crook and flail, faced the Nile and guarded the approach to the temple from the river, but were destroyed in the Middle Ages.  Luckily quite a few granite fragments from the statues were recovered in excavations around that part of the temple, enough to allow restoration.  While the focus was on the northern colossus this year, the plan is to restore the southern colossus next year. After consultation with the SCA and as part of this project, Gina oversaw the dismantling a large mastaba full of granite fragments, and the SCA was able to find 60 pieces that will be used for future restoration work. Gina also was able take reference shots of all the fragments with the help of El Azab, who also photographed all the fragments that have been recovered by the SCA for the statue project. 



Work resumed on site at Medinet Habu on December 21st, 2019 and extended until the last week of March, 2020, at which time all antiquities sites in Egypt were closed and the foreign professional staff were obliged to evacuate Egypt. Despite the delayed start and unexpectedly early closure, we were able to accomplish all of our primary objectives for the field season, including the following: 1) cleaning, preliminary photographic and photogrammetric documentation, and conservation assessment of the Claudius Gate in preparation for dismantling and conservation of the sandstone blocks; 2) dismantling of the Claudius Gate down to its foundations; 3) removal of all blocks of the Claudius gate to the interior of the Medinet Habu precinct for conservation/stabilization; 4) continuation of the sandstone paved walkway along the northwest and north exterior of the Ramesses III mortuary temple; 5) continued restoration of mud brick walls and ancillary structures along the north exterior of the Ramesses III temple; 6) preliminary photographic and epigraphic documentation of the Taharqa Gate in preparation for conservation assessment; 7) preliminary conservation assessment and temporary structural stabilization of the Taharqa Gate; 8) continued photographic, photogrammatric, and epigraphic documentation and analysis of the Western High Gate fragment corpus; 9) continued development of Western High Gate open-air museum, including completion of open-air museum fragment group display; 10) continued development of USAID-funded program for local Egyptian conservation students, now in the 5th consecutive season of this program, with 13 participants for 2019-2020. In addition to our conservation training participants, our USAID grant-funded projects employed 40 full-time and over 120 seasonal workers from the local workforce.  Our work at Medinet Habu was supervised by SCA Inspectors Mahmoud Abd el-Rahim Salman Ahmed, Hassan el-Tawab Musa Asran, Mahmoud Abd el-Gawad Mahmoud Abu el-Hasan, Essaad Mahmoud Galal, Abd el-Baset Ahmed Soltan, and Do’aa Ali Fawzi el- Noubi, along with SCA Conservators Mohammed Mahmoud Mohammed Mahmoud, Gamal, Mohammed Ahmed Hassan, and El-Tayib Abu el-Haggag Hussein Qandil. 


Documentation continued this year at the Small Temple of Amun (MH.B) under the supervision of Brett and senior artists Margaret De Jong, Susan Osgood, and Krisztián Vertes.  Epigraphers were Jen Kimpton, Ariel Singer, and Aleksandra Hallmann, and artists included Keli Alberts and Dominique Navarro.  Medinet Habu X, wherein will be presented the façade, pillars, and architraves of the Thutmoside peripteros, is now being edited by the Oriental Institute Publications Office, and we expect the volume to be in print within the next year. We concentrated our fieldwork on the later additions and modifications to the temple exterior and the marginal inscriptions, to appear in Medinet Habu XI, as well as on the bark shrine, to be published in Medinet Habu XII. We also continued to work on drawings in the Late Period portico and the Kushite gate for Medinet Habu XIII. In addition, documentation of the graffiti and paintings in the north Ptolemaic annex and in adjacent exterior sections of the Small Temple by Tina Di Cerbo and Richard Jasnow was continued throughout the course of this season. 

Survey and documentation of the sandstone blocks and block fragments of the destroyed Western High Gate of Ramesses III, supervised by Jen Kimpton and assisted by Anait Helmholz, Ariel Singer, and artist Keli Alberts, also continued this year, including cataloguing, photography, 3D modeling, drawing, and collation of the material. Photographer Yarko Kobylecky continued to take large-format film and digital photographs of the inscribed material that were also entered into the database.  Since the architecture and decoration of the Western High Gate, an integral part of Ramesses III’s mortuary complex, has remained almost wholly unpublished since its discovery, it is intended that a future volume in our Medinet Habu series will be devoted to the presentation thereof. 

Comprehensive photographic documentation of the reliefs and inscriptions within the 

tomb-chapels of the God’s Wives of Amun (MH.C) was successfully continued this year by Yarko, assisted by Photo Archives Registrar Ellie Smith and assistant photographer Amanda Tetreault. All of the scenes and inscriptions in the east, west, and south corridors of the Amenirdis shrine have now been photographed in large format, and it is planned that the north corridor, along with the interior of the Amenirdis cella, will be recorded in 2020-2021. 

What follows is a tally of the drawing enlargements that passed through all stages of the Chicago House method during the course of the 2019-2020 winter season: 

Penciling completed: 30 drawing enlargements 

Inking completed (including summer 2019): 89 

Collation completed: 8 

Transfer check completed: 18 

Director check completed: 3 


Medinet Habu Senior Conservator Lotfi Hassan assisted by Assistant Conservators Doaa Mohamed el-Sadek and Al Azab Ahmed continued to oversee all of the Medinet Habu conservation programs.  These included the grant-funded conservation student training program (3 junior conservators and 7 students this year); the cleaning, capping, and restoration of the mud-brick walls bordering the stone pavement around the Ramesses III mortuary temple on the northern side; the consolidation of three sandstone door thresholds from doors that pierced those walls; and the laying of a new mud-brick paved path along the outside. During our season Lotfi also organized and oversaw the 120 additional seasonal workmen who augmented our core team and made our expanded conservation and restoration work at Medinet Habu possible.      

At the request of the Gurna Antiquitiess Inspectorate and the SCA, part of the conservation team was tasked with cleaning several pigeon-dropping soiled sections of the Ramesses III mortuary temple exterior walls.  The large, deeply cut hieroglyphs are perfect for nesting pigeons, and the battered walls catch all of the acidic droppings.  So far no techniques have been effective in keeping the pigeons away from the structure, so periodic cleaning becomes essential, and Chicago house has added that to our annual MH conservation-maintenance program, starting with the southern exterior wall. 


From December 23rd 2019 through March 23rd 2020, the Epigraphic Survey under the supervision of Master Mason Frank Helmholz, assisted by stone mason Johannes Weninger and the stone team, continued the restoration of the stone paved walkway surrounding the Great Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, a major component of our site management/development program funded by USAID. During this three-month period, good progress was made on the restoration of the pavement on the north side. 209 new paving stones were laid with a surface area of 151 square meters and over 40 meters in length.  In addition, the Claudius Gate outside the eastern wall of the MH precinct was dismantled in preparation for restoration and rebuilding, which will take place in 2020-2021. All of the blocks were carefully moved inside to the Medinet Habu blockyard holding area for consolidation by the conservation team before re-assembly.  The Taharqa Gate of the small Amun Temple complex, immediately to the north of the Kushite court, was surveyed and prepared for dismantling and restoration, which will also take place next season.  Under Lotfi and Frank’s joint supervision a group of blocks from the great Western High Gate were reassembled for public view, the first increment of our projected open-air museum for the site.  The five blocks, now joined, depict a seated Ramesses III drinking with a princess who is offering him a bouquet, and was originally from an upper story room high inside the gate.  Ariel has created a 3-D model of the group and its mates using Metashape software, with the ultimate aim of integrating all of the gate blocks into the model. Jen and Keli continue to make astonishing joins, clarifying the decorative program of the gate inside and out.   

We are happy to acknowledge here, with gratitude, a grant extension from USAID Egypt for the development and restoration of the western, northern, and eastern sectors of the Medinet Habu precinct, including the dismantling, consolidation, and development of the Claudius Gate and Taharqa Gate.  The extension funded this season’s work, and will allow us to continue our site development and restoration work for another three years, and to make the site even safer and more accessible to its visitors.  



During the period 14 January – 20 March 2020, the Epigraphic Survey continued the 

excavation, conservation, and documentation of TT 107, tomb of the Steward of Amenhotep III’s Malqata Palace, the noble Nefersekheru. The archaeological work, coordinated by Dr. Boyo Ockinga and Dr. Susanne Binder, extended over a period of approximately four weeks, and significant progress was made in clearing the upper strata of the central aisle of the broad hall within the tomb. This led to the confirmation of an inner doorway at the back of the broad hall on the north side, one of our main objectives for the season, as well as to the recovery of numerous inscribed limestone fragments.  Now we know that at least one additional chamber was exists beyond the broad hall, a major question now answered.  We had hoped that the new doorway might be inscribed, but the top of the door and doorjambs that are now partly exposed show no sign of carving.  The inscribed fragments, found just inside the main entryway, are mainly from the broken doorway itself and include outer doorjamb fragments inscribed with vertical text columns in sunk relief, as well as additional pieces of the exterior lintel scene above with back-to-back enshrined figures of Osiris and probably Re-Horakhty.  New fragments found this season indicate that the inner thickness figure of Nefersekheru was accompanied by text above him, and that both his figure and text above were carved in the fine raised-relief style of the late 18th Dynasty.  There is still much to clear in the entryway, and many more fragments of the inscribed doorway await us next season. 


Conservation and documentation of these fragments continued throughout the 

remainder of the field season. Over sixty fragments were treated, consolidated, and partly reassembled by Epigraphic Survey conservator Hiroko Kariya and recorded by Epigraphic Survey photographer Yarko Kobylecky. Senior artist Susan Osgood and epigrapher Ariel Singer continued the facsimile drawing, collation, and analysis of the growing corpus of fragmentary material from this tomb. Additionally, five drawing enlargements, comprising the scenes on the lower register of the tomb façade, were completed by Susan Osgood and approved for publication by W. Raymond Johnson. 

Our work at TT 107 this year was supervised by SCA Inspectors Hanan Hassan Ahmed Hussein, Heba el-Nadi Abu Zaid Ahmed, Wafaa Abu el-Hamd Mohammed, and Salwa Nur el-Din Ahmed Mohammed, along with SCA Conservator Mohammed Mahmoud el-Naggfar Fath el-Bab. 


The Epigraphic Survey professional staff during this past season consisted of W. Raymond Johnson as Director; J. Brett McClain as Assistant Director, Jen Kimpton, Christina Di Cerbo, Ariel Singer, and Aleksandra Hallmann as epigraphers; Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder as project archaeologist/epigraphers; Margaret De Jong, Susan Osgood, and Krisztián Vértes as senior artists, and Keli Alberts and Dominique Navarro as artists; Jay Heidel as Luxor Temple site manager/architect/artist; Gina Salama as Luxor Temple assistant/digital data engineer; and conservator Hala Mohammed Ahmed as Luxor Temple data assistant; Yarko Kobylecky as chief staff photographer; Owen Murray, Hilary McDonald, and Amanda Tetreault as photographers; Susan Lezon as photo archivist and photographer; Elinor Smith as photo archives registrar and photography assistant; Carlotta Maher as assistant to the director emerita; Essam El Sayed as finance manager; Samir Guindy as administrator; Samwell Maher as assistant administrator; Anait Helmholz as CH head librarian and Medinet Habu Western High Gate assistant; Martina Roshdy Maher as assistant librarian; Frank Helmholz as master mason; Johannes Weninger as mason; Lotfi K. Hassan as Medinet Habu conservation supervisor; Doaa Mohamed el-Sadek and Al Azab Ahmed as Medinet Habu conservator assistants; and Hiroko Kariya as project conservator for Luxor Temple and TT 107.  Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudiès worked on the Chicago House Digital Archives database.  Special thanks must go to Nadine Moeller and Gregory Marouard for overseeing our archaeological work, and special thanks as always must go to our forty full-time Egyptian workmen, without whom we could do nothing. 

Sincerest thanks to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and An­tiquities (MoTA) and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Minister of Antiquities Dr. Khaled el-Enany, SCA secretary general Dr. Mostafa Waziri, and all of our friends and colleagues in Egypt for a short but productive collaboration this year. Sincerest thanks must go to the many friends of the Oriental Institute, whose generous support allows Chicago House to conduct its documenta­tion, conservation, and restoration programs in Luxor. Special thanks must go to USAID Egypt for the four-year grant extension that will support our restoration and site development efforts at Medinet Habu.