Previous Seasons

2015-2016 FIELD SEASON

DECEMBER 2015/JANUARY 2016

Dear Friends,

Warm (and belated) best wishes from Chicago House for a very happy new year 2016!  We are all well, but things have been so busy in Luxor during the last two months that there has hardly been a moment to write. December and January were filled with excellent work, friends and colleagues, new experiences, and some excellent holiday cheer.  The Mulid el-Nabi (the Prophet’s birthday) and Christmas were only a couple of days apart this year, followed by New Year’s Eve, so it was an opportune time for many of the staff to take some time to travel and see sites outside of Luxor.  Now, two months into the new year, we are all back at work and Chicago House is quite full.   

The first week of December saw the return of Margie Fisher to Luxor for a week accompanied our colleague Janet Richards, followed by visits by Salima Ikram, Emily Teeter, and Joe Cain.  On December 7th the entire Chicago House team visited Gregory Marouard, Nadine Moeller, and their team at Dendera and were shown the new Oriental Institute/French Archaeological Institute (IFAO) settlement archaeology project there directed by Greg, a real treat.  Their work is truly archaeology at its best, and this season marks a very exciting beginning to this long-term project. 

From December 10th to the 19th Jay, Margie, Janet and I took a tour to Sudan organized by Peter Lacovara and Egitalloyd Travel, our first venture south of Abu Simbel.  We flew to Khartoum and drove northwards in a fleet of five four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers as far as Tombos on the Third Cataract.  The sites we visited included Meroe (pyramid necropolis and city), Nuri, Naga, Mussawarat, Jebel Barkal, El Kurru, Dokki Gel, and Kerma.  The red deserts were extraordinarily beautiful, very African in look with their scrubby trees, and very different from Egypt’s deserts.  The whole trip was revelatory, and filled some major gaps in our knowledge and experience of that great land to the south of Egypt. 

Despite the absence of some of the staff on holiday, Christmas Day at Chicago House was warm and cheerful, and our Christmas dinner was attended by numerous colleagues and friends, including the entire Macquarie University, Waseda University, and Brazilian archaeological missions.  Tina and Richard arrived at the end of the month to resume their graffiti documentation work at Medinet Habu, and at the same time we were visited by OI VC member Andrea Dudek for a few days before and after a pleasant trip to Aswan over the new-year break.    

Once the holidays were over and the new year 2016 well launched, many of our foreign colleagues returned to resume their archaeological work.  Betsy Bryan was here with her Johns Hopkins team for a study season at Mut Tample, now finished; Richard Fazzini and Mary McKercher are back with Jaap van Dijk, Julia Harvey, and Dr. Ben Harer in the fore areas of Mut Temple; the Metropolitan Museum of Art Malqata Palace expedition headed by Diana Craig Patch has just departed after a month’s work; Susan Onstine and her Memphis team have just finished a six-week season; Hourig Sourouzian is once again at the Amenhotep III mortuary temple reconstructing shattered statuary; Jose Galan is back with his Spanish team at TT11 the tomb of Djehuty; Angus Graham and his Theban Waterways team are conducting surveys around the Ay/Horemheb mortuary temple and Birket Habu area; and many other colleagues and expeditions are here or en route.  It is a very full and busy winter archaeological season.

As for our own projects, we have inaugurated a new mud-brick restoration program at Medinet Habu along the south side of the mortuary temple and will start sandstone pavement-laying next month, all supported by our new USAID Egypt grant.  The Domitian gate has been finished off by Frank and Johannes, and the upper cornice blocks repositioned properly.  Our two new digital photographers Hilary McDonald and Owen Murray are helping Yarko with digital imaging of the western High Gate and Butehamun House areas and are doing some very interesting 3-D imaging of the terrain and shattered blocks before we start moving the material to protected storage platforms.  The Ramesses III southern well conservation work supported by our Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) grant has expanded to include the crumbling wellhead, which is now ¾ consolidated.  We started work on TT 107, the tomb of Nefersekheru, steward of Maqata Palace, on January 17th, with cleaning work in the portico supervised by Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder, after which Brett resumed first collation of Margaret and Sue’s exquisite drawings, and I started the second collation.  At Luxor Temple Jay is entering data on the Luxor Temple blockyard database and attaching aluminum number tags to hundreds of fragments; Hiroko is doing some spot conservation of a handful of needy architectural and wall fragments; and Krisztian is back doing facsimile drawing of the cleaned Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber, a collaboration between ARCE and Chicago House.  I am pleased to report that ARCE’s multi-authored publication of the Roman frescoes has been released to the public.  Art of Empire: The Roman Frescoes and Imperial Cult Cult Chamber in Luxor Temple, edited by Michael Jones and Susanna McFadden (ARCE and Yale University Press, 2015) includes a chapter on the Tetrarchic architectural renovations at Luxor Temple and their relationship to the Amun cult by Jay Heidel and myself, as well as beautiful photographs throughout the book by Chicago House photographer Yarko Kobylecky.  The paintings were cleaned between 2005 and 2008 by our Italian conservator friends under the direction of our dear friend Luigi De Cesaris (who tragically passed away in 2011).  The Epigraphic Survey will be publishing large-format facsimile drawings (done by Krisztian) and Yarko’s photographs of the frescoes in a future volume of our Reliefs and Inscriptions at Luxor Temple (RILT) series. 

There have been pleasant distractions during the last two months.  On January 21st Egyptian President El-Sisi successfully entertained the Chinese President at Luxor Temple in suitably high fashion.  In anticipation of the festivities the Amenhotep III court received a Chinese 'makeover' that was surreal but charming.  Even I had to admit that the gigantic gold and red lanterns suspended between the papyrus-bundle columns were impressive.  The musical and dancing events, combining Egyptian and Chinese musicians, singers, and dancers, were lovely (we watched it on TV).  The dignitaries toured around Luxor the next day - the helicopters hovering overhead were nerve-wracking, but everyone apparently had a very good time.  And Revolution Day on January 25th passed quietly and without incident. 

But there have been more transitions.  I am saddened to report that on January 7th our beloved Jean Jacquet passed away peacefully in Carouge, Switzerland, aged 95.  From 1997 until 2008 Jean and Helen, who passed away in 2013, lived and worked with us at Chicago House, and were inspirations and mentors in every way.  While we will miss them terribly, they will always be a part of us.  Jean’s obituary, written by Chicago House archivists Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies, can be found here:

http://oi.uchicago.edu/article/jean-jacquet-architect-and-archaeologist-passess-away-95

And so it goes.  The time is zipping by, and before you know it I will be writing my update for February.  In the meantime, be well, everyone, and thank you from all of us at Chicago House, for your interest, friendship, and support!

Best from Luxor,

Ray Johnson

 

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NOVEMBER 2015

Dear Friends,

November has simply flown by, and it has been quite action packed.  At the beginning of the month the temperatures dropped from high, 100 degree F heat to decidedly more comfortable levels, which has made everything easier, especially the temple work. During the first week of the month the Medinet Habu conservation teams began work in two major areas of the precinct.  One team, supported by our new Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) grant resumed work on the consolidation and restoration of the southern Ramesses III well.  The other team focused its attention on the documentation, conservation, restoration, and development of the western sector of Medinet Habu that is covered by our new USAID Egypt grant.  The area includes the House of Butehamun and destroyed western High Gate, but also a paved approach along both sides of the temple that originally led to the back, and that we have already begun to restore.  Both teams of conservators, supervised by senior conservator Lotfi, have been assembled from the students in our Medinet Habu conservation training programs of the last two years, and it is very satisfying to see all of the activity at the site.  Sincerest thanks to the RBF and USAID Egypt for this invaluable support.  Finishing work on the Domitian gate has also been ongoing by Johannes under the supervision of Frank, including some restoration blocks that better communicate some of the missing upper cornices.  Senior epigrapher Brett has coordinated the ongoing epigraphic work in the small Amun temple with senior artist Margaret, and helped plan the epigraphic, conservation, and development programs for the whole precinct.  Epigrapher Jen assisted by Anait have been continuing their preliminary cataloguing of the shattered inscribed blocks of the destroyed western High Gate, and artist Keli has started drawing blocks of the monumental chariot scenes from the gate’s destroyed façade.  Frank has coordinated the purchase of sandstone paving slabs for the restoration of the Ramesses III walkways, and Lotfi is already supervising the making of mud bricks for the restoration of the walls that once bordered the paving, which will rise again.

Jay returned from Sheikh Abada/Antinoupolis at the beginning of the month and resumed his Luxor Temple blockyard fragment database work, numbering, documenting, and tracking all 50,000 inscribed wall and architectural fragments at Luxor Temple. This is a time-consuming, arduous task necessary for the proper analysis, documentation, and eventual publication of the material.  By the end of November he had created 3,269 records in the Luxor Temple fragment database, and entered 2,661 fragment records with photos.  Of the 1,931 fragments with location data, he has field verified the locations of 1,129, while 802 more have location data awaiting field verification.  In the last few weeks he began affixing stamped aluminum tags to field verified fragments and has so far tagged 206.  The goal is to eventually tag all fragments to facilitate the tracking of the material for future analysis, documentation, and restoration work.

Meanwhile, back at Chicago House, starting at the end of October and for several weeks during November Tina systematically catalogued and scanned 340 one-to-one inked and penciled drawings from the Labib Habachi archives stored in the Tom and Linda Heagy Chicago House Photo Archives.  When we received Labib’s photographic archives after his death in 1984 for archiving, we also agreed to archive his drawings, most of which were published in his numerous articles and publications.  We received the archives in a chaotic state; nothing was organized, and because Labib had an encyclopedic memory, not a single photograph was identified with any label!  William Murnane and Lanny Bell spent years painstakingly sorting the photographs site by site, but until now nothing had been done with the drawings.  Tina carefully unrolled each one, established the site, checked Labib’s publications to see where it was published, and catalogued all of the data.  Then she carefully scanned all of the drawings so that we now have a fairly complete scanned corpus of this material for our records.  Once scanned each drawing was archivally housed for storage.  Tina also boxed up duplicate sets of the Habachi and Jacquet scanned photographic archives on CD, which I presented on November 23rd to the new Director of the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) Documentation Center Dr. Hisham el-Leithy for the Documentation Center Archives in Cairo.  I must also mention that Chicago House Library volunteer Gina Salama has joined the library team as a paid employee now; welcome Gina!  Not only is she indispensible in the library, but she is proving to be invaluable in many other tasks, including the scanning of our 40,000 dictionary cards.  So far she has scanned more than 1500 cards and is well on the way to providing complete digital backup of that priceless resource.

On November 4th, Luxor Day (the anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb) the minister of antiquities Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty opened three new tombs at Gurnet Murai, including, appropriately, the tomb of Tutankhamen's Viceroy to Nubia, Huy.  The Getty Conservation Institute finished their work in Tutankhamen's tomb (KV 62) for this year at the beginning of the month (after installing new flooring, a ventilation system, and new lighting; and moving Tutankhamun's mummy in its sealed glass box into the annex).  Shortly after Getty departed Luxor, we received the sad news of the passing of our colleague Otto Schaden.  Otto was well known in the Valley of the Kings and the Western Valley for his excavation of the royal tomb of Tutankhamun’s successor Ay (WV 23) in 1972; his later work in the Valley of the Kings from 1992 clearing the tomb of King Amenmesse (KV 10); and in 2005 his discovery of a new shaft tomb (KV 63), the first tomb to be discovered in the King's Valley since Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.  Otto received his Masters degree in Egyptology at the University of Chicago, and participated in the Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition from 1962-63 and the Sudan Expedition from 1963-64.  He received his PhD in 1977 from the University of Minnesota.  In September, before we returned to Luxor, another friend and colleague of ours (and close associate of Otto’s in the KV) Edwin (Ted) Brock passed away unexpectedly in Cairo.  Ted specialized in the analysis and reconstruction of the shattered granite sarcophagi in the royal burial chambers of the Valley of the Kings, and left a rich legacy of physically reassembled and restored sarcophagi in the tombs of Merenptah (KV 8) and Ramesses VI (KV 9) on which he worked with his wife Lyla.  Ted was also an accomplished photographer, and worked with Chicago House at Luxor Temple documenting the rapidly changing landscape of Luxor in the years before the 2011 Revolution.  Both Otto and Ted were regular users of the Chicago House Library and frequent guests at our table.  We will miss our friends.

Thanksgiving weekend continued the Tutankhamun theme. Chicago House hosted its annual Thanksgiving feast, but noticeably absent were most of our antiquities ministry friends who were in the Valley of the Kings witnessing a very special event.  As most of you already know, on Thanksgiving Day, November 26th, our colleague Nick Reeves, the minister of antiquites Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty, many ministry friends, and a group of Japanese radar technicians used ground penetrating radar equipment in KV 62, the tomb of Tutankhamun, to test Nick’s suggestion that additional chambers – perhaps even another burial – were to be found behind the western and northern walls.  On Saturday, November 28th, the results were announced at a press conference hosted by the ministry at Howard Carter’s residence on the west bank (Carter House) which I attended with many of our colleagues.  As most of you know, the results were very encouraging.  More analysis of the data is necessary and will be ongoing in Japan this month, but there seem to be indications of at least two additional rooms off the painted burial chamber, one beyond the west wall, and another beyond the north wall.  This promises to be an interesting winter, indeed.

November saw many visitors and groups to Chicago House.  The first week of November Abbas and Mediha Helmy and the Friends of the Manial Palace Museum, Cairo group saw our work at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple, and joined us at Chicago House for a reception and library briefing.  On November 13th Oriental Institute director Gil Stein, wife Liz, and OI friends Nicole Williams and Larry Becker arrived in town to see Nadine and Greg's Edfu and Dendera work as well as Chicago House and its projects.  Gil had visited more than a decade before but had not seen our current work, so it was a particular pleasure to 'catch him up.'  Their visit coincided with a Far Horizons tour led by Bob Brier and wife Pat Remler, and everyone got to mingle with the Chicago House professional staff at a reception in the residence courtyard on November 15th.  Chicago House photographer Yarko arrived back on November 14th, co-senior artist Sue arrived back yesterday, and geologist Jim Harrell stopped by Medinet Habu to examine some Middle Kingdom blocks at the small Amun temple on November 30th.

So, we experienced a full November, and December promises to be even more interesting.  I will post an update at the end of the month, but in the meantime let me extend to all of you, our friends back home, our very best wishes for joyous holidays to come, and a very happy, safe, and prosperous New Year 2016.

Best wishes from all of us at Chicago House,

Ray Johnson, Director

 

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October 30, 2015

I am happy to report that the Epigraphic Survey’s 2015-2016 archaeological field season is now two weeks underway, and all is well with us in Luxor.  When the Chicago House team arrived the temperatures were hot, hot, hot - in the low 100s F - but a few days ago the temps dropped to a ‘cool’ low 80s, and the cooler breezes have been blissful.  In celebration of the season’s beginning, last night Chicago House hosted its annual Halloween party in the residence courtyard, the opening party of the season, with over 80 attendees from a variety of archaeological missions: the Spanish mission to Vizier Amenhotep Huy’s tomb, two Polish missions working at Deir el-Bahri, the Franco-Egyptian Center at Karnak, the Spanish mission from the mortuary temple of  Thutmosis III, the American Research Center in Egypt, and numerous Egyptian and foreign friends and colleagues.  Nadine and Greg and their Edfu crew, mostly UChicago graduate students, took a break from their excavations around the great temple of Horus to join us as well; it was great to see them all and catch up.

After Brett and I finished the paperwork for the season at the ministry of antiquities in Cairo ten days ago, the Chicago House documentation, conservation, and restoration teams resumed their work at Medinet Habu.  I am pleased to announce that after a summer of grant-proposal writing and intense development networking, Chicago House has been awarded two grants for continued and expanded preservation work at Medinet Habu.  One is from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation (RBF) for the continuation of the Ramesses III southern well restoration project, and covers the conservation work for this entire season.  The other is a four-year grant from USAID Egypt that will cover the documentation, conservation, restoration, and development of the western sector of Medinet Habu as an open-air museum and new tourist site.  We are enormously grateful to both the RBF and USAID Egypt, whose current assistance will allow us to continue our critical programs at Medinet Habu without interruption.  Thank you!

It promises to be a busy autumn.  We have already hosted a library briefing, courtyard reception, and site visit at Luxor Temple for a group of 10 Egyptian and 10 mostly American fellows from the Shafik Gabr Foundation initiative ‘East-West: The Art of Dialogue.’ Shafik is one of Chicago House’s earliest ‘Friends’ and sponsors, and it was a pleasure to meet and talk with this talented group of young thinkers and entrepreneurs that the foundation has annually sponsored since 2013.  This was just the first of many groups scheduled for November and the rest of the season.

I will write again next month with a report on our progress as well as interesting events around town.  In the meantime please accept our very best wishes from Luxor, and sincerest thanks for your interest in and support of our work.  Oh... and Happy Halloween!

Best wishes from all of us at Chicago House,

Ray Johnson, Director

 

2014-2015 FIELD SEASON

April 30, 2015

On April 15th the Epigraphic Survey successfully completed its 2014-2015 archaeological field season, its 91st, and the Chicago House team departed Luxor for home.  The week before, we closed our operations at Medinet Habu, Khonsu Temple, and Luxor Temple.  Equipment including ladders and scaffolding was trucked back from the temple sites for cleaning and storing at Chicago House.  Friday, April 10th was the last day of library use.  It’s always a bittersweet time, as we compile reports on the work accomplished during the last six months for the antiquities ministry and the Oriental Institute and prepare to uproot and head home for the summer months.  The weather was hot, but the nights were comfortable, which always makes it harder to leave.    

During the first week of April I spent a few days in Cairo paying my respects and saying goodbye to our friends at the US Embassy, ARCE, USAID Egypt, and the antiquities ministry.  I had a long and very pleasant meeting discussing cultural heritage preservation issues - including the work of Chicago House - with newly appointed US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft and Cultural Attaché Mark Wenig.  I met with our dear friend, ARCE Assistant Director Mme. Amira Khattab and delivered the preliminary reports and staff paperwork for next season (security forms, passport documentation, and photos, all prepared by Tina) that she kindly submits on our behalf to the antiquities ministry later in the summer, God bless her.  I had good meetings with our USAID Egypt friends in Maadi, including new director Sherry Carlin, who had an excellent visit with us in Luxor in late March.  I also had very cordial meetings at the antiquities ministry in Zamalek with antiquities minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty and Foreign Missions Director Mr. Hany, both of whom have been tremendously helpful and enthusiastic colleagues and greatly facilitated our work in Luxor.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Yasmin El Shazly in her new office at the ministry.  Dr. Yasmin was formerly Registrar of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but she is now coordinating registration and data-tracking systems for all of the Cairo and regional museums, including the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and the national Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) as well as the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir.  We wish her the best of luck in these important new endeavors.

This season we brought back to the USA something very precious: all of the facsimile drawings (85), photographs, and large-format negatives (105) for the production of our next facsimile publication, Medinet Habu X: The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple Part 2: the Façade, Pillars, and Architrave Inscriptions of the Thutmoside Peripteros, production of which will begin this summer.  Volumes XI and XII are also well underway, but this one, Volume X, is particularly sweet.  The façade and ambulatory pillars that are the major focus of this volume have a long and rich history, the nuances of which we have learned as we recorded them.  Carved after Hatshepsut’s death by Thutmosis III, they depict the king before the major gods of Egypt, offering to and being recognized by them as king.  With only two exceptions (Re-Horakhty and Atum), all of the god figures later were chiseled away by Akhenaten’s agents, but were recarved and restored after Akhenaten’s death in the late 18th Dynasty.  Horemheb’s names survive on several restoration inscriptions, but the restoration probably started earlier, perhaps during Tutankhamun’s reign.  Between four and five painting phases have been noted by our team, particularly eagle-eyed Krisztián Vértes.  These correspond to the initial decoration of Thutmosis III plus several different restoration and renewal phases: the post-Amarna restoration, a 20th Dynasty phase (when Ramesses III incorporated the structure into his enlarged mortuary temple precinct); a 21st Dynasty renewal phase under Pinudjem; a 29th Dynasty Akoris restoration phase; and at least one and possibly two Ptolemaic painting phases.  In each phase the color scheme of the painted reliefs changed, sometimes dramtically, and because the new painting was applied over the old, traces of all phases of painting survive in bits and pieces.  It has taken some careful observation and thought to sort it all out, but Krisztián has done so, in consultation with Brett and the epigraphic team, and is preparing a special study of the painting phases exclusively for this publication.

Just days before we left we installed two educational signage panels for Luxor Temple.  Laser-etched aluminum, they were produced in Cairo and arrived in the nick of time, one for the front of the complex that describes the context of Luxor Temple, and a second panel that describes and presents a plan of the first court of Ramesses II.  Both panels were designed and drawn by Jay.  We will see how they weather over the summer, and are planning many more, for Luxor as well as Medinet Habu.

And so it goes.  Most of the team have brought back work for the summer, to process, ink, analyze, translate, or prepare for publication.  In the weeks ahead I will be preparing the next Chicago House Bulletin for our friends and donors, with our heartfelt thanks for your help, in anticipation of our annual donor appeal.  Our USAID Egypt grant, which has sustained us for ten years and allowed us to grow to meet the challenges of a changing Luxor, is now finished, and we have a LOT of fundraising to do to keep our operation going at this high level.  We have made a difference, and we cannot stop now.

You will be hearing from me again very soon.  Best and thanks to you all from Chicago!

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

April 1, 2015

Dear friends,

March in Luxor was full of events, accomplishments, discoveries, milestones, visitors, and yes, rising temperatures.  It was HOT; 90 F - 100 F this past week.  And there was endless excitement.  Hourig Sourouzian has raised yet another Amenhotep III colossal statue section, this one the lower part of the second, southern quartzite colossus of the Amenhotep III mortuary temple second pylon (leg, throne, and another beautiful Queen Tiye figure)  - it’s breathtaking.  This month our ARCE friends discovered two unknown, exquisite 18th Dynasty painted tomb chapels in the clearance of the courtyard in front of TT 110, where conservation continues, and an epigraphy field school for Egyptian inspectors conducted by J.J. Shirley and Will Schenck has just finished for this season.  Two of our Khonsu inspectors trained in drawing techniques last season by artist Keli Alberts were part of the program, Shimaa and Peter, and the whole group regularly used the Chicago House library for their research.  From March 5th to the 17th we were joined at Chicago House by staff member in absentia (and Krisztián’s wife) Juli Schmied and their son David on his first trip to Egypt and Chicago House.  It was sweet to have Juli back even for a short while, and to meet little David.  In the middle of the month Jay and I were very pleased to attend Margie Fisher and Roy Furman’s wedding in Palm Beach (March 14th).  Seeing our friends so happy was purest joy and WELL worth the jet lag.  We are still smiling. 

On March 12th Brett McClain finished his collation for the season at TT 107, the tomb of the noble Nefersekheru, and our hope is to finish the collation of Margaret De Jong and Sue Osgood’s beautiful drawings next season.  Jay Heidel and Krisztián Vértes continued their documentation work at Luxor Temple, Jay in the blockyard drawing Ptolemy I blocks and updating the new blockyard database, and Krisztian in the Imperial Roman sanctuary penciling Roman frescos on the southern wall.  Jay also took some time to instruct some of the Luxor Temple inspectors on epigraphic drawing techniques.  Photographer Yarko Kobylecky assisted by Ellie Smith photographed miscellaneous blocks in the blockyard, including two additional Ptolemy I blocks.  He also continued the hi-res scanning of all of the large-format negatives produced this season.  Conservator Hiroko Kariya finished her condition study of the blockyard holdings, moved the last of the small fragments to protective shelving, and finished her work for the season on March 14th

Also during the past month, Keli continued working on some devilishly tricky reused blocks in the walls of Khonsu Temple, finished her work in room 11 and moved on to room 1. 

On March 15th our fourteen Egyptian conservation students concluded this year’s program at Medinet Habu with a special graduation ceremony in the Chicago House library, followed by a celebratory luncheon in the residence.  Alf mabruk and congratulations to them all; they are a very talented group and will go far.

On March 19th we hosted a review of our work on both sides of the river by USAID representative Sylvia Atalla in anticipation of the conclusion of our USAID grant on March 23rd.  The next evening I attended the inauguration of a new, computerized security system at Luxor Temple by Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty, Deputy Minister Dr. Youssef Khalifa, Supreme Council of Antiquities Chairman Dr. Mustafa Amin, newly appointed Director of Upper Egypt Sultan Eid, and newly appointed Luxor Antiquites General Director Dr. Mustafa Waziri, where I also met the new governor of Luxor, Dr. Mohamed Sayed Badr.  That same evening I joined Sylvia, Julie, ARCE director Gerry Scott and wife Kathleen, and John Shearman for dinner to meet new USAID director Sherry Carlin, in Luxor for her first briefing.  The next day, Sunday, March 22nd we were very pleased to host a review of our work at Medinet Habu for the antiquities minister Dr. Mamdouh, SCA Chairman Mustafa Amin and their respective entourages; the governor of Luxor and his entourage; our USAID Egypt friends including director Sherry; plus all of our Ministry friends from both sides of the river, and our ARCE friends (whose new tombs were viewed first that morning).  There were over a hundred people, and it was like trying to control a tidal wave, but it went very well.

The throng stayed for two hours and saw every aspect of our operation, and met our epigraphic, conservation, and restoration teams, including the Egyptian conservation students and Chicago House conservators Lotfi Hassan and Nahed Samir.  Our visitors were also able to meet with the antiquities ministry conservators with whom we work on the site and who do the conservation maintenance work on the mortuary temple proper.  Of special interest was the sandstone Domitian Gate, presently covered in scaffolding, in the final stages of restoration supervised by Frank Helmholz and our stone team, where that very day the last big block was hoisted into position.  Our friends were also very interested in our epigraphic recording, both traditional and digital.  Margaret De Jong and Tina di Cerbo gave excellent demonstrations on our various techniques, and Tina demonstrated how the some of the ink graffiti has disappeared from the walls since we began our recording in the 1920s and 1930s.  We showed everyone the southern Ramesses III well that we are restoring, and showed Sherry and the minister’s party how the USAID-funded dewatering program for the west bank (activated in 2011) has dried out the area sufficiently to allow much-needed conservation and restoration work, impossible even a couple of years ago because of the wet ground.  We showed everyone the House of Butehamun at the far western end of the precinct with its inscribed slender white columns that we excavated in the early 1930s and are now conserving.  While there I explained what we have done and what we need to do in future seasons in the southern and western areas.  We even made it out to the ruins of the destroyed western High Gate where Jen Kimpton is working, assisted by Anait, doing preliminary database recording and mapping of the hundreds of shattered sandstone gate blocks and fragments that cover the site. Jen explained the history of the gate to the group, including its partial destruction during the civil wars at the end of Dynasty 20, and the more thorough destruction later.  We described our plans to record, move, conserve, analyze, reassemble, and present the restored blocks and wall sections in an open-air museum at the gate site.  It was hot that day, especially out in the back, but we were very fortunate to have a sweet, cool wind during the entire visit. 

We ended up in the mortuary temple proper where there was some shade, where the minister gave interviews, and met with our conservation students and the ministry conservators working in the first court.  The review was a great success, and everything we had hoped for, thanks to the kindness of the minister and our ministry friends.  Now everyone knows what we are doing, why, and how.  After everyone left, and a little lunch, I hopped across the river to show our work at Luxor Temple to the USAID group, plus squeezed in a visit to Chicago House and the library afterward – it was definitely a full day!

Photo Archivist Sue Lezon spent the first part of March with us working with Brett on assembling all of the material for the production of our next volume Medinet Habu X, scanning what still needed scanning, and packing it up for transport back to the USA; Sue herself took back a large portfolio of drawings and negatives.  While with us Sue discussed necessary computer and software upgrades with the epigraphic team members, Yarko, Tina, Ellie, and with Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies, who arrived on March 8th to continue their work on the Photo Archives master database.  Structural engineer Conor Power joined us on March 7th for a few days to review the structural integrity of Luxor Temple, check the plumb bobs and crack meter on the pylon to see if there was any movement (there was none), and his report was a good one; the dewatering program continues to function well and has stabilized the Luxor Temple foundations. 

This week has been about as busy as the one before as we start the process of tying up our work for the season.  On March 28th I attended a dinner hosted by Luxor British Consul Ehab Gaddis in honor of the British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, where we discussed tourism, economic development, and cultural heritage issues.  On the 29th we were paid a first visit by new US Embassy Cultural Attaché Mark Wenig.  On March 30th after dinner we had the pleasure of hosting Luxor governor Dr. Mohamed Sayed Badr to a tour of Chicago House and the Chicago House library and a discussion afterward about Luxor’s future, the governor’s visions, the realities, and our part in it.  On March 31st we hosted our Getty Conservation Institute friends to dinner at Chicago House, including old friend Neville Agnew and Getty Trust president Jim Cuno, former Chicago Art Institute director, a most pleasant reunion.   

It's hard to believe that in two weeks our 2014-2015 field season will be at an end, and it will once again be time to head home to process the data we have collected this season, ink penciled drawings, write reports, start production of our next volume, raise funds for the work, and prepare for the 2015-2016 season.  In the meantime there is much to do here as we tie up loose ends and wind things down.  There are people to see and say goodbye to, and I have one more tour to give at Luxor Temple for a group of Egyptian Faculty of Tourism students.  Life is full! But it will be good to be home.

When next I write it will be from cool Chicago.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all, and once again, sincerest thanks for your interest and support.  You have made this season a great success indeed.

Best wishes from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

March 1, 2015

Dear friends,

Februarys are usually among the busiest months of our archaeological field season, and this February was no exception.  The month saw old projects continued and new ones started, and lots of comings and goings at Chicago House.  Conservator Lotfi’s family (wife Dina, her sister Nora, and sons Karim and Hani) joined us from Cairo for a week; co-senior artist Margaret returned from the US for the last months of the season; stone mason Johannes departed for home after helping Frank and the stone team with the Domitian Gate; Tina returned from the US; Pia is here visiting with husband Yarko, and co-senior artist Sue Osgood departed for home after three months’ field work.   

Always a busy month for visitors, February also saw a whole series of briefings on site at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple, as well as at Chicago House, for interested groups, students, and colleagues.  These included a group of students from the Dutch/Flemish Institute in Cairo briefed by Brett at Medinet Habu and the Chicago House Library on February 3rd; the Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt out of England this week; and, also at Medinet Habu, a group of engineers from CDM, the firm who helped design and execute the USAID Egypt-funded dewatering programs on both sides of the river in Luxor (east bank 2006; west bank 2011), and more recently at the site of Edfu (2014).  The group was escorted by engineer Thomas Nichols, who coordinated the Edfu project and is currently working on new dewatering projects in Alexandria and Kom Ombo.  It was a pleasure to demonstrate to our friends how worthwhile those projects are and to show them how the area around the site of Medinet Habu is drying out, allowing crucial conservation and restoration work to continue, and to begin.  Other colleagues in town this month included Angus Graham and his family, Zahi Hawass (in town with a group of 130 Americans!), Hisham and Diane Tayeby and their family (who live in the same town as Sue O. in Vermont), Don Ryan, Betsy Bryan from Johns Hopkins working in Mut Temple, Pat Graham and Peggy King (University of Chicago Women’s Board), and our ARCE friends Gerry and Kathleen Scott and Jane Smythe in town to review ARCE’s west bank work. 

Jay returned from a succesful winter season at Antinoupolis on February 21st and resumed his work in the Luxor Temple blockyard, drawing Ptolemy I blocks and checking location data on the new blockyard database using his iPad, a first in the blockyard.  He will continue to work with conservator Hiroko and Photo Archives registrar Ellie on filling gaps in the blockyard numbering system, and accounting for the location of every registered block in the precinct as part of our new blockyard data management program.  He is also continuing his informal instruction of two of our inspectors, Nadia and now Marwa, in epigraphic drawing techniques.  Hiroko continued her condition survey of the blockyard material, and Krisztián has been filling in the gaps of his Roman fresco documentation in the Imperial Cult Chamber on the southern wall, eastern side, with Yarko photographing areas not covered before.  Krisztián started the penciling of the eastern wall cavalry frescos while Yarko was photographing, and is now penciling the fresco remains immediately to the left of the apse on the southern wall. 

At Medinet Habu, Lotfi and Nahed continued the USAID grant-supported training program for our fourteen Egyptian conservation students, now in the final two weeks of this year’s program.  They have been working on the consolidation of the southern well blocks, desalination and treatment of various deteriorating walls within the small Amun temple precinct, consolidating fragmentary material within the MH blockyard, and cleaning/consolidating Domitian Gate blocks currently in the final stages of restoration.  They have learned a lot and have been a big help in the process.  The Domitian Gate work supervised by Frank is reaching the final stages of construction; the eastern jamb is now mortared and complete, with the western jamb following suit.  Soon the team will start winching the first of the great lintel blocks into place.  Artists Sue and Margaret have been working with Brett on the final details and consistency tweaking of all the drawings and photographs that will appear in Medinet Habu X, but they are also working on drawings that will appear in Volumes XI  and XII.  Jen has continued her painstaking preliminary documentation and inventory of the hundreds of blocks and block fragments of the destroyed western High Gate in anticipation of a major conservation and restoration effort there starting next year.  Yarko continued his Medinet Habu photography in the blockyard, the western High Gate, and the small Amun temple assisted by Ellie.

The month saw the resumption of our work at Khonsu Temple, Karnak and Theban Tomb 107.  On February 10th artist Keli supervised by epigrapher Jen resumed her documentation of two inscribed blocks of Horemheb reused by Ramesses III over the entrance doorway of Room 11 in Khonsu temple, still partly covered by Ramesses III-inscribed plaster.  She is drawing both sets of inscribed decoration, since the Ramesses III reliefs are in a very fragile state.  She – and we – are very pleased to acknowledge that two of our antiquities inspectors from last season, Shimaa and Peter, were chosen to participate in a month-and-a-half-long ARCE/AEF-funded epigraphy field school coordinated by our colleagues JJ Shirley and Will Schenck in Theban Tomb 110, recently cleaned and conserved by ARCE.  Both Shimaa and Peter were coached by Keli last season in epigraphic drawing techniques which they practiced under Keli’s watchful eye while they worked with us at Khonsu temple.  Mabruk to them both!  The field school will focus on the documentation of the Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III-period reliefs of the tomb, but will also teach the five students research skills in the Chicago House Library.  The field school participants had an orientation session in the library last week courtesy of librarian Marie, who showed them how to use the library resources, and Ellie, who showed the group how to access our photo files in the Photo Archives.

On February 11th senior epigrapher Brett resumed the collation of the wall reliefs in the portico of TT 107, the tomb of Nefersekheru, steward of Amenhotep III’s jubilee palace, Malqata, a sprawling, six kilometer-long complex south of Medinet Habu.  The exquisitely carved sunk relief details of the noble steward and his entourage were barely begun, and are in rough shape, but are well worth the effort of properly drawing and recording them.  Sue and Margaret’s drawings are among the most beautiful and detailed of their careers in Luxor.  The limestone in which the reliefs are carved is in terrible condition, and all of our drawings will be used as a reference to their condition in the conservation of the reliefs and the restoration of several missing pillars of the portico.  The palace itself has been the focus of excavation and restoration measures this month by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Diana Craig Patch, Catharine Roehrig, and Janice Kamrin) and the Ancient Egyptian Heritage and Archaeology Fund (Peter Lacovara), with some conservation assistance from Hiroko.  Despite suffering a broken arm two weeks ago, plucky Diana squired her team through their normal season; they completed their fieldwork on schedule this week.  

A very special double event occurred on February 23rd at Deir el-Bahri: the official opening of the Hatshepsut mortuary temple Third Terrace Re-Horakhty solar court restored by the Polish-Egyptian team currently directed by our old friend Dr. Zbigniev Sfranski, followed by a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan House in the Assasif plain in front of the temple.  Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty presided over the opening of the solar court, assisted by the minister of Tourism as well as the Polish Ambassador.  The luncheon at the Metropolitan House following the inauguration was a very pleasant affair, attended by many of our colleagues and friends.  This beautiful facility with its domed central reception area was built by the MMA as their base of operations in Luxor, and has been used as an expedition house by the Polish-Egyptian team since the 1960s.  Mabruk to Zbigniev and our Polish-Egyptian colleagues, the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology in Egypt, the Ministry for Antiquities and Heritage, AND to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On February 10th I attended a farewell reception at the US Embassy in Cairo for outgoing USAID Egypt director Mary Ott, who is now based in Washington, DC.  From the time more than a decade ago when she was USAID Egypt deputy director under Ken Ellis, to her time during the last few years as director, she has been a good friend to cultural heritage preservation work in Egypt, and to Chicago House.  We will miss her, and wish her all the best back home.  During the reception I had the pleasure of meeting and welcoming new US Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft (coming to Egypt from Iraq), new DCM Thomas H. Goldberger, and Consul General Sean Murphy.  We look forward to hosting some site visits for them here in Luxor in the near future.

And so it goes.  What I have related is of course only a fraction of what happens out here; it is astonishing to me how much goes on during the course of a single day!  But we are all well, working hard, and enjoying the final months of the season.  Changes are in the air… Egypt is preparing for new Parliamentary elections in mid-March, so the campaign posters are beginning to appear everywhere.  Luxor has a new governor, and the Antiquities Ministry Luxor director, our old friend Abdel Hakim Karrar has just this week retired, with the choice of his replacement still pending.  We have noticed a distinct increase in tourism, both western and Egyptian tourists - including American groups - which is making everyone happier.  Luxor is busy.  And dare I tell you that the temperatures are beginning to climb…?  This week we have had two days in the upper 80s F.  Yes, it’s quite the contrast to the Midwest and eastern USA!   

Before you know it I will be writing again, at the end of March.  In the meantime, be well (and stay warm), and please accept our best wishes from sunny Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

February 2, 2015

Dear friends,

Warm greetings to you all from cool, sunny Luxor, where January certainly has shot by.  In the weeks after New Year’s Day the Chicago House staff members who were away on holiday returned to Chicago House to resume work, and our holiday guests departed.  On January 6th Peter Lacovara took up residence with us for most of the month before his Amenhotep III Malqata Palace season with the Metropolitan Museum of Art team.  MMA Egyptian Department director Diana Craig Patch, Catharine Roehrig, and Janice Kamrin arrived on January 29th and whisked Peter away to their west bank hotel, the New Memnon, where they will be in residence during the entire month of February.  Once again we are sharing our Land Rover with them for the month, an annual tradition now.  On January 7th, Coptic Christmas, we were visited by former Chicago House finance manager Safi Ouri and her mother Nabila, who were in town for some Egyptian sun from a bitter cold and rainy Jordan.  Unfortunately they hit town just as we experienced a two-week cold snap with nighttime temperatures just above freezing (I can hear you all back home snorting with derision, but you must remember that Chicago House has no heat!).  Luckily the days stayed sunny and pleasant, and we got through the cold snap just fine (in case you were wondering), with just a few cases of the sniffles and some of that awful flu going around.  On January 8th the Chicago House team participated long-distance in Professor Jan Johnson’s celebratory Festschrift presentation party at the Oriental Institute with a short video of us all wishing her well. 

At Medinet Habu the Domitian Gate work reached a major milestone this week.  All of the new replacement blocks have been cut and finished, and the testing, checking, trial placement, and tweaking of new blocks with the old ones is now done.  Under the supervision of master stone mason Frank assisted by stone mason Johannes and our trusty stone crew the permanent installation of old and new blocks with mortar began on the 27th, right on schedule.  In the coming weeks the Domitian Gate will slowly rise again and this time it will be for good.  Bravo to the stone team; it already looks sensational, the result of a lot of care and hard work. 

Lotfi, Nahed, and the fourteen conservation students have also made excellent progress with the training and their various projects.  One team has cleaned out decaying lower wall surfaces inside the small Amun temple sanctuary, and part of the outside wall on the northern side, in preparation for infilling with porous lime mortar and sandstone patchstones.  Another, more advanced team (from last season) has been working on reassembling shattered wall blocks from the dismantled Ramesses III southern well.  Another group has checked and cleaned the walls of the Butehamun House in order to see what walls need reinforcement or replacement next season.  Epigrapher Jen assisted by Anait has been doing preliminary surveying of the western High Gate area, blocks, and fragments, preparatory to our planned cleaning, moving, and consolidation program next season, and Jen has continued the preliminary entering of fragments on a master database.  Photographer Yarko assisted by Ellie has been taking record shots of all the MH work, including before and after cleaning and conservation, and some preliminary reference shots of some of the fragmentary inscribed sandstone relief material from the western High Gate, as well as miscellaneous material in the MH blockyard.  Artists Sue and Keli have been working with Brett on drawings for Medinet Habu Volume XII, specifically the eastern entryway of the bark sanctuary.  I am now working with Keli on the final director’s review of a scene on the front of the bark sanctuary, MHB 156, with figures of Thutmosis III and Amun recarved and ‘updated’ by Ptolemy VIII in the Ptolemaic style, including a wildly exuberant repainting of the figures.  It is pure delight for me to see how beautifully Keli has caught all of the details of this extremely detailed scene.  Brett has been reviewing each and every drawing enlargement that will be published in Medinet Habu X back at the temple wall, checking, updating, and finalizing all of the translations and epigraphic commentary.

At Luxor Temple Jay continued his digital drawing of the Ptolemy I block material for our ‘Bentresh’ study during most of the month and gave informal drawing lessons to inspector Nadia, while Krisztian returned and resumed his penciling of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber.  On January 8th Luxor Temple conservator Hiroko Kariya arrived back for a couple of months work in the blockyard, inventorying and tracking the blockyard collections (with Jay), condition-surveying the blocks and holding areas, and doing miscellaneous maintenance work with our workmen in consultation with the Luxor Temple inspectorate.  She will also be doing some work with the MMA Malqata team in the Amenhotep III palace complex.  This week we extended the chain-link fence in the center of the blockyard open-air museum to include a ramp that makes the whole area wheelchair- (and baby carriage-!) accessible.  Jay departed at the end of the month for the Antinoupolis winter season, but is continuing to enter data on the LT blockyard database, including block locations, in coordination with Hiroko, while he is away. 

On January 15th Photo Archivist Sue Lezon returned home after more than a month over the holidays with us finalizing the photographic images for Medinet Habu X with Brett, and arranging for Yarko to fill any gaps.  On January 19th I had the pleasure of attending the Scientific Committee meetings of the Centre Franco-Égyptien d'Étude des Temples de Karnak (CFEETK) in Cairo at the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) headquarters.  As an ‘outside reviewer’ of the work of the Karnak Center, my task was to critique and comment on the work of the last two seasons, always a pleasant task, because the excavation, documentation, conservation, and database work is always an inspiration. 

And so it goes; all is well with us as we begin the new month.  February will see the resumption of our work at Theban Tomb 107 and Khonsu Temple, Karnak, as well as the continuation of the work at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple.  But I will write more about that in a month’s time.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all, from all of us out here!

Best from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey 

January 7, 2015

Dear friends,

Happy New Year 2015!!! We hope that everyone experienced pleasant holidays and a good break. Our December just flew by, and even with the holidays it was a full and productive month. At the very beginning of the December, after her Edfu season, Nadine Moeller stayed with us at Chicago House for a few days and helped with some surveying at Medinet Habu. On December 13th Krisztián joined Jay at Luxor Temple and resumed his drawing of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber for our volume devoted to those extraordinary paintings; he will continue that work later this month. Jay continued his digital drawing of the Bentresh and Ptolemy I blocks in the Luxor Temple blockyard and resumed work on the new Luxor Temple blockyard database and management system. He has continued to enter and update the blockyard data and is presently drawing up (using AutoCAD) a key plan of the blockyard holding areas, platform by platform, to facilitate tracking and locations of the blocks and fragments.

At Medinet Habu the fourteen Egyptian conservation students have been busy learning and applying stone conservation techniques in the MH blockyard under the watchful eyes of Lotfi and Nahed. Lessons take place in the MH blockyard, but the students have also resumed the consolidation of the shattered blocks from the upper wall blocks of the Ramesses III southern well. Lotfi and the stone team restored the first of several broken roof blocks with two stainless steel dowels and successfully rejoined the two pieces, a major milestone. Stone mason Frank and the team built up the Domitian gate doorjambs to their original height to test the dimensions, made some adjustments, and took down some of the blocks to prepare them for permanent placement. On January 5th they successfully rejoined the broken lintel (the largest block of the gate) with two 1m long stainless steel dowels, a significant step towards completing the project. Mabruk, Frank! The epigraphic team has been working on finishing up any loose ends for Medinet Habu X, including adding the painted borderlines beneath the square pillar scenes in the ambulatory - the major focus of the publication - where they were not already indicated. They have also been working on the completion of the 21st Dynasty Pinudjem inscription that wraps around the outside of the small Amun temple (to be published in Medinet Habu XI). Artists Margaret, Sue, Krisztián, and Keli displayed all of the facsimile drawings in the Chicago House Library for review for Brett, Jen, and me to review, and I must say, it is quite an achievement. Some of them were drawn with pen and ink, and some were drawn completely digitally with our new Wacom digital ‘tools,’ and it is impossible to tell which is which. Before he transferred to Luxor Temple, Krisztián finished most of the work on the small Amun temple bark shrine exterior western wall and gate, which will be published in Medinet Habu XII; yet another tour de force, seamlessly combining digital and inked drawings. Photo Archivist Sue Lezon and registrar Ellie Smith arrived in the middle of the month; they are now working with Brett compiling and arranging the photographs and scans that we will publishing in Medinet Habu X.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, and before some of the staff took off for the holidays, our kitchen crew produced batches of Christmas cookies that we decorated with colored frosting, packaged up, and distributed to friends and colleagues on both sides of the river, a nice treat. On the 13th we put up and decorated the Christmas tree and public rooms, and put out red pointsettia plants in the dining room and tea room that Tina had procured in Cairo. Kitchen helper Zakaria single-handedly decorated the courtyard with lights and decorations as a gift to the house, and it has never looked so festive; shukran, ya Zakaria! We were fifty-five at Christmas dinner, a nice mix of Egyptian and foreign friends, colleagues, and whole expeditions, including the University of Memphis American team working in the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak; the Waseda University Japanese team working in western Thebes; the Australian mission working in Dra Abu el-Naga; and ARCE Luxor director John Shearman and wife Khadija. Dr. Wafaa el-Seddik and her family joined us for the holidays, an annual event now, and Mark Chickering joined wife Sue Osgood, adding a sweet touch to our holiday. Our New Years Eve was a smaller affair but warm and festive, with additional guests from Rome, cartographer Marcello Spanu and his wife Emanuela Borgia from the Antinoupolis team (who will be back at the site at the end of this month). Richard Jasnow joined Tina to continue their graffiti documentation at Medinet Habu and was a welcome addition to our New Year’s celebration.

On December 21st we celebrated the Winter Solstice with a small bonfire on the Chicago House roof at sunset. We had much for which to be thankful; on December 18th one of our more beloved workmen, Abdel Haris (who has tended the library as long as I have been here) and his son Ahmed (who works with us at MH) were struck by a speeding car on the west bank. Both suffered broken limbs – Abdel Haris two broken legs – but we are lucky that they weren’t killed outright. We sent them both to a private hospital in Qena where they were treated, and they will be at home for the rest of our season.

As the holidays have progressed - and today are now ending (with Coptic Christmas) - we have noticed an increase in tourism in town, which has been good to see. We have talked to several small groups in the Chicago House Library about our work, and are scheduled to brief more groups later in the month. February promises to be quite busy for visitors. Additional expeditions are already beginning to arrive, among them Suzanne Onstine from the University of Memphis; Betsy Bryan from Johns Hopkins; and Peter Lacovara for Deir el-Ballas and later Malqata Palace work. It’s already a busy beginning of the year.

I will be back in touch next month with another update. In the meantime, please let me extend my very best wishes to all our friends back home and everywhere in the world for a joyous and fulfilling New Year 2015! Special best wishes and love to Professor Janet Johnson, who on January 8th is being honored at the Oriental Institute and presented with a mockup of her Festschrift, Essays for the Library of Seshat: Studies Presented to Janet H. Johnson on the Occasion of Her 70th Birthday. MABRUK, dear Jan!

Best wishes from Luxor and Chicago House,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

November 28, 2014

Dear friends,

We had expected November to be as low-key and quiet as last season, but it has been quite the reverse, starting on the very first day of the month!  On November 1st we had the pleasure of a site visit to Medinet Habu by the deputy Minister of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) Dr. Yousef Khalifa, who reviewed our documentation and conservation work at the House of Butehamon at the back of the Medinet Habu precinct and reaffirmed our concession there.  The individual whose names and figures grace the slender, plastered-stone shafts of the four-columned hall that Chicago House and Üvo Hölscher excavated in 1930 was a 21st Dynasty official responsible for the rewrapping and reburial of the royal mummies whose tombs in the Valley of the Kings were despoiled in the civil wars prior to Dynasty 21.  Butahamon’s name was even found in an ink inscription on the wrappings of the re-wrapped Ramesses III mummy.  Much speculation has been focused on this structure; was it a residence, or an office, or even a funerary chapel (as our colleague Takao Kikuchi suggested in a thought-provoking article in MDAIK 58, 2002)? The texts on the columns are funerary in form, but the structure of the building is decidedly domestic with a platform at the back of the hall, where the owner traditionally sat and received guests, or supervised the work at hand.  It is possible, indeed probable, that the structure had multiple functions. Butehamon’s coffin can be seen in the Turin Museum, acquired in the 19th century, but his tomb is unknown.  The goal of our program is to do facsimile drawings and translations of the column texts based on stitched-together photographs taken by Yarko Kobylecky, (supplemented by photographs taken by Chicago House around 1930), conserve the fragile plaster, extend the mud-brick casemate walls and add some fill for stability, and re-erect two fallen partial columns from a mostly destroyed entrance hall.  Eventually we will also restore two sets of ancient sandstone-slab walkways from the time of Ramesses III on ether side of the mortuary temple that will allow visitors to see the site.

On November 6th Jay and Frank returned from Antinoupolis in Middle Egypt, where Frank consulted with Rosario Pintaudi on some future stone restoration work at the site. That day we also we had the pleasure of hosting a large Far Horizons tour group to Chicago House for a reception and library briefing, the first in almost two years.  It was good to have our friends Bob and Pat Brier back with us, and the group enjoyed a site briefing by Brett at Medinet Habu the next day.  Emily Teeter and Joe Cain, in town overnight with another tour group, joined us for the reception and dinner on the 6th.  On November 9th Christian LeBlanc and the Ramesseum team inaugurated a new collaboration between Chicago House and the Franco-Egyptian Documentation Center at Medinet Habu. At our invitation the team has erected scaffolding along the inside of the Medinet Habu small Amun temple Ptolemaic Pylon in order to record the numerous reused blocks of Ramesses II that are exposed there, quarried from the side walls of Ramesses II’s mortuary temple (the Ramesseum) in the late Ptolemaic period.  Christian and epigrapher Philippe Martinez will be integrating the new block documentation with their drawings and photographs of the standing wall reliefs still preserved at the Ramesseum that they have been recording for some time.  On November 11th Jay resumed his work at Luxor Temple drawing Bentresh and Ptolemy I blocks on the Wacom Companion portable drawing tablet.  Jay has finished digitally penciling the text blocks and is now penciling a series of Ptolemy I offerings scenes in various scales from the same monument as the texts.  We have fragmentary wall scenes from at least two registers, large-scale scenes possibly from a pylon or entryway, and some smaller-scale doorjamb scenes.  It is hoped that once the blocks and fragments are documented and analyzed we will be able to establish the location of the original monument, somewhere in the vicinity of Karnak.

On the afternoon of the 11th about 20 members of the Mehen foundation (for the study of ancient Egypt) from the Netherlands, visited Chicago House, and we had a very pleasant time discussing archaeological preservation issues in the library.  They had visited the Oriental Institute Museum in September and were very pleased to visit the OI in Luxor.  Speaking of the Chicago House library, there are so many expeditions in town at the moment we have already had record numbers of library users in addition to our regular Egyptian Masters and PhD students.  The last few Fridays – including today - have been standing-room-only in the library, something that usually only happens in the spring!

On November 15th we began the second year of our most recent Egyptian conservation-student training program, generously funded by a grant from USAID Egypt that covers most of our Medinet Habu work.  Six students from last year are continuing their on-site conservation training, and eight new students are starting this season.  The program is directed by Medinet Habu senior conservator Lotfi assisted by Nahed, and is designed to give students fresh out of school valuable, hands-on field experience that will make them better qualified for future employment.  They are a bright, motivated group, and it is a great pleasure helping them achieve the conservation skills that Egypt needs so badly, and that also will help them get good jobs.

On November 17th we marked a very important birthday.  That day, ninety years before, the Epigraphic Survey began its work in Luxor.  We celebrated the occasion by taking a house trip to Edfu to see the work of the OI’s Nadine Moeller, Gregory Marouard and their team at the Edfu settlement site. We have watched their work with great interest over the years, and it just gets more amazing.  We also saw the not-yet activated dewatering project sponsored by USAID Egypt and implemented by our friend, engineer Thomas Nichols, whose work is sensitively and beautifully done.  We look forward to its activation soon, as the area is quite damp, and the groundwater salts are a real threat to the ancient temple as well as the settlement remains.  While there we were allowed by the local Antiquities Ministry officials to visit the roof area of Edfu temple, a very special, breathtaking treat and something none of us had ever experienced before.  Because I was obliged to be in Cairo that night, we postponed the Chicago House 90th birthday dinner until a few days later, and on November 20th we had a warm, in-house celebration that included members of the some of the earliest staff of Chicago House.  Yes; as a surprise, Jen passed out masks of previous Chicago House staff members that she had beautifully crafted out of the 1927 staff photograph, digitally enlarging the faces.  I was given first director Harold Nelson’s face; Brett was given John Wilson’s face; librarian Marie was given original librarian Phoebe Biles’ face; Jen had first female epigrapher Caroline Ransom William’s mask; Jay got architect Üvo Hölscher’s face; Yarko received former photographer Hans Lichter’s face, etc.  Our predecessors felt very close to us that night, and I think that wherever they are now, they were pleased to be included.

In mid-November I finished the final director's review of four extraordinary drawings done by Margaret of the Ptolemy VIII lintel over the facade entryway of the Eighteenth Dynasty Amun temple at Medinet Habu.  As part of the restoration and renewal of the bark sanctuary and peripteros, Ptolemy VIII's workmen erased the original Thutmosis III winged sun disk over the façade doorway and replaced it with four, small scale, sunk-relief offering scenes with incised hieroglyphic texts that are very difficult to see and little-known, but are very important for understanding the later theology of the temple.  During the penciling stage of the drawings, before inking, Margaret worked closely with Brett - who specializes in Ptolemaic texts - on the difficult spots, facilitating the whole collation process.  The four drawings are a technical tour de force, and some of the most beautifully drawn Ptolemaic reliefs in the history of Egyptian epigraphy.  They are also the last of the drawings earmarked for Medinet Habu Volume X. The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple, Part II. The Façade, Pillars, and Architrave Inscriptions of the Thutmoside Peripteros, and represent a major milestone in our Medinet Habu documentation program.  Production of this volume will begin in Chicago this summer."

This past week a Spanish-Egyptian security team started trenching the Medinet Habu precinct for electrical cables that will power a new lighting and security-camera system being set up all over Luxor: Karnak and Luxor Temples, Deir el-Bahri, the Ramesseum, Gurna hill and the Tombs of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and Medinet Habu.  We have shared copies of Hölscher’s extremely detailed plans of the entire Medinet Habu precinct with the team to help them avoid buried walls and features that are not visible from the ground, and will be assisting wherever we can in the installation process.

Finally, on November 27th Chicago House hosted a festive Thanksgiving dinner with our friends and colleagues, including Nadine, Greg, and the Edfu team; Peter Brand and his University of Memphis team; many antiquities ministry directors and friends; numerous heads of foreign missions and colleagues; and even some US Embassy friends, Acting Deputy Chargé d’Affaires David Ranz and his family.  We were 80 total, and while the turkey was the size of a small car, there wasn’t anything left of it by the evening’s end.  A fine time was had by all, and the holiday season was well launched.

And so it goes in the Two Lands.  Best wishes to you all for a joyous December holiday season!  I will be back in touch in the New Year with a full report of our December activities.

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

October 31, 2014

Dear friends of Chicago House,

I am writing to you from balmy Luxor, where Chicago House officially reopened its doors on October 15th,  and everything is going smoothly as we begin our 2014-2015 archaeological field season.  I signed the contract for the season at the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) in Cairo week before last with the new Foreign Missions director, Mr. Hany Abu el-Azm, who was very helpful.  Brett, Jen, Margaret, Keli, Jay, Frank, Anait, Lotfi, Marie, Krisztian, Yarko, Johannes, and I all arrived back in Luxor safely during the last couple of weeks; Tin has been in residence since September for the opening and cleaning.  Jay went immediately to Antinoupolis in Middle Egypt for a short autumn season with the Italian mission from the University of Florence directed by Rosario Pintaudi.  On October 20th Brett and I met with MAH Luxor director Abdel Hakim Karrar at the main inspectorate offices in Luxor and passed on the signed contract for the season, after which we met with Gurna MAH director Talat Abdel Hakim and met our two inspectors, Miss Fatma Ahmed Salem and Miss Sanaa Youssef Ahmed Ali in western Thebes.  We resumed our work at Medinet Habu on October 22nd, unblocked and unlocked the doors to the small Amun temple sanctuaries (and found it dry as a bone inside – the dewatering program funded by USAID Egypt continues to work well).  That day we also transferred four trucks of equipment and supplies, including scaffolding, ladders, lights, etc for our documentation, conservation, and restoration work.  This season Chicago House is sponsoring another Egyptian student conservator program, supervised by MH senior conservator Lotfi Hassan assisted by Nahed Samir, which will include the six students from last year plus another new group this year; there is more than enough to do, and this will give them all valuable field experience at the same time. They and the stone team will be working on the Domitian Gate restoration project; the Claudius Gate (prep work); the MH blockyard conservation project; restoration of the Ramesses III southern well blocks; desalination of the back sanctuaries of the small Amun temple; and condition studying, cleaning, and conservation of the House of Butehamon at the western end of the complex (which we started this week).  Our documentation programs will include the House of Butehamon plus the small Amun temple reliefs and graffiti.  We are also continuing the condition study, documentation, and analysis of the blocks and fragments of the western High Gate, destroyed in antiquity and excavated by the Epigraphic Survey in 1932.  All of the work at Medinet Habu is generously funded by a grant from USAID Egypt, now in its final six months.  

We reopened the Marjorie M. Fisher Chicago House Library on Friday the 24th and immediately had three patrons who joined us for lunch, including our old friend Andrzej Niwinski.  Tina and the Chicago House workmen did their usual amazing job in preparation for our return.  In addition to opening and cleaning the house and a zillion other maintenance tasks, they replaced all of the screens in the public rooms of the main house and did some pretty extensive plumbing work in the courtyard - onerous, but very successful.  Most of the work is done in-house now by our talented crew under Tina's capable and ruthless direction.  (Our workmen love her).

Luxor was surprisingly full of tourists when we arrived; there had been a couple of conventions in town, and it remained lively for days, with dozens on felluccas on the Nile, buses everywhere, and hotels busy - just like old times.  Week before last a huge tour boat chugged by Chicago House with people dancing on the deck to an extremely amplified rendition of 'Besame mucho' (!), quite surreal.  Everyone hopes it's a harbinger of better days to come.  It’s good to be back, warm during the day, cooler at night, and getting cooler as the days go by.  To mark the beginning of the new season, we resumed our annual  Halloween party on Thursday (October 30th); Nadine, Greg, and the Edfu team joined us, as well as a host of other missions.  We have a number of groups and visitors scheduled to come through town in November, including some US Embassy and USAID friends and perhaps even the new minister of Antiquities and Heritage, Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty.  It's going to be another busy winter.

So that's what is happening with us.  It’s been an excellent season beginning; the work is going smoothly, and it's been good renewing contacts with colleagues and friends.  Stay tuned for more monthly updates as the season progresses.

Warm best wishes from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey