21 - 27 November 2002
Issue No. 613
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Fruitful seasonsExcavations at Karnak Temple complex have been focusing on areas hitherto little explored, with rewarding results. Nevine El-Aref takes a look
Priests of the first millennium BC resided in the area beyond the fourth pylon of the Pharaoh Tuthmosis III. It is here and at the temenos (outer temple) wall built by the same Pharaoh, the Osirian zone, and the courtyard between the eighth and ninth pylons that the Franco-Egyptian Centre at Karnak, Centre Franco-Egyptien D'Étude des Temple de Karnak (CFEETK), has been concentrating its efforts this year.
In this temple complex of Amun-Re, a monument that has no equal and was an important centre of worship, successive dynasties of Pharaohs erected an obelisk, built a temple, placed a chapel or even constructed a wall within its holy precincts. For decades now the centre has been carrying out excavations, and has actively engaged in studies on the progressive deterioration of the monuments, carrying out reconstruction. Slowly and surely gaps in our knowledge are being filled.
In the early years of the mission's work, the underground water level was reduced -- curbing this chronic problem to some extent; thousands of talatat from the Sun Temples of Akhenaten were excavated from the ninth pylon; and miscellaneous objects found all over the vast site were stored in what is now the Outdoor Museum where their restoration continues (see neighbouring story). More recently, attention has been given to four main sites.
PRIESTLY QUARTERS: The area south-east the Sacred Lake has proved particularly rich in finds. A residential area, unearthed in the early 1970s by Jean Lauferay, was identified as belonging to priests who served in the temple. Archaeological evidence indicates that its location was chosen with care; it was occupied and expanded for almost half a millennium.
At the upper level of occupation, in the empty space between the back yard of house number six and its enclosure wall, excavators came upon a number of ceramic shards which made it possible to date the foundation of the house to the late Roman period. Brushing away accumulated sand from the back yard of the house, an ash-strewn floor was unearthed as well as a large number of hippopotamus statues, a "New Year" pilgrim flask, alabaster vases, amulets, storage jars, semi-precious stones, weights, and several pottery fragments dating from the end of the earlier Saite period.
"The jars suggest that the area behind the house may have been used for storage or to serve as a kitchen," Catherine Defernez, a member of the team, suggested.
Further research revealed that the whole area was abandoned, and that from the end of the Third Intermediate Period to the beginning of the 26th Dynasty (715 to 664 BC) it slowly became covered with refuse containing miscellaneous ceramics. When exactly the priestly quarters were deserted is not clear; only further excavation and study will show.
PIT PROVIDES EVIDENCE: Beyond Tuthmosis III's enclosure wall and the Holy of the Holies of the Temple of Amun-Re, the excavation team dug a trial pit that revealed different levels of occupation prior to the construction of Tuthmosis's wall. Four of these levels are significant: the first dates from the end of the 27th and the beginning of the 28th Dynasties (during the Persian conquest in the sixth century BC); the second is a 13th-Dynasty level (about 1786 BC, the time of the ascendancy of the Hyksos and their occupation of Egypt); the third shows a 12th-Dynasty layer of occupation -- a period of great building activity which saw an artistic and literary revival -- and the last dates from the 11th Dynasty, at the time when, after centuries of disorder following the fall of the great pyramid age, the Theban princes Intef and Mentuhotep reunited the country in the period which became known as the Middle Kingdom.
At the upper level, most of the remains are mud brick silos and domestic architecture. "It seems that the area was used as a bakery," said Sabri Abdel-Aziz, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department of the SCA. "Bread moulds were found north of the silos while millstones and grinders were unearthed to its east."
At its deepest level, a mud brick wall was found.
CFEETK head François Larché said this type of architecture demonstrated domestic occupation of the area east of Tuthmosis III's wall. "In other words, it shows life around the temple before the New Kingdom construction, when the temple of Amun was smaller," he added.
TUTHMOSIS III'S TEMENOS WALL: While current research reveals different stages of construction and modification of this wall, it is not possible at this stage to identify which Pharaoh planned the first stage of its construction. "The most important fact," Larché said, "is that while the foundation trench cut through the first level dates from the end of the 27th and the beginning of the 28th Dynasties, the ceramics in the foundation trench belong to the time from the end of the 27th to the middle of 28th Dynasties. This suggests the possibility that there was a plan to complete the enclosure wall with new sections, and take action to restore its more ancient part."
THE OSIRIAN: In the vast sandy area north-east of the main temple of Amun-Re, near the Saite chapel of Osiris Ounnefer Neb-Djefa, Lauren Coulon and his team dug three pits: the northern one along the road to the temple of Ptah, the next to the north of the naos of the Saite chapel, and the third in the courtyard behind the chapel.
Work started with the removal of a number of scattered blocks, which revealed a late Roman structure set in the angle formed by the road to Ptah temple and the embankment edging the northern access to the chapel. "It looks like a pile of blocks of different sizes set in steps," Defernez said. "These blocks support a piping device that brought water, probably to a well constructed of baked brick which is visible few metres to the north." The entire area edging the road to the temple of Ptah was originally laid out, but has been badly disturbed by clearage, ancient and modern. "An effort is being made to sort things out," Defernez said.
The next step of the mission was to inspect the area north of the naos, which George Legrain had transformed into a storage area containing many blocks and column drums when he was clearing the main temple of Amun-Re more than 70 years ago. After removing these and placing them on a brick platform built around what he called "the Ethiopian chapel", he discovered elements of a sandstone pavement, following the example of that already cleared to the south.
In the courtyard to the rear of the chapel the team unearthed an unsealed building. The upper surface of its walls shows numerous construction features: bonding using wooden boards to reinforce the mud brick; and an occupation level atop the ruins that appeared directly under the level of the modern flooring. Study of the pottery alongside it suggests it is a 30th-Dynasty structure or, perhaps more precisely, was occupied in the Persian period.
BETWEEN PYLONS EIGHT AND NINE: While excavating the courtyard between these two pylons in the south-west, a mission affiliated by the centre and led by American archaeologist Charles Van Siclen discovered several mud brick structures. These were cleared in an effort to determine their date and whether these buildings were temples, chapels or pylons. This year, the aim of the mission was to clean them and trace each level of occupation. The uppermost level proved to be a hard surface of brick, tile, plaster and dirt, which probably served as the floor of an open-air granary. At its northern limit a granite block framed in sandstone was found. "This is probably the base of a circular mill or grindstone," Siclen suggested, adding that the date was uncertain but it may be early Christian. "It is perhaps contemporary with the buildings once built against the south face of the eighth pylon," he added.
The second level is marked by a series of remains which can be dated by coins and pottery to the middle and late fourth century AD. A number of regularly spaced, brick-edged tree pits dating from the end of the reign of Ptolemy I were found, while remains of a domestic building with associated well, drains, storage pits, granary and trash pits were also located. To the west of the tree pits, a vaulted baked-brick structure was unearthed. "Architecturally it seems to be a small tomb," Siclen said. "It includes animal bones, remains of a large number of amphorae and broken pottery which could be parts of a funerary banquet." This court between the two pylons underwent clearance and renovation. The stone road was repaired; stone- robbers' holes and the remains of furnaces cut into the court were filled in, and the surface was paved with a hard mixture of limestone chips and broken pot shards. Running parallel to the road is a series of alternating holes for tree trunks and roots. "There must have been about 12 trees and 11 bushes in all placed along the west side of the road," Siclen said.
Within the ninth pylon a very large Late Period furnace for melting bronze, originally built at the pavilion of Senostris I, was found. To its north and west, the mission examined what first seemed to be two irregularly placed tree pits. "But on further examination, they would seem to be two holes into which molten bronze could be poured into forms for statues and other objects by means of the lost wax method of casting," Siclen suggested.
Unravelling the secrets of Karnak is a major feat of Egyptology, since some parts of buildings were raised from dismantled shrines or the walls of other temples, while well-established settlements were expanded and rebuilt upon the ruins of earlier structures. The task of revealing the vacillations of this huge religious complex is, however, being systematically and professionally tackled, and the results are rewarding.
On show in the open air
The Franco-Egyptian mission has been working for many seasons at Karnak. The restoration of miscellaneous monuments in the area to the north of the Great Court at Karnak -- many of them extracted from the foundations of Amenhotep III's monumental Third Pylon -- has indeed been in progress for the last 38 years. Much has already been achieved since the Centre Franco-Egyptien D'Étude des Temple de Karnak (CFEETK) took the initiative in 1967 to transform the area into an outdoor museum.
One of the most important projects was to reconstruct the blocks of Hatshepsut's red quartz chapel, hitherto secured on concrete slabs. "Reconstructing this monument was like matching the pieces of a vast jig- saw puzzle and putting them together, and it has taken two years," said Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). "Missing blocks have been replaced by stone of the appropriate size and shape, so that, in the words of François Larché, director of CFEETK, 'Should we find the original, it can easily be inserted in the structure by slotting it into position.'"
Restoration of the alabaster chapel of Tuthmosis IV and his portico courtyard has been an equally exacting task, and one of the most challenging of the ongoing projects. Throughout last year, 30 pillars of the portico were assembled and placed in front of the walls that had been reconstructed in previous seasons. The French mission's restoration report describes broken architraves that had to be glued and strengthened with metallic bars, and many fragments were successfully inserted into their original positions. Missing hubs were replaced with new ones carved from sandstone blocks so that they would be able to support the architraves and pillars.
Still being given concentrated attention is the chapel of Amenhotep II, a huge structure in which heavy blocks weighting more than 50 tons were used.
Way back in 1898 when an earthquake toppled the Third Pylon blocks of stone from many earlier structures were exposed, but attention was only given them in the 1930s when French archaeologists George Legrain and Henri Chevrier set about extracting more than 315 blocks of the chapels of Hatshepsut and her father, Tuthmosis I.
Later, in the early 1950s, Chevrier collected the blocks of Amenhotep II's chapel, retrieved from all over the temple (two of the largest were found in Mut's temple, south of the main temple) and put them in the same area, to the west of the Great Court which had by now become a vast storehouse of exquisitely inscribed blocks of stone.
In the 1960s, when soil drainage was being checked at Karnak to prevent the crumbling of columns from undermining by groundwater, the same Third Pylon was found to contain, in its lower core, more blocks of temples and shrines from earlier periods. Such important Pharaohs as Sesostris I, Amenhotep II, Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis IV had built chapels at Karnak, which were later dismantled and reused in the foundation of the pylon.
Among them were blocks of the magnificent limestone pavilion of Sesostris I, known as the White Chapel. "This Middle Kingdom structure was erected for the Sed or Jubilee festival of the Pharaoh and the blocks, rescued from obscurity, were reerected just north of the Great Court," said Sabri Abdel-Aziz, head of the ancient Egyptian antiquities department. "The pavilion was built to accommodate the barge of god Amun-Re, the great god of Karnak, during the annual celebration that took place at the height of the flood when his sacred image was carried in procession from Karnak to Luxor Temples."
Immediately to its north, an alabaster shrine that can be traced to the reigns of Amenhotep I and Tuthmosis I, also found in the foundations of the Third Pylon, was reconstructed: a small, simple structure of beautiful proportions. "These two monuments, extracted in pristine condition, quickly became attractions, but they were subsequently spoiled by pollution, and their walls have now been cleaned to reveal the fine reliefs once more," Sabri said.
The Franco-Egyptian mission at Karnak began its ambitious plan with the sorting of miscellaneous quartzite, granite and limestone blocks, then proceeded to documentation and the early stages of reconstruction. Now the mission is taking pleasure in witnessing the fruits of its endeavour. Monuments with could have been lost forever are seeing the light of day.