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Archaeological activities in Luxor

A rich collection of archaeological activities has taken place in Luxor this week, reports Nevine El-Aref

Nevine El-Aref , Friday 13 Sep 2019
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Archaeological activities in Luxor
Wall painting of Niay tomb

Celebrating the completion of conservation and training activities at the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis and Khonsu Temple, commemorating the long journey of the South Asasif Necropolis through the millennia, displaying queen Tausert’s sarcophagus for the first time, and beginning the restoration of King Ramses II’s colossus at the Luxor Temple were all activities taking place in Luxor this week.

Although the heat was high at the weekend, activities occurred on both banks of the Nile, with many flocking to the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis on the West Bank to participate in a celebration on the steps of the Raya and Niay tombs.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and US chargé d’affaires Thomas Goldberger celebrated the completion of conservation and training activities at the necropolis. The restoration project was carried out by an Egyptian-American mission from the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) and the Ministry of Antiquities under a grant of LE35 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to conserve two tombs at Draa Abul-Naga (TT159 and TT286) and four chapels at the Khonsu Temple through conservation field schools providing hands-on training for more than 300 ministry employees.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the first tomb (TT159) belonged to Raya, an official from the ancient Egyptian 19th Dynasty. The second tomb (TT286) dates to the 20th Dynasty and belongs to Niay, a scribe according to wall reliefs in the tomb. 

On the east bank of the Nile, the restoration of chapels at the Khonsu Temple at Karnak were also completed. ARCE led conservation efforts through training 59 ministry conservators who documented, cleaned, and conserved four of the temple’s chapels. They also removed patches from the previous restoration in the 1960s and 1970s and replaced them using the latest technology. Necessary structural repairs on the ceilings and architraves were also conducted.

The mission also installed visitor walkways to facilitate access to the temple. Earlier work at the temple had included interventions at two other chapels and the cleaning of columns along the south, west, and east walls and in the main court. The Euergetes Gate, the main gateway that connects the Khonsu Temple to the Avenue of the Sphinxes, was also consolidated.

Archaeological activities in Luxor
coffins on display at the exhibition

To facilitate the on-site conservation work and training, ARCE had built and outfitted a conservation laboratory in 2008, complete with equipment, a classroom, and administrative spaces, Waziri said. The conservation work at Khonsu Temple between 2007 and 2018 had graduated over 300 ministry staff.

In comments made at the conservation project, El-Enany said that it was another example of cooperation between Egypt and the US in the field of antiquities. It added to other projects, such as the groundwater lowering projects in Kom Al-Shokafa in Alexandria and the Kom Ombo Temple in Aswan and others, he said.

“I am very proud of what has been done for Egypt’s heritage and humanity as a whole, especially the training of young archaeologists and conservators from the ministry who will protect and preserve Egypt’s heritage for future generations,” El-Enany said, who also wished success to the US chargé d’affaires who is about to complete his current post in Egypt.

“The United States is committed to our partnership with the Ministry of Antiquities to conserve Egypt’s cultural heritage,” Goldberger said. “These programmes are helping to create lasting jobs and prosperity in Egypt.”

Archaeological activities in Luxor
The entrance to Niay tomb

According to a US press release, the American people, through USAID, have provided $100 million in assistance to conserve monuments spanning the full range of Egypt’s history, from Pharaonic times to the late Ottoman period.

USAID-financed restoration and training programmes had helped to ensure that Egypt could capitalise on the sector’s traditional role as an engine of economic growth and employment, it said.

EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS: El-Enany and archaeologist Elena Pischikova also opened an exhibition commemorating the South Asasif Necropolis over the millennia as uncovered by the South Asasif Conservation Project at the Luxor Museum this week.

Pischikova explained that the large temple-tombs of the necropolis manifest the revival of monumental decorated tombs in the 25th Dynasty. They were still active as temples through the Ptolemaic Period and became burial grounds for officials and their families from the 26th Dynasty to the Ptolemaic Period. A monastery scriptorium in the Coptic Period and now home to modern families, the South Asasif Necropolis continues its life to the present day.

The exhibition puts on show ushabti figurines restored from fragments found in the burial chamber of Karabasken at the necropolis, whose burial chamber contains the only example of a Kushite sarcophagus found in situ in an elite tomb. The three-metre red granite sarcophagus was disturbed at least twice in antiquity and only fragments of the burial equipment were found.

The exhibition introduces the earliest Kushite ushabtis found in the necropolis, their Nubian features showing similarity to the royal ushabtis of Shebitqo, buried in Al-Kurru, and probably made in Kush on the Egyptian border with Sudan.

A well-preserved set of canopic jars inscribed for the mistress of the house Amenirdis is among the collection on show. It was found in the 26th Dynasty chapel cut into the northern wall of the first pillared hall in the tomb of Karabasken.

The chapel was intended for high steward Padibastet, who re-used the tomb of Karabasken during the reign of Psamtik II. Amenirdis was possibly his wife or other family member. The canopic jars were found in situ in a cubic cutting in the floor of the eastern burial chamber. They were cleaned and consolidated by the conservators of the project.

A limestone stela of mistress of the house Irtieru is also exhibited, discovered scattered amongst the tombs in the necropolis. Following its reconstruction, the stela was identified as belonging to Irtieru and dated to the 26th Dynasty. It depicts her standing in adoration of the god Atun wearing voluminous robes, a feature usually reserved for divine images.

Archaeological activities in Luxor
The Ramses II colossus under restoration at Luxor Temple

The burial of chamberlain Ankhnesneferibre was also found in a room carved into the north wall of the open court of the tomb of Karabasken. The burial, although found intact, had been severely damaged by floods. It consists of three mummified bodies buried in three anthropoid coffins, presumably from the same set and dating to the late 26th Dynasty. In addition to the coffins, the burial assemblage consists of a large number of ushabtis, a box, and two wooden figurines of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris as mummiform standing figures.

Most of the 65 complete vessels found in the room are datable to the early-mid Ptolemaic Period. A colourful canopic chest of Neshor was also found in the burial chamber of the tomb of Karakhamun. It dates to the Ptolemaic Period and testifies to the long re-use of Karakhamun’s tomb.

The South Asasif Conservation Project is an Egyptian-American project founded in 2006 with the aim of clearing, restoring and reconstructing the heavily damaged Kushite tombs of mayor of Thebes Karabasken (TT 391) and priest Karakhamun (TT 223), as well as the Saite tomb of Irtieru (TT 390). The conservation work is being performed by a ministry of antiquities conservation team led by Abdel-Razek Mohamed Ali.

The tomb of Karakhamun was found in a collapsed state with its decoration destroyed. Close to 20,000 fragments of the limestone relief decoration, 8,000 fragments of the painted ceiling, and 6,000 fragments of painted plaster in the burial chamber were recovered from the debris of the tomb during 14 years of work.

Based on these fragments, all the architectural features and most of the texts and images of the original decoration were identified. Every fragment went through a process of conservation and consolidation, and the tomb’s pillared halls were re-built out of new limestone. The primary goal of the reconstruction was to provide surfaces for every inscription and scene in their original locations by recreating the architectural elements using their original dimensions.

Archaeological activities in Luxor
El-Enany inspects the first display of Tausert sarcophagus photos: Ahmed Romeih

One of the best examples is the reconstruction of the entrance to the first pillared hall. The second hall, the first reconstructed room, was finished in 2016 and unveiled by El-Enany during a conference on “Thebes in the First Millennium BCE”. The construction of the first hall was completed in September 2019, with the reconstruction of its decoration being still a work in progress.

Work in the necropolis has unveiled exquisite art and rare objects and has altered our understanding of Egyptian history in the first millennium BCE.

THE TAUSERT SARCOPHAGUS: During his visit to the Luxor Museum, El-Enany also inspected the new exhibition of queen Tausert’s sarcophagus, on show to the public for the first time.

Fathi Yassin, head of excavations on the West Bank, said the sarcophagus was recently transported from the tomb of a king called Bye, which is closed to public. The sarcophagus is carved in red granite and decorated with scenes showing the four gods of protection.

The sarcophagus belongs to queen Tausert, the last queen of the 19th Dynasty. It was reused by king Mentuherkhebesh, son of king Ramses III. German Egyptologist Alten Molar discovered the sarcophagus inside the tomb of king Bye located beside the tomb of Tausert

The sarcophagus is 280cm long, 120cm wide, and 150cm tall and weighs six tons.

Meanwhile, on the east side of the Luxor Temple the red granite colossus of Ramses II is being restored.

Ahmed Arabi, director of the Luxor Temple, said the colossus was found during excavation work carried out by Egyptologist Mohamed Abdel-Kader from 1958 to 1960, which also uncovered other colossi in different parts of the temple.

The collapsed blocks of the statue were assembled by Abdel-Kader on wooden slabs.

The Ministry of Antiquities in collaboration with the US Chicago House will begin the restoration of the colossus soon after documenting its fallen blocks.

When restored, the colossus will stand seven metres tall.

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