One of the week’s big events was the weather. Saturday, Sunday and Monday were cloudy and cold (mid-50s F, which is cold for Luxor) with an occasional scatter of raindrops. Overnight on Monday, however, it rained more heavily, always a concern in Luxor where rain is uncommon. Tuesday morning we saw the effects of the downpour.
The huge puddles left by the rain made getting out of the hotel grounds and into the van something of a challenge. The van, too, has suffered: it is usually a clean and shiny blue and white.
We all wondered what the rain had done to the site and its monuments. As you can see from these pictures, the whole area was soaked: normally dry, dusty earth was now slippery mud. The tops of exposed stone, such as the sphinxes, were temporarily darkened by the water while the fallen colossal statue of Ramesses II and the diorite Sakhmet statues positively gleamed in the early morning sun, their surfaces freshly cleaned by the rain. This type of sudden wetting can cause real problems for the monuments.
Over the centuries, buried stone gradually absorbs moisture and salts from the surrounding soil, which can cause serious deterioration: sandstone decays to sand (look at Chapel D, for example), while granite and diorite can be reduced to gravel. Even seemingly stable monuments such as the Sakhmet statues can be affected by sudden dramatic changes in humidity.
Rainwater sinking into stone dissolves some of the salts. As the stone dries out, these dissolved salts migrate to the surface where they re-crystallize and form a white crust. This dissolving and re-crystallizing can cause the surface of the stone to flake or deteriorate. It can also damage the interior of the stone by putting stress on existing fractures or weakened areas. We’re going to have to keep a close eye on things to minimize damage.
On a more cheerful note, William and Elsie Peck arrived on Friday and came out to the site on Saturday morning. William is our master mapmaker, and Elsie maintains our digging records, which is not a simple task.
On the left, Elsie takes note of an area of burning in the Taharqa Gate being excavated by Qufti Ayman. In front of her is the basket of pottery from the area. This kid (right) also seems to be curious about the pottery. Actually, it’s more interested in the paper in the pottery basket, especially the identification tag, which goats seem to consider a delicacy. Without its tag, the pottery in the basket is meaningless as we can’t know from which area and level it came.
On Saturday we uncovered the east face of the Taharqa Gate’s south wing, indicated by the arrow on the right. Still buried in the earth just to the south is a relief-decorated block that probably comes from the gate. Bill and I took a closer look at it Thursday after it had been cleared a bit further, but are still not quite sure what is represented.
At the end of last week Mary wrote that we had a solid mud brick wall running across the gate, the space inside the gate being divided into 2 rooms by another wall just visible on the left of the left photo. She was wrong about the solid wall. In the wall of the larger northern room we have discovered a wide doorway with stone jambs and a lime plaster floor. At the base of the wall on the right are at least 3 courses of sandstone, probably foundations for the wall. A third wall of mud brick (center) seems to run up to these blocks; it is earlier than the wall to the south.
The architecture is now complicated enough and clear enough that Bill was able to start mapping the area on Thursday. A large block, probably from Chapel D, makes a convenient drawing table.
The southern room in the gateway, whose architecture is still very confusing, continues to turn up interesting finds. In the center of the photo on the left you can see a small, pitted black square. It turned out to be a figure of Isis with her son Horus on her knee; unfortunately Isis’s head is missing. While the subject is Egyptian, Isis’ dress and the pose of Horus are thoroughly Hellenistic in style.
Once we finish excavating the Taharqa Gate, we will dismantle both wings and restore the whole gate to the extent possible. This is a project that will take a couple of seasons. In the meantime, we decided to remove the uppermost block at the east end of the gate’s north wing. The 1977 repairs to this area are beginning to fail and this block posed a potential threat to people working in the area.
The block was surprisingly easy to dislodge. The photo on the right shows why: halfa grass had grown up between the block and its bed. Halfa is a threat to monuments as its root system is very deep and it can grow through the smallest crack, splitting stone blocks.
We are still trying to figure out what is going on with the mud brick walls at the juncture Temple A’s Forecourt and the north wing of the 2nd pylon. We have cleared a considerable expanse of brick (left), but the situation is still unclear. Qufti Mamdouh (right) has spent the last week patiently cleaning and defining the brick as it appears.
Despite the bad weather the re-assembly of Chapel D continued apace, the masons taking great care that each block is perfectly positioned. In the photo on the right, Mohamed Gharib (kneeling) stretches the leveling string while Sayed Ahmed (standing) waits with the level.
By the end of the week, the restoration of Chapel D’s west wall was completed. All that remains to do is apply the final layer of tinted lime mortar that will make the repairs blend with the ancient stone. When you compare the wall as it was when we started work less than 3 weeks ago you can see why Khaled, the conservator; the masons Mohamed and Sayed; and the whole team are proud of their work. Congratulations, guys!
There is now a source of piped water on the site, which means we can wash and sort the pottery on-site rather than taking it to the dig house some distance away. The setting, in a small grove of palm trees that has grown up thanks to the pipe’s outflow is a lovely place.
Here are a few more of the birds of Mut. The blue rock thrush on the left perches on a block with the cartouche of King Shabaka of Dynasty 25. On the right, two spur-winged plovers take wing from the shore of the sacred lake. Plovers are great chatterers whether sitting on the ground or aloft.
Richard Fazzini joined the museum as Assistant Curator of Egyptian Art in 1969 and served as the Chairman of Egyptian, Classical and Ancient Middle Eastern Art from 1983 until his retirement in June 2006. He is now Curator Emeritus of Egyptian Art, but continues to direct the Brooklyn Museum’s archaeological expedition to the Precinct of the Goddess Mut at South Karnak, a project he initiated in 1976. Richard was responsible for numerous gallery installations and special exhibitions during his 37 years at the museum. An Egyptologist specialized in art history and religious iconography, he has also developed an abiding interest in the West’s ongoing fascination with ancient Egypt, called Egyptomania. Well-published, he has lectured widely in the U.S. and abroad, and served as President of the American Research Center in Egypt, America’s foremost professional organization for Egyptologists.