2005 Dig Diary: Week 1
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You are looking down on the areas where the Mut Expedition will be working during the 2005 season. The Mut Temple's West Porch lies partly buried under the large mound in the upper part of the photograph. In the center of the picture, above the fallen colossal statue, is the area of the East Porch and a small colonnade. Much of the dirt over these areas is debris dumped by earlier excavators at the site, including Benson and Gourlay. It will take considerable time and effort to remove this overburden, as it may contain fragile blocks and objects.
Despite our best efforts to control it by cutting and laying gravel in open courts, a very strong grass known as "halfa" continues to grow back. (This courtyard was bare of grass less than a year ago.) Halfa is so strong that it will grow through the thinnest crack and eventually split and destroy rock.
It's barely sunup, but Qufti Abdel Aziz and his team are already hard at work. ("Qufti" literally means a person from the town of Quft (Coptos), but to archaeologists the word refers specifically to the skilled archaeological technicians from that town.) Abdel Aziz handles the delicate work while his workmen remove excavated dirt.
Archaeology is hard work. These workmen, overseen by Qufti Amad Farouk, use hoes and rubber baskets to remove the debris built up over the West Porch. The workday lasts from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a half-hour breakfast break.
Elsie Peck of Detroit, archaeologist and recorder (center) consults with Richard Fazzini and Qufti Abdel Aziz Farouk Sharid on the work in the east. The rocks in the left foreground are pieces of the two fallen colossal statues of Ramesses II. They are lying on what was originally the base for one statue.
A tripod (called a seeba), a winch, some strong rope, and something to use as a lever (here a length of wood) are all you need to move large rocks like this one—and even a statue of Sakhmet.
Several strong men can use ropes and improvised rollers to move quite large blocks. William Peck supervises the move. It is amazing what a combination of strength and willingness to work hard can accomplish.
This year the Mut Expedition will put the last of the Sakhmet statues in the Mut Temple's First Court on raised bases to protect them from damp and salty soil. As of January 16, most of the Sakhmets on the east side of Mut's first court have been moved away from the wall so that work on their new platform may begin. The most fragile statues await the arrival of Ellen Pearlstein, Brooklyn's Chief Object Conservator, who will consolidate them and oversee their move.
Richard Fazzini (Director), William Peck of Detroit (Co-Field Director), and our Egyptian Inspector Ahmed Araby Yunis share a light moment. Each archaeological mission in Egypt is assigned an inspector who ensures that the work is carried out to proper standards, and who serves as liaison to the Egyptian Supreme Council on Antiquities.
A skilled mason builds a mastaba, which means bench in Arabic. Displaced blocks from the temple will sit on this mastaba to protect them from the threat posed by rising groundwater.
The Egyptian government has launched an internationally sponsored project to lower the water table in the area that includes Karnak and the Mut Temple. Here Richard and Ann Marie Linden, a conservator working with SwedeCo, the Swedish company that will oversee the work, discuss the problem. The heap of sand in front of them is actually part of a fallen column destroyed by groundwater, which underlines the importance of the dewatering project.
It is the end of the first week of work, and we have made considerable progress in removing the debris from earlier expeditions. This photo shows the eastern area (left), where the remains of two column bases and the wall that connected them have been uncovered. Much of the ancient level of hard-packed dirt that accumulated over the whole front area of the colonnades has also been removed. In the West Porch (center), however, there is still a lot of work to be done before we reach ancient levels.