2005 Dig Diary: Week 2
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Ballooning at dawn over the Theban hills is a popular tourist activity. The view from the Mut Precinct is wonderful, particularly when the full moon is setting as the sun rises.
Work at the Mut Precinct by Egyptian inspectors in 2002–2003 revealed an odd feature of carefully laid stone in the otherwise solid, unbaked mud-brick northern enclosure wall, west of the main gate. It piqued Richard's curiosity.
The mystery is solved—sort of. The two stone features support a baked brick arch, visible just to the right of the Sakhmet statue. At the bottom of this niche, a section of ceramic pipe feeds into a channel bounded on the north by a curved row of baked brick and on the south by a row of three roughly worked stone blocks. Is there an access tunnel cut through the wall to allow water to be piped inside the Precinct? For what purpose? We'll have to investigate further. While the bricks run right under the large Ramesside sphinx sitting against the enclosure wall, the difference in soil color between the course of the channel and the surrounding earth should allow us to follow it further.
Ellen Pearlstein arrived the evening of January 22 and was already hard at work the next morning. Here she carefully removes accretions from the surface of an inscribed limestone block.
Our mason, Abdel Majid, works on the mastaba in front of Temple A (in the northeast corner of the Precinct) on which the Sakhmets from that area will stand. He has already laid two courses of baked brick with a layer of bitumen-impregnated material between them to stop seepage of groundwater. The bricks will be covered with a finishing coat of cement to create a level base. Finally, sheets of plastic will be placed under the statues as a last barrier against ground water and salts.
The mastaba in the Mut Temple's First Court is finished, and William Peck supervises Abdel Nabi, the seeba (tripod) operator, and workmen as they move statues onto their new base. In the background, Ellen Pearlstein treats a broken Sakhmet statue that needs to be conserved and reassembled before it can be repositioned.
On January 26, we enjoyed a pleasant break when Dr. Mohammed Saleh, formerly the Director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and now involved with planning the new Cairo Museum, paid us a visit. Here he and Richard, who have been friends for many years, chat about Mut, museums, and Egyptology in general.
Recording what we find is essential. Here Jacobus ("Jaap") van Dijk, of the State University of Groningen in the Netherlands, studies fragments of inscriptions uncovered in the Mut Temple's West Porch, whose excavation he is supervising. Concentration is required as work goes on all around.
After ten days of removing other people's debris in the West Porch we have finally reached not only the first ancient level but our first piece of architecture. The apparent heap of yellow sand to the left of Jaap van Dijk is actually the decayed top of a sandstone column that seems to be standing in its original position in the porch. Jaap is measuring the distance between the new column and another piece of decayed stone just to its north. Archaeology requires patience, however. As you can see from the amount of unexcavated earth surrounding it, we still have a lot of work to do before we will see the whole column.
Over in the colonnade east of the East Porch, Elsie Peck of Detroit, who is responsible for this part of the excavation, examines a freshly uncovered stone fragment handed to her by Qufti Abdel Aziz, while he takes a look at another block.
An enterprising guard at"Beit Canada,"the expedition's dig house, is cultivating vines that produce a large, green gourd. Much to our surprise, we were told that these are unripe loofahs, which many people use as bath sponges. The house, by the way, is called "Beit Canada," or Canada House, because it was built by a Canadian archaeological expedition studying the remains of Akhenaten's temples at Karnak.
It's January 27, the end of our second week of work, and we are quite pleased with our progress. Both rows of the east colonnade are visible, the southern row between the fallen colossal statue and the lower half of the Sakhmet statue; the northern row paralleling it in the front of the picture. The large granite blocks in the center were deposited here in the ancient breaking up of statues and temple buildings; we'll remove them next week and see if the colonnade's paving is preserved under them. The new column in the West Porch is just visible in the rear of the photo. If you compare this photo with one from the start of the season you can see how much progress we have made.
What do we do with all that excavated dirt? The workmen take it out of the Precinct and pile it to the west of the main gate. It is removed every week or so by bulldozer and dump truck to a disposal site designated by the Luxor office of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. You can judge what a chore this is by the size of the mound of excavated dirt. We must emphasize that only excavated dirt is removed this way, so that future excavators in this area will not have to dig through our dumps as we have had to dig through dumps of past excavators.