Features: Mut Precinct, Dig Diary 2006

2006 Dig Diary: Weeks 1–2

Click on an image to enlarge.

South view near Mut Temple

Dawn on New Year's Day, the first day of the 2006 season at Mut. You are looking south at the large mound of earth that covers the area between the Mut Temple's East Porch (right) and the fallen colossal statue (left), where we will spend much of our time this year. From earlier seasons we know that sometime in the Roman Period houses were built against the First Pylon. We also know that there is a thick layer of burnt material running through this area. Our aim is to sort out the sequence of events here to understand the late history of the temple.

Workmen cutting grass

Before we can begin work we have to cut the tall grass and camel thorn (the prickly brown bushes in the foreground). It's hot, dusty work.

Blocks of stone to be moved

Our first big challenge is to remove several enormous blocks of stone (to the left of the workmen) lying exactly where we want to dig. The problem is they are far too big to be moved with the tripod and winch (called a siba) we usually use.

Crane on site

The solution? Bring in the crane used by Egyptian and French archaeologists at Karnak. It is huge, dwarfing the monuments.

Archeologists supervising crane

Space is very tight, with little room for error. Richard Fazzini and the expedition's Egyptian inspector, Issam Mahmoud Mohammed, supervise getting the crane into position.

Workmen rigging blocks for transportation

While the crane is maneuvering into place, the workmen rig the blocks so they can be moved. Getting a strap under such big stones requires skill and strength.

Crane lifting stone block

Once the blocks are rigged, the crane is able to lift them easily.

Crane moving stone block

Now that's a big stone! It would have taken us days to move this block and its neighbors by hand. With the crane it only took an hour. Technology can be wonderful.

Fox den in excavation site

With the blocks gone, we could begin removing the debris from earlier excavations that covered this area. Under this layer we uncovered an enormous fox den with tunnels running through the eastern half of the mound, cutting across several strata. Since the dirt filling these tunnels can contain material from several levels, they cause considerable confusion if not carefully defined and excavated. Imagine suddenly finding 8th century A.D. pottery in a 1st century B.C. context.

Clearing rubble from the gateway

In the rear of this photograph, Qufti Amad clears the rubble filling the gateway in a wall that runs east from the Mut Temple's First Pylon. Just to its east (left) we have opened a square in what was the southwest corner of Temple A's Forecourt to try to figure out how the gate and Temple A's Forecourt and First Pylon (destroyed down to its foundations) went together. So far we have uncovered what should be the foundations of the Forecourt's limestone south wall; a northern row of limestone (just behind the meter stick), probably the foundation of a colonnade; and a center row of smaller limestone blocks (into which are sunk three large pots) whose function is unclear. This row is separated from the Forecourt's south wall by a mud brick wall.

Hot air balloon

Sometimes the winds blow the hot air balloons from the west bank of the Nile (where they usually fly) over to our side of the river. Even without looking we know when this happens, as they make a distinctive "whooshing" noise when the burners are lit to heat the air. This morning the balloons were unusually low over the precinct.

Balloon seller on street

This year Coptic Christmas (January 7) and the Muslim feast, the 'Eid el Adha, which celebrates Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael (not Isaac as in the Jewish and Christian tradition), occurred very close together. As a result, we got an unexpected 5-day holiday. During the festival everyone was out in the streets enjoying the weather, including this balloon seller, who was very popular with the children.

Excavators discussing restoration

Conservation is a large part of our work, so on our first day of work after the 'Eid, Richard discusses the possible restoration of a fallen and deteriorated ram statue with Ibrahim Suleiman, Director of Antiquities for Karnak; Ahmed Araby Yunes (center), the inspector in charge of the Mut Precinct; and our inspector Issam Mahmoud Mohammed.

Investigating inscribed blocks

Jaap van Dijk from the State University of Groningen is back again this year, arriving on the last day of the 'Eid. He and Richard got right to work recording, measuring, and drawing the pieces of inscribed blocks we have uncovered so far.

Excavation site

It's the end of our second week, and the weather has turned cool and cloudy. Richard and Mary McKercher, the Assistant Director, have been on their own for most of the time. They are quite pleased with the progress made so far. Compare this photo with the one taken January 1. More team members arrive this weekend, and the work will expand. We're looking forward to an interesting season.