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Week 4: 28 January-2 February 2019

We started the week with a visit to the wonderful temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, where Brett McClain and Susan Osgood explained to us the work of the Epigraphic Survey of Chicago House, a very detailed way of registering the reliefs and texts on the monuments. The Oriental Institute of Chicago does not only focus on epigraphy, but also on the conservation and accessibility of the monuments for the public. An example of this, is the restoration of the ancient walkway around the mortuary temple of Ramses III that gives access to adjacent structures. After further exploring the temple from the inside and outside, we continued our way to the joint Belgian mission of the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Université de Liège at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. Here Dimitri Laboury told us about the occupation of the site and showed us around in the tombs of Amenhotep, Amenemope and Sennefer. From a detailed study of the techniques of the paintings, Dimitri and his team distinguished the signatures of different artists in these tombs. Unfortunately, as is the case in many ancient tombs in Egypt, the tombs were re-used as living areas in later times. An example of this is the tomb of Amenhotep, where a monk used to live. He used the forecourt of the tomb as a workshop for binding and copying books and left us more than a thousand ostraca on which he practiced his skills.
After lunch we drove to Chicago House where Brett McClain gave us a tour of the complex. The house consists out of a residence area, a working area, a beautiful garden and has the only Egyptological library in the area of Luxor. Since its foundation in 1924 a guest book has been kept in the library in which we had the chance to go through and came across some familiar names such as the name of Capart alongside former queen Elisabeth of Belgium.

In the library of Chicago House

On Tuesday we took the ferry to the east bank, where we finally visited the ruins of the Luxor temple that we had been staring at from our hotel rooftop on the other side of the Nile. The temple had its primary use under the reigns of Amenhotep III and Ramses II, was transformed into a fort in the Roman period, and is still partly in use today as a mosque. In the inner sanctum of the temple, Krisztián Vértes explained to us the recording of the Roman frescoes that have been badly damaged over the years. This was followed by a presentation of the work that Jay Heidel has been doing on the reliefs in the first antechamber of the temple. Another ongoing project of the Oriental Institute of Chicago is the Akhenaten temple project were Hilary McDonald is photographing more than 3800 talatat blocks once belonging to the destroyed temple of Akhenaten.

Afterwards, Audrey gave her site presentation on the birth room of Amenhotep III and his sanctuary, that was later adapted by Alexander the Great. Then it was onwards to the Centre Franco-Égyptien d’Étude des Temples de Karnak (CFEETK), where Jérémy Hourbin first gave us an overview of the archival work, followed by a tour of the ongoing conservation work inside the temple of Karnak. Then Hanna presented to us the hypostyle hall of Seti I and Ramses II, discussing its decorational scheme inside and outside with battle scenes depicting Libyans, Hittites and Bedouins. The day ended with a visit to the Luxor museum, that not only displays past discoveries, but also actively updates its collection with recent discoveries from the Theban area. In the museum there was a curious elderly visitor and his wife, whose importance was indicated by the amount of people that surrounded him. It was only when he asked Audrey’s nationality and she asked who he was, that we discovered that he was actually a former president of France, namely Valéry Giscard D’Estaing.

With Krisztián Vértes in the Luxor temple

On Wednesday morning Lauren and Elien had an exam to take, so the rest of the group had a free morning. At noon we went back to Karnak where John Shearman of ARCE spoke about the conservation field school in the Khonsu temple. We went into the different chapels of the temple where we saw examples of beautifully restored reliefs in colour. From the roof we had a fantastic panoramic view of all of Karnak. Some of us were excited to see the Euergetes gate next to the Khonsu temple because they had studied some of the inscriptions in class. The day ended with a visit to the Mut temple complex, where many Sekhmet statues are still standing. 

With John Shearman at the Khonsu temple

On Thursday morning we first went to the Valley of the Kings, where David Aston is currently working on the pottery mainly found in KV 42. He showed us the different types of pottery and explained how these were made. Next stop was el-Khokha, where the Hungarian mission has been working for many years. Professor Zoltan showed us around several First Intermediate Period tombs, that were re-used in later periods. We even got the chance to go down through a sloping passage to the burial chamber of the New Kingdom tomb of Nefermenu. At noon, we were expected at the French dig house in Deir el-Medina, where we received a delicious lunch, had interesting conversations, and a very nice view of the workmen’s village. We also visited the tombs of Sennedjem and Inherkhau where the paintings in the burial chamber are impressively preserved. Afterwards Anneke presented to us the tomb of Rekhmire, the vizier of Upper Egypt and governor of Thebes under the reign of Thutmose III. Anneke focused on the depictions of the foreign tribute with Minoans, Nubians, Asiatics, and people from the land of Punt. At 4 PM we met with Angus Graham at the colossi of Memnon where he explained his Theban Waterscape Project of reconstructing the ancient Egyptian waterways by studying the sediments.

David Aston and his pots in the Valley of the Kings

Friday we had a free day where the group split and went into different directions. Some went to the Valley of the Kings to visit the tomb of Tutankhamun, Ramses IV and Ramses VII, followed by a visit to Carter’s house, some nobles’ tombs, and the Ramesseum. Others started out the day by biking to Medinet Habu and later joined the others in the nobles’ tombs. The fun, but hot and tiring free day ended with some cooling off in the pool of the hotel.

On Saturday we returned to the Valley of the Kings, where Marija presented us the tomb of Siptah, a tomb with an atypical architecture and in the upper part some interesting decoration, which was unfortunately damaged in the lower part due to floods. Afterwards we visited the marvellous tomb of Seti I, that was mainly decorated with colourful scenes of the different underworld books. Most of us were amazed and started immediately copying in our kashkul some of the figurative representations of the constellations on the ceiling of the burial chamber. After Seti I’s tomb, we discovered with the explanation of Donald Ryan that around the impressively decorated royal tombs there are also undecorated tombs of people possibly related to the king. Donald Ryan and his team excavated 11 undecorated over the years, where interesting finds were made, like for example the glass ring of Ramses III found in KV 49.

Later this day we first went to the West Valley, also known as the Valley of the Monkeys, where we saw the wall painting of the 12 baboons in the tomb of Ay, who was the successor of Tutankhamun. We continued our way to the Valley of the Queens, where not only queens were buried but also princes. The most popular tomb there is that of Nefertari with incredibly preserved scenes in very vivid colours. We could only stay inside for 10 minutes, because of the poor state of the rock, on which the reliefs were applied. After this we visited the two tombs of sons of Ramses III, Khaemwaset and Amenkhopshef, and one of his wives named Titi. In the afternoon we revisited Deir el-Medina but focused this time on the Ptolemaic temple and the great pit where thousands of ostraca were found in the beginning of the 20th century. The day ended with a nice tea party with lemonade and delicious cake at the German house, where Daniel Polz gave us a tour full of historical facts relating to the house.  

Audrey Crabbé & Elise Huijsman

High tea at the German House on the west bank
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