Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 2016-17

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 15-16

Photo by Ray Johnson

Field Season 15-16

Photo by Sue Lezon


Previous Seasons

Epigraphic Survey Update September 20, 2020

W. Raymond Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

Usually Spring marks the return of the Epigraphic Survey from Egypt to the USA after its six-month archaeological field season in Luxor.  Not surprisingly this season was far from normal due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  When the seriousness of the situation made itself known and it became clear that we had to return home early, the Chicago House professional staff and our resourceful workmen rose to the challenge and started closing down our operations at Medinet Habu, Luxor Temple, and Theban Tomb 107 a month and a half early.  Half of the Chicago House team departed Egypt on commercial airlines in mid-March, and when commercial flights dried up the other half were evacuated by the University on a special charter jet on March 28th, thanks to the efforts of Oriental Institute Director Chris Woods and the University of Chicago Risk Management Office, to whom we owe enormous thanks.  Tina Di Cerbo selflessly remained in Luxor to do maintenance work in the house and library with our core team of workmen, all carefully socially distanced and masked, and returned safely home in Germany.  The debt we owe her is beyond words.   

I am happy to report that the Epigraphic Survey team - professional staff and local workmen alike - are safe and in good health.  The Chicago House facility is now closed and sleeping under the watchful eye of our administrators and local workmen who guard the facility and tend the gardens.  The professional staff members are now hunkered down back home, as is our usual summer schedule, carrying on the good work of the Epigraphic Survey and Oriental Institute.  Our artists are digitally inking beautiful facsimile drawings; the Egyptologist epigraphers are researching and translating the hieroglyphic texts we are copying and preparing our publications; our photographers and archivists are organizing and archiving massive amounts of photographic images; and the conservators are compiling reports on the conservation, restoration, and site management work that we accomplished this season.  Everyone is laying the groundwork for next season when we return to Luxor to help Egypt preserve, protect, and make accessible its marvelous past. 

Postponing the 2020-2021 Field Season

We had hoped that it would be possible to keep to our normal schedule this Fall, and to return to Luxor by October 15th, but the COVID-19 situation is not improving, and travel is still not safe.  The University of Chicago is still not allowing any research travel at the moment,  In discussions with the Oriental Institute and the University of Chicago, we have decided to postpone the Chicago House 2020-2021 field season, work remotely at home for a few months, and re-evaluate the situation at the beginning of the New Year.  All Chicago House team members have work to do remotely at home this Fall, into the New Year.  Inshallah we will see the development of a vaccine by then, which will allow safe traveling, and a safe return to Egypt.  We will keep you posted about our plans.

The Epigraphic Survey and Oriental Institute Online

As many of you know, the Oriental Institute has adjusted to the pandemic and social distancing by making more and more resources available online - including lectures - and Chicago House is a major part of that effort.  Our digitalEPIGRAPHY web site, masterminded by ES senior artist Krisztián Vertés, posts regular news and articles on current epigraphic work in Egypt (ours and others), on new digital technologies utilized in current epigraphic recording, on the history of epigraphy in Egypt, links to epigraphic publications, and many other online resources:

I am very pleased to announce that the Harvard University Giza Project and KU Leuven University recently have joined forces with the Epigraphic Survey to make digitalEPIGRAPHY a collaborative effort.  

Also, digitalEPIGRAPHY features are regularly posted on Instagram and Facebook: 

Additionally, every week the Oriental Institute posts articles and news items from the digitalEPIGRAPHY web page on the OI's Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter platforms.  New articles appear regularly on the digitalEPIGRAPHY web page itself on current epigraphic work in Egypt (ours and others), on new digital technologies utilized in current epigraphic recording, on the history of epigraphy in Egypt, links to epigraphic publications, and many other online resources.

And if you would like to access the regular Oriental Institute lectures, including one I gave in June and another that Brett gave in August, click this link:

So we are fine, adjusting to our new pandemic world, and continuing the good work of the Oriental Institute with the help of our friends.  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers during this challenging time, and bless you for your friendship and support.   

What follows is a report on our activities in Luxor from October 15th 20219 until March 28th, 2020.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy Fall and Winter, 




Work in Luxor Temple coordinated by site manager Jay Heidel focused on the tracking, numbering, cataloguing, and digital photography of the 50,000 fragments in the Luxor Temple blockyards, including digital drawing and collation of selected fragment groups, and the facsimile copying of the inscribed walls of the temple proper.  This part of our program includes the Late Roman fresco paintings and pharaonic reliefs in the Imperial Roman Cult Chamber being digitally drawn by senior artist for digital drawing Krisztián Vértes, and the Amenhotep III reliefs in the adjoining Hall of Offerings, being digitally drawn by Jay.  Photographer Owen Murray continued to create digital photogrammetric background imagery in both chambers used as the basis for the drawings.  Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) inspectors with whom we worked at Luxor Temple during the 2019-2020 season were Wael Abdel Satar Ahmed, Hala Ahmed Mohamed El Samann, and Dalia Mohamed Bahaa El Din. 

This season Krisztián focused on digitally penciling Amenhotep III reliefs in the Imperial Roman Cult Chamber, particularly on the south-eastern wall for inking this summer. In future seasons, he will continue digitally drawing the chamber’s pharaonic reliefs for publication in a second volume additional to the – now finished – Roman murals that will appear in a separate volume, the final plates on which Krisztián is working now.  Before Krisztián began, Owen used photogrammetry to create a high resolution photo coverage of the entire wall, with each segment output as flat, rectified drawing enlargement tifs for Krisztián’s drawings.   

Last season we began implementing our new end-to-end digital process by inaugurating our documentation of the back shrine area of Luxor Temple. The first room chosen was Amenhotep III’s Great Offering Chamber, between the Imperial Cult Chamber and the Bark Sanctuary. Season before last Owen completed photography for the room’s east wall, and this past season, with assistant Azab Ahmed, he completed the photography for the chamber’s west wall after a light brushing by Chicago House conservator Lotfi Hassan. During the summer Owen produced the drawing enlargements for the chamber’s second register for Jay, who was able to finish the penciling of the first register and most of the second before the end of our season.  

This year the work in the Luxor temple blockyard centered on continuing to develop the Luxor Temple Fragment Database. Since its creation six years ago, the Database has moved beyond entering our “core group” of fragments that have been periodically studied over the last forty years, and we began photographing and entering new material. Photographer Hilary MacDonald, assisted by Digital Data Engineer Gina Salama and Conservator Hala Mohamed, continued to expand the number of fragments documented using photogrammetry, the database, and spreadsheets to record location data. This year we were joined by two new team members Nadia Ahmed Abdul Latif and Al Shaimaa Mohamed Ahmed who were able to help photograph the iPad reference shots for the database. They made reference shots for 5 mastabas that contain 909 blocks in total. Before the team could begin photography and tagging, most of the mastabas were dismantled by our men, and several large mastabas required restacking and reorganizing, all overseen by Gina.  This season Hala glued 3479 block number tags on 28 mastabas. 

Hilary and Owen have pioneered a technique whereby completely square, orthogonal, aspective (that is, without perspectival diminution) images of carved wall and fragment surfaces can be extracted from a digital 3-D model created using the software Metashape. Hilary used this technique this season to continue photographing the corpus of Akhenaten-period talatat blocks (originally from the Karnak Aten temples) stored in the “western talatat magazine” at Luxor temple that she began last season. Hilary began shooting on December 26, 2019, and in 51days at the temple photographed 750 talatat and also completed all reshoots from last season, around 50 fragments. With Owen’s assistance, Hilary also shot master map 3-D models of all mastabas in the magazine. In the west talatat magazine there remain about 100 blocks to be shot next season, after which our work in the magazine will be completed.  The documentation from the first season of shooting 2016-17 has now been completely turned over to archivists Alain and Emmanuele Arnaudiès, and this summer (2020) all post-processing from the 2017-18 season will continue and post-processing of the current season will begin. Altogether, since digital photogrammetry of fragments began, Hilary has photographed 7,278 fragments, with each fragment requiring 25-30 photographs per decorated side for digital ‘stitching’ into 3-D images. The next priority is the thousands of Amenhotep III fragments located at the south end of the main block yard that have been identified as belonging to the back shrines of Luxor temple.  

Chicago House Assistant Director Brett McClain continued collating the Ptolemy I fragment group of 163 blocks and fragments drawn by Jay, of which the Bentresh inscription is found on 39 blocks.  All of the core Bentresh text blocks have now been collated by Brett and epigrapher Ariel Singer, analyzed, and corrections transfered.  Ariel has also been doing photogrammetric documentation of the core group for virtual 3-D model making.  


Conservator Hiroko Kariya arrived this year on January 15 and alternated her work time between Luxor temple and Tomb of Nefersekheru (TT107). She worked in the Luxor temple block yard and focusing on treatment of broken inscribed blocks that were noted by Hala during the tag gluing process for the database. She also conducted a condition assessment of talatat blocks in the western magazine and consolidated about 20 pieces. In the block yard/open air museum, she conducted a condition survey and regular maintenance, including spotlight lamp repair and replacement of 20 canvas covers for the covered-shelf storage. Structural engineer Conor Power was not able to return to Luxor this winter to conduct his annual condition study of the Luxor Temple structure, but we hope to get him back for a review next winter.   


This season Chicago House was pleased to continue assisting our SCA and Tourism and Antiquities Ministry friends at Luxor Temple in the reassembly and re-erection of the northernmost standing colossal granite statue of Ramesses II in front of the Luxor Temple first court exterior west gate.  These two colossal statues, in the standing Osiride pose holding the crook and flail, faced the Nile and guarded the approach to the temple from the river, but were destroyed in the Middle Ages.  Luckily quite a few granite fragments from the statues were recovered in excavations around that part of the temple, enough to allow restoration.  While the focus was on the northern colossus this year, the plan is to restore the southern colossus next year. After consultation with the SCA and as part of this project, Gina oversaw the dismantling a large mastaba full of granite fragments, and the SCA was able to find 60 pieces that will be used for future restoration work. Gina also was able take reference shots of all the fragments with the help of El Azab, who also photographed all the fragments that have been recovered by the SCA for the statue project. 



Work resumed on site at Medinet Habu on December 21st, 2019 and extended until the last week of March, 2020, at which time all antiquities sites in Egypt were closed and the foreign professional staff were obliged to evacuate Egypt. Despite the delayed start and unexpectedly early closure, we were able to accomplish all of our primary objectives for the field season, including the following: 1) cleaning, preliminary photographic and photogrammetric documentation, and conservation assessment of the Claudius Gate in preparation for dismantling and conservation of the sandstone blocks; 2) dismantling of the Claudius Gate down to its foundations; 3) removal of all blocks of the Claudius gate to the interior of the Medinet Habu precinct for conservation/stabilization; 4) continuation of the sandstone paved walkway along the northwest and north exterior of the Ramesses III mortuary temple; 5) continued restoration of mud brick walls and ancillary structures along the north exterior of the Ramesses III temple; 6) preliminary photographic and epigraphic documentation of the Taharqa Gate in preparation for conservation assessment; 7) preliminary conservation assessment and temporary structural stabilization of the Taharqa Gate; 8) continued photographic, photogrammatric, and epigraphic documentation and analysis of the Western High Gate fragment corpus; 9) continued development of Western High Gate open-air museum, including completion of open-air museum fragment group display; 10) continued development of USAID-funded program for local Egyptian conservation students, now in the 5th consecutive season of this program, with 13 participants for 2019-2020. In addition to our conservation training participants, our USAID grant-funded projects employed 40 full-time and over 120 seasonal workers from the local workforce.  Our work at Medinet Habu was supervised by SCA Inspectors Mahmoud Abd el-Rahim Salman Ahmed, Hassan el-Tawab Musa Asran, Mahmoud Abd el-Gawad Mahmoud Abu el-Hasan, Essaad Mahmoud Galal, Abd el-Baset Ahmed Soltan, and Do’aa Ali Fawzi el- Noubi, along with SCA Conservators Mohammed Mahmoud Mohammed Mahmoud, Gamal, Mohammed Ahmed Hassan, and El-Tayib Abu el-Haggag Hussein Qandil. 


Documentation continued this year at the Small Temple of Amun (MH.B) under the supervision of Brett and senior artists Margaret De Jong, Susan Osgood, and Krisztián Vertes.  Epigraphers were Jen Kimpton, Ariel Singer, and Aleksandra Hallmann, and artists included Keli Alberts and Dominique Navarro.  Medinet Habu X, wherein will be presented the façade, pillars, and architraves of the Thutmoside peripteros, is now being edited by the Oriental Institute Publications Office, and we expect the volume to be in print within the next year. We concentrated our fieldwork on the later additions and modifications to the temple exterior and the marginal inscriptions, to appear in Medinet Habu XI, as well as on the bark shrine, to be published in Medinet Habu XII. We also continued to work on drawings in the Late Period portico and the Kushite gate for Medinet Habu XIII. In addition, documentation of the graffiti and paintings in the north Ptolemaic annex and in adjacent exterior sections of the Small Temple by Tina Di Cerbo and Richard Jasnow was continued throughout the course of this season. 

Survey and documentation of the sandstone blocks and block fragments of the destroyed Western High Gate of Ramesses III, supervised by Jen Kimpton and assisted by Anait Helmholz, Ariel Singer, and artist Keli Alberts, also continued this year, including cataloguing, photography, 3D modeling, drawing, and collation of the material. Photographer Yarko Kobylecky continued to take large-format film and digital photographs of the inscribed material that were also entered into the database.  Since the architecture and decoration of the Western High Gate, an integral part of Ramesses III’s mortuary complex, has remained almost wholly unpublished since its discovery, it is intended that a future volume in our Medinet Habu series will be devoted to the presentation thereof. 

Comprehensive photographic documentation of the reliefs and inscriptions within the 

tomb-chapels of the God’s Wives of Amun (MH.C) was successfully continued this year by Yarko, assisted by Photo Archives Registrar Ellie Smith and assistant photographer Amanda Tetreault. All of the scenes and inscriptions in the east, west, and south corridors of the Amenirdis shrine have now been photographed in large format, and it is planned that the north corridor, along with the interior of the Amenirdis cella, will be recorded in 2020-2021. 

What follows is a tally of the drawing enlargements that passed through all stages of the Chicago House method during the course of the 2019-2020 winter season: 

Penciling completed: 30 drawing enlargements 

Inking completed (including summer 2019): 89 

Collation completed: 8 

Transfer check completed: 18 

Director check completed: 3 


Medinet Habu Senior Conservator Lotfi Hassan assisted by Assistant Conservators Doaa Mohamed el-Sadek and Al Azab Ahmed continued to oversee all of the Medinet Habu conservation programs.  These included the grant-funded conservation student training program (3 junior conservators and 7 students this year); the cleaning, capping, and restoration of the mud-brick walls bordering the stone pavement around the Ramesses III mortuary temple on the northern side; the consolidation of three sandstone door thresholds from doors that pierced those walls; and the laying of a new mud-brick paved path along the outside. During our season Lotfi also organized and oversaw the 120 additional seasonal workmen who augmented our core team and made our expanded conservation and restoration work at Medinet Habu possible.      

At the request of the Gurna Antiquitiess Inspectorate and the SCA, part of the conservation team was tasked with cleaning several pigeon-dropping soiled sections of the Ramesses III mortuary temple exterior walls.  The large, deeply cut hieroglyphs are perfect for nesting pigeons, and the battered walls catch all of the acidic droppings.  So far no techniques have been effective in keeping the pigeons away from the structure, so periodic cleaning becomes essential, and Chicago house has added that to our annual MH conservation-maintenance program, starting with the southern exterior wall. 


From December 23rd 2019 through March 23rd 2020, the Epigraphic Survey under the supervision of Master Mason Frank Helmholz, assisted by stone mason Johannes Weninger and the stone team, continued the restoration of the stone paved walkway surrounding the Great Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, a major component of our site management/development program funded by USAID. During this three-month period, good progress was made on the restoration of the pavement on the north side. 209 new paving stones were laid with a surface area of 151 square meters and over 40 meters in length.  In addition, the Claudius Gate outside the eastern wall of the MH precinct was dismantled in preparation for restoration and rebuilding, which will take place in 2020-2021. All of the blocks were carefully moved inside to the Medinet Habu blockyard holding area for consolidation by the conservation team before re-assembly.  The Taharqa Gate of the small Amun Temple complex, immediately to the north of the Kushite court, was surveyed and prepared for dismantling and restoration, which will also take place next season.  Under Lotfi and Frank’s joint supervision a group of blocks from the great Western High Gate were reassembled for public view, the first increment of our projected open-air museum for the site.  The five blocks, now joined, depict a seated Ramesses III drinking with a princess who is offering him a bouquet, and was originally from an upper story room high inside the gate.  Ariel has created a 3-D model of the group and its mates using Metashape software, with the ultimate aim of integrating all of the gate blocks into the model. Jen and Keli continue to make astonishing joins, clarifying the decorative program of the gate inside and out.   

We are happy to acknowledge here, with gratitude, a grant extension from USAID Egypt for the development and restoration of the western, northern, and eastern sectors of the Medinet Habu precinct, including the dismantling, consolidation, and development of the Claudius Gate and Taharqa Gate.  The extension funded this season’s work, and will allow us to continue our site development and restoration work for another three years, and to make the site even safer and more accessible to its visitors.  



During the period 14 January – 20 March 2020, the Epigraphic Survey continued the 

excavation, conservation, and documentation of TT 107, tomb of the Steward of Amenhotep III’s Malqata Palace, the noble Nefersekheru. The archaeological work, coordinated by Dr. Boyo Ockinga and Dr. Susanne Binder, extended over a period of approximately four weeks, and significant progress was made in clearing the upper strata of the central aisle of the broad hall within the tomb. This led to the confirmation of an inner doorway at the back of the broad hall on the north side, one of our main objectives for the season, as well as to the recovery of numerous inscribed limestone fragments.  Now we know that at least one additional chamber was exists beyond the broad hall, a major question now answered.  We had hoped that the new doorway might be inscribed, but the top of the door and doorjambs that are now partly exposed show no sign of carving.  The inscribed fragments, found just inside the main entryway, are mainly from the broken doorway itself and include outer doorjamb fragments inscribed with vertical text columns in sunk relief, as well as additional pieces of the exterior lintel scene above with back-to-back enshrined figures of Osiris and probably Re-Horakhty.  New fragments found this season indicate that the inner thickness figure of Nefersekheru was accompanied by text above him, and that both his figure and text above were carved in the fine raised-relief style of the late 18th Dynasty.  There is still much to clear in the entryway, and many more fragments of the inscribed doorway await us next season. 


Conservation and documentation of these fragments continued throughout the 

remainder of the field season. Over sixty fragments were treated, consolidated, and partly reassembled by Epigraphic Survey conservator Hiroko Kariya and recorded by Epigraphic Survey photographer Yarko Kobylecky. Senior artist Susan Osgood and epigrapher Ariel Singer continued the facsimile drawing, collation, and analysis of the growing corpus of fragmentary material from this tomb. Additionally, five drawing enlargements, comprising the scenes on the lower register of the tomb façade, were completed by Susan Osgood and approved for publication by W. Raymond Johnson. 

Our work at TT 107 this year was supervised by SCA Inspectors Hanan Hassan Ahmed Hussein, Heba el-Nadi Abu Zaid Ahmed, Wafaa Abu el-Hamd Mohammed, and Salwa Nur el-Din Ahmed Mohammed, along with SCA Conservator Mohammed Mahmoud el-Naggfar Fath el-Bab. 


The Epigraphic Survey professional staff during this past season consisted of W. Raymond Johnson as Director; J. Brett McClain as Assistant Director, Jen Kimpton, Christina Di Cerbo, Ariel Singer, and Aleksandra Hallmann as epigraphers; Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder as project archaeologist/epigraphers; Margaret De Jong, Susan Osgood, and Krisztián Vértes as senior artists, and Keli Alberts and Dominique Navarro as artists; Jay Heidel as Luxor Temple site manager/architect/artist; Gina Salama as Luxor Temple assistant/digital data engineer; and conservator Hala Mohammed Ahmed as Luxor Temple data assistant; Yarko Kobylecky as chief staff photographer; Owen Murray, Hilary McDonald, and Amanda Tetreault as photographers; Susan Lezon as photo archivist and photographer; Elinor Smith as photo archives registrar and photography assistant; Carlotta Maher as assistant to the director emerita; Essam El Sayed as finance manager; Samir Guindy as administrator; Samwell Maher as assistant administrator; Anait Helmholz as CH head librarian and Medinet Habu Western High Gate assistant; Martina Roshdy Maher as assistant librarian; Frank Helmholz as master mason; Johannes Weninger as mason; Lotfi K. Hassan as Medinet Habu conservation supervisor; Doaa Mohamed el-Sadek and Al Azab Ahmed as Medinet Habu conservator assistants; and Hiroko Kariya as project conservator for Luxor Temple and TT 107.  Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudiès worked on the Chicago House Digital Archives database.  Special thanks must go to Nadine Moeller and Gregory Marouard for overseeing our archaeological work, and special thanks as always must go to our forty full-time Egyptian workmen, without whom we could do nothing. 

Sincerest thanks to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and An­tiquities (MoTA) and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Minister of Antiquities Dr. Khaled el-Enany, SCA secretary general Dr. Mostafa Waziri, and all of our friends and colleagues in Egypt for a short but productive collaboration this year. Sincerest thanks must go to the many friends of the Oriental Institute, whose generous support allows Chicago House to conduct its documenta­tion, conservation, and restoration programs in Luxor. Special thanks must go to USAID Egypt for the four-year grant extension that will support our restoration and site development efforts at Medinet Habu.  


2017-2018 FIELD SEASON

Epigraphic Survey Current Season Update October 31st, 2018

W. Raymond Johnson,Director, Epigraphic Survey

The Epigraphic Survey/Chicago House, Oriental Institute is back in Luxor for its 2018-2019 archaeological field season and is resuming documentation and conservation work at Luxor Temple, Medinet Habu, and Theban Tomb 107.  In celebration of our 95th year in Luxor and the Centennial of the Oriental Institute, we are very pleased to announce that the digital drawing manual of Krisztián Vértes and the Epigraphic Survey, Digital Epigraphy has outgrown the electronic book format and has evolved into its own website. As of November 1st, digitalEPIGRAPHY the website can be accessed at this link:

digitalEPIGRAPHY incorporates all of the information on digital drawing techniques, Epigraphic Survey drawing conventions, tutorials, etc. found in the first edition of Digital Epigraphy as well as an enormous amount of additional, updated information that was originally planned for the second and third editions and beyond. The website is completely open-ended and has the benefit of being able to change as fast as we do, with instant access to new digital epigraphic drawing methods and equipment as we learn about and test them, and it will allow the Epigraphic Survey to continue leading the way in cutting-edge epigraphic documentation and publication.  We invite you all to check out this exciting new website regularly (since it will be constantly changing), and we encourage you to send us your comments and feedback.

Epigraphic Survey Current Season Update March 26, 2018

W. Raymond Johnson

Chicago House reopened its doors for the 2017-2018 archaeological field season on October 15th, and the Chicago House Library opened on October 20th. This, our 94th archaeological field season, has simply sped by. We received our state security clearance several weeks late this year, like many of our colleagues, but by November 15th were back at work on site. Chicago House's documentation, conservation, restoration, and training activities took place at three major sites this winter: Luxor Temple, Medinet Habu, and Theban Tomb 107. Work finished for the season on April 15th, and the team is now back home processing data, translating texts, inking penciled drawings, organising digital files, and putting the final touches on Medinet Habu Volume X: The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple, Part II. The Façade, Pillars, and Architrave Inscriptions of the Thutmoside Peripteros.

Chicago House architect/artist Jay Heidel supervised the data management program, numbering, documentation, and database entering of the inscribed architectural blocks and fragments stored and displayed in the Luxor Temple blockyard while also finishing the digital penciling (for digital inking) of 180 blocks and block fragments from the time of Ptolemy I.  Digital collation of Jay's 39 Bentresh inscription block drawings, part of this group, was begun this season by senior epigrapher J. Brett McClain.  Photographer Hilary McDonald assisted by Gina Salama continued the digital photogrammetric photography of entire rows of Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV-period blocks and block fragments in a new program designed to provide a comprehensive digital record of all 50,000 inscribed blocks, fragments, and architectural elements in the blockyard.  Egyptologist/artist Krisztián Vertés continued his facsimile digital documentation of the Tetrarchic Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber on the southern, western, and northern walls assisted by photographer Owen Murray.  The digital penciling of those frescoes is now finished.  Under the supervision of Krisztián and Jay, the first fully digital collation of a digital drawing based on a digital photogrammetric rectified image of an Amenhotep III wall scene in the Imperial Cult chamber was undertaken by epigraphers Ray Johnson and Jonathan Winnerman.  This scene was chosen to be a trial run for the new collation procedures, developed by Krisztián, and will be featured as a case study in the third edition of the digital drawing manual Digital Epigraphy. (The second edition of Digital Epigraphy is at the Oriental Institute Publications Office now).  The digital collation procedure proved to be so successful, this season we began the transition to digital collation all of our digital drawings starting with Brett's digital collation of the Ptolemy I Bentresh inscription blocks.  Luxor Temple conservator Hiroko Kariya conducted her annual condition survey, maintenance, and treatment of the blockyard material and assisted with the photography of fragile blocks housed in protective ‘hospital’ mastabas, all tagged with aluminium tags by Gina for entry by Jay and Gina into the blockyard database.   That material was all reassessed, moved, or added to where necessary, and the mastabas secured.  On March 17th structural engineer Conor Power arrived for his annual condition study of Luxor Temple.  After checking the crack monitors, plumb bobs, and doing a thorough condition survey of the Luxor Temple structure, his report was that there is no sign of movement or instability, and that the temple structure remains stable.  This is thanks to the USAID dewatering initiative inaugurated in 2006 that lowered the groundwater passing under the temple by over ten feet, thereby stabilising the foundations.


The epigraphic team in the small Amun temple of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III under the supervision of J. Brett McClain and senior artists Margaret De Jong and Susan Osgood continued work on the drawings for Medinet Habu XI and XII, while Tina Di Cerbo and Richard Jasnow continued their digital documentation of Coptic graffiti in the northern Ptolemaic annex.  New epigrapher Ariel Singer began her training in the small Amun temple with the team, while artist Dominique Navarro worked on a gate from the time of Taharqa immediately to the north of the small Amun Temple Kushite pylon.  Brett and photographers Sue Lezon, and Yarko Kobylecky produced the final photographs for Medinet Habu X, now in production Chicago. Epigrapher Jen Kimpton assisted by Anait Helmholz continued the cataloguing and analysis of blocks and fragments from the destroyed Medinet Habu western High Gate, while artist Keli Alberts continued the facsimile drawing of selected fragments and groups.  Ariel helped collate some of these drawings this season.  Jen and Keli continue to make wonderful joins with the material, furthering our knowledge not only of the exterior and interior scenes of the destroyed gate, but also the architecture of the gate itself.  Photographer Yarko Kobylecky continued to generate large-format film documentation of the blocks and fragments, while Owen Murray continued his digital documentation of the western area for photogrammetric mapping.  Archaeologists Nadine Moeller and Gregory Marouard coordinated the clearance and documentation of the foundation trenches of the northern tower; Greg rejoined the team for two weeks in March in order to finish the northern foundation work.  Yarko assisted by Ellie Smith also generated large-format film negatives in the God's Wives Chapels from the 25th and 26th Dynasties in preparation for their publication; we will study these funerary chapels while we document the 25th Dynasty additions to the small Amun temple, since they were part of the same program.  Senior conservator Lotfi Hassan continued to supervise the Medinet Habu conservation work, capping of Ramesses III mud-brick walls along the stone pavement with new bricks, as well as our ongoing Egyptian conservation-student training program, while Master Mason Frank Helmholtz continued to supervise the restoration of Ramesses III-period paved walkways on the southern, western, and northern sides of the mortuary temple with thick sandstone slabs.  These restored walkways will facilitate public access to the western precinct, the House of Butehamun, and an open-air museum in the area of the western High Gate.  The paved walkway  now extends along the entire length of the southern side of the mortuary temple and has turned the southwest corner where restoration is now proceeding along the western side.  Lotfi and his team stabilised two of the columns of the Butehamun house in February and March and made them vertical, and has been experimenting with compressed mud-brick paving slabs and protective rope fencing around the house that will allow visitors to view the house from the outside.  We gratefully acknowledge here a grant from USAID Egypt for the development and restoration of the southern and western sectors of the Medinet Habu precinct that currently supports this work.

TT 107.
Cleaning of the inscribed portico of TT 107, the Theban tomb of the Steward of Amenhotep III's Malqata Palace, the noble Nefersekheru, was supervised by Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder for the Epigraphic Survey in late January.  Their work this season included the removal of blocking and debris in the entryway of the unexcavated broad hall for the insertion of a steel security door in a brick frame.  During the clearance a larger-than-lifesize raised-relief figure of the tomb owner, Nefersekheru, was found in the western door thickness, preserved from the waist down, facing out of the tomb.  Additional inscribed fragments of the destroyed limestone doorjambs and portico wall were also found and were consolidated and joined where possible by conservator Hiroko Kariya in preparation for photography and drawing.  Senior epigrapher J. Brett McClain continued the first collation of the facsimile drawings of the portico façade reliefs done by senior epigraphic artists Margaret De Jong and Sue Osgood, while Ray Johnson, Jonathan Winnerman, and Ariel Singer continued the second collation of the drawings.  Sue Osgood did digital drawings of the new fragments found last season for integration with the wall-relief drawings; Ray director checked some of her earlier digital fragment drawings for integration with the wall drawings, and in late March debris from the archaeological cleaning work was removed by the Chicago House workmen supervised by Reis Badaway.

2016-2017 FIELD SEASON

Epigraphic Survey Season Update March 15, 2017

W. Raymond Johnson

Belated but warm New Year 2017 greetings from Chicago House!  I am happy to report that the Epigraphic Survey received all of its permissions from the Ministry of Antiquities and Egyptian State Security and has been back in operation in Luxor since mid-October.  The 2016-2017 archaeological field season has been so busy there has been very little time to write, which is why you have not heard from me before now, but all is well, and it’s now time for a much-delayed update.

LUXOR TEMPLE.  At Luxor Temple we have launched a new documentation initiative in the blockyard open-air museum and storage areas supervised by blockyard site manager Jay Heidel.  Photographers Hilary McDonald and Owen Murray working with Jay developed a system this season that utilizes digital photography and Agisoft Photoscan software to create photogrammetric ‘maps’ of stacked block rows for reference, starting with the Akhenaten Karnak talatat holdings, (which will be among the first groups to be transferred back to Karnak from whence they came).  The digital photographers are assisted by Gina Salama and Ellie Smith who help tag the blocks with numbers and place small targets on each block for squareness.  The end result is a tif image that can be used for Jay’s blockyard database, archiving, drawing, and publication; 1780 Akhenaten Karnak talatat blocks have been recorded so far using this new process, with around 840 to go before we finish for the season in April.  The digital archive will be invaluable for referencing the data within and outside of Egypt, and will be augmented by film photography as groups of blocks and fragments are analyzed and joined.  Jay continues to develop the blockyard database and update the records for fragments, including photos and location data from our records at Chicago House; so far he has created 3,672 records in the database, excluding talatat.  In the blockyard itself, his work consists of verifying the location of each fragment based on the recorded data, locating fragments whose data has been lost, figuring out the numbers assigned to fragments we have studied in the past whose numbers have fallen off or become illegible, and adding new fragments to the database based on what is found, especially, at the moment, the Akhenaten Karnak talatat.  The process of checking in the field proceeds mastaba by mastaba and will continue until all relevant fragments have been accounted for (approximately 50,000 total) and all new, relevant fragments have been added to the database. Conservator Hiroko Kariya rejoined the team in January and has been condition-surveying the blockyard holdings, plus doing necessary cleaning and repairs on selected fragments and blocks in the open-air museum display and storage areas.  She is utilizing the new blockyard database to record necessary conservation treatment, pending or accomplished, in coordination with Jay.  During the month of February Chicago House ‘lent’ Jay to the Italian Mission from Florence working at Sheikh Abada / Antinoupolis headed by Rosario Pintaudi, where Jay and the team uncovered major new material from the Osiris Antinous temple complex built by the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.  Now that he is back, Jay is coordinating the move of about 100 Colonnade Hall block fragments from the sphinx road area to the main blockyard east of the Amenhotep III court.  These fragments are from the Colonnade Hall 3rd register, west side, south end, an area whose carving was started by Tutankhamun and finished by Sety I.

In the Luxor Temple King’s Chamber/Roman Imperial Cult Chamber Egyptologist artist Krisztian Vertes is continuing his precise digital drawings of the Diocletianic frescos, southern and eastern walls.  He has been greatly assisted by Owen who provided the digital images stitched together with Agisoft Photoscan software for the photographic ‘layer’ of Krisztian’s drawings.  He also produced the background digital photography for the sample digital drawing of a scene in the same chamber showing a kneeling Amenhotep III blessed by an enthroned Amun that Krisztian will be presenting in all stages of photography, drawing, and collation for the updated Digital Epigraphy ebook.  The second edition of this invaluable reference work will be available for free download from the Oriental Institute Publications web page this summer.

Structural engineer Conor Power returned in February to review the structural stability of Luxor Temple and found that the temple is stable and secure, with no signs of change.  This is totally the result of the successful dewatering initiative for Karnak and Luxor temples that was sponsored by USAID and activated in 2007. 

MEDINET HABU. The Medinet Habu documentation, conservation, and restoration programs have been in full swing thanks to grants from USAID Egypt and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF).  These grants have allowed us to continue and expand our development of the southern and western sectors of the complex around the Ramesses III mortuary temple (USAID), to continue the Ramesses III southern well restoration project (RBF), to hire more workmen and conservators for both sets of projects, and to inaugurate another training program for conservation students.  There are several primary areas of focus for the USAID grant, the first being the sandstone pavement of Ramesses III bordered by a mud-brick enclosure wall that runs along the exterior southern wall of the mortuary temple.  The restoration of this walkway is one of our immediate goals, since it will allow visitor access to the western sector of the complex, also part of the program.  The mud-brick wall that ran parallel the walkway is being restored up to a certain level to contain the sandstone paving slabs, to direct visitors to parts west, and to keep them from straying off the path into fragile, unrestored areas.  This important restoration work is by necessity a collaboration of our conservation and restoration teams, headed by senior conservator Lotfi Hassan and master stone mason Frank Helmholz respectively, who together are synchronizing truly beautiful work.  We are creating our own mud bricks for the restoration, stamping them with a ‘U’ and ‘C’ (for the University of Chicago), and Lotfi is carefully matching the size of the new bricks to the period of wall being capped. For instance, Ramesses III bricks are considerably larger than the bricks used in later 25th Dynasty walls that intrude in places, and our new mud bricks match the dimensions of the originals exactly.  Sincerest thanks to ARCE Luxor director John Shearman for the donation of mud brick material from ARCE’s cleanup work in Dira Abu El-Naga that has greatly speeded up our restoration work.

The second focus of the USAID grant is the ‘House of Butehamun’ in the southwestern back corner of Medinet Habu.  Its four white-plastered pillars from a central hall stand in stark contrast to the brown enclosure walls behind them and are clearly visible across the site.  This complex – part house, part office, and part chapel – was cleared by archaeologist Uvo Höscher for the Oriental Institute in 1930 and 1931, but the extent of his excavations was not known.  Oriental Institute archaeologist Gregory Marouard’s test excavations at the site last season determined that Hölscher had indeed completely excavated, cleaned out, and refilled the brick casemate platform upon which the hall columns were erected, and this new knowledge has allowed us to proceed with our restoration work.  This season Lotfi’s conservation team has carefully consolidated and remapped the area, and has capped mud-brick walls from the original structure, as well as walls partly restored by Hölscher, clearly differentiating one phase from the other.  Next season we will construct a walkway around the structure for public viewing, accompanied by educational signage.

The third focus of the USAID grant is at the back center of the complex, the destroyed western High Gate.  This fortified stone and brick entryway served as the main administrative and supply entryway to Medinet Habu, and while similar to the intact eastern High Gate that fronts the Medinet Habu precinct, it was considerably bigger, and constructed mostly of mud-brick faced with stone blocks.  Unlike its mate on the east, the western High Gate was completely destroyed at the end of Dynasty 20 during a period of civil war.  Like the eastern tower, it was inscribed with battle-related scenes on the exterior, and domestic scenes on the interior, and like the eastern tower it appears to have been used as a royal residence.  The blocks from the crenelated tower were thrown down in two phases, the top two stories of the tower in the first phase, and the rest of it in a second, final destruction phase.  The passage was eventually completely bricked up, and the great sandstone blocks from the main body of the tower were quarried for reuse; some are to be seen in a Ptolemaic side gate leading to the small Amun temple.  Egyptologist Jen Kimpton is directing the team working on the documentation, analysis, and database entering of the blocks and fragments that remain, and to date they have recorded over a thousand.  Jen is assisted by Anait Helmholz with the processing of the data, and Keli Alberts, who is drawing the inscribed material.  Staff photographer Yarko Kobylecky has photographed in large-format film and digital photography over 500 inscribed blocks and fragments this season, making a total of over 800 photographed so far in the project, with the goal of documenting them all.  As we clean and organize the area more are constantly turning up.  Photographer Owen has supervised the creation of a photogrammetric map of the entire area using Agisoft Photoscan software to stitch together thousands of digital images, taken by hand and with an aerial camera. He is also keying the 3-D plans into a topographic plan initially created by archaeologist Uvo Hölscher, with the help of topographers from ARCE and the Franco-Egyptian Center (sincerest thanks to John Shearman and Christophe Thiers for the ‘loans’!).

This season saw the completion of the Domitian Gate restoration project, with the final restoration floor blocks laid in place by Frank and assistant stone mason Johannes Weninger (who cut and shaped most of the sandstone floor blocks), and the infilling with mortar between the courses finished by the conservation team supervised by Lotfi.  Frank and Lotfi are now designing a small open-air museum around the gate with displays on platforms of some of the completely salt-decayed lower-course blocks and educational signage that will explain the history of the site and the reasons for the project.  We may decide to do some more work on the monument itself, initially put together by Georges Daressy in the 19th century from blocks he found reused in buildings of the Christian city of Djeme on the site, but for now the basic reassembly and restoration is finished.  Mabruk to the stone and conservation teams for a magnificent collaboration, and a job well done!

While he was with us in February, structural engineer Conor Power  studied the structural stability of the 25th and 26th Dynasty God’s Wives Chapels at Medinet Habu.  He left specific instructions on how to repair some loose blocks at the back end of the Amenirdis chapel, which we will start this season and finish next winter, but otherwise reported that the God’s Wives Chapels and all other structures at Medinet Habu were stable, thanks to the USAID-funded west bank dewatering project, which is doing exactly what it was intended to do.

The epigraphic documentation work in the small Amun temple, coordinated by senior epigrapher J. Brett McClain, primarily focussed on the drawings of Medinet Habu Volumes XI and XII.  Brett also worked with Photo Archivist Sue Lezon this winter finalizing the photography for Medinet Habu Volume X, whose drawings are completely finished and awaiting publication production back in Chicago.  This season we have had the pleasure of training two new epigraphic team members: student epigrapher Jonathan Winnerman, and artist Dominique Navarro.  We were joined in the training program by two Antiquities Ministry inspectors, Nadia Ahmed Abd El-Latef from Luxor Temple, and Al-Shimaa Mohamed Mahmoud Mohamed from Karnak.  The ministry is encouraging the inclusion of interested inspectors in training programs sponsored by the archaeological missions, and we were very happy to include Nadia and Shimaa in ours.  Lotfi continued a student conservation training program at Medinet Habu this season as well, and Ministry conservator Radwa Ibrahim Naeem from Karnak joined the conservators for that.   

Tina Di Cerbo, assisted during the first two weeks of January by husband Richard Jasnow, continued her painstaking documentation of Demotic and Christian graffiti in the small Amun temple north Ptolemaic annex, focusing on the west interior wall.  Utilizing the software program ImageJ with the filter DStrech that allows almost invisible ink traces to become visible, she has detected at least four distinct layers of text and images on the wall, including at least two Christian phases. This is true detective work, and it is critical that it be done now, with increasing humidity in the air causing much of this data to fade to invisibility.

TT 107. Debris clearance work in the portico of Theban Tomb 107 (TT107) of the Steward of the palace of ‘Nebmaatre-is-the-Dazzling-Sun-Disk,’ the noble Nefersekheru, was resumed by Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder on January 19th 2017 for Chicago House, and was finished on January 30th.  More decorated limestone fragments from the inscribed wall and several large fragments of inscribed doorjambs (completely broken away) were recovered from the debris, including another patchstone.  Some of these substantial fragments were found broken into several pieces and were consolidated / rejoined by conservator Hiroko on site.  Once that was accomplished Yarko photographed each piece in both large-format film and digital photography during the first week of March for integration with the wall-relief photography and drawing.  When the blocked doorway is cleared next season for the installation of a steel gate we expect to recover more fragments that washed into the tomb entryway during repeated flooding of the sunken court over the millennia.  Once the cleaning was finished for this season, Brett and I returned to the site in February to continue the collation of the beautiful wall-relief drawings done by Sue Osgood and Margaret De Jong.  I finished the second collation of the inscribed faceted column of the façade, and after meeting with first epigrapher Brett, director’s-checked it with artist Sue Osgood at the wall, and all corrections were added before Sue departed for home at the end of February. 

CHICAGO HOUSE After the Chicago House staff departs for home in April and before we return in October Tina and the workmen do maintenance and construction work throughout the Chicago House complex.  This fall they raised the southern enclosure wall another two meters in response to increasing Luxor City activity in the vacant lot to the south of Chicago House.  And, just before our arrival in October, a new solar water-heating system was installed at Healey House, the Photo Lab, and the library wing, replacing energy-draining electric water heaters.  These improvements were laboriously effected by Tina and our workmen while it was still quite hot (bless them), and were funded in part by a gift from our ‘Friend of Chicago House’ Shafik Gabr, to whom we extend our sincerest thanks.

The Marjorie M. Fisher Chicago House Library now has a new head librarian; Anait Helmholz took on the position this fall after the retirement of former librarian Marie Bryan.  Anait has had years of experience as assistant librarian, and now has her own assistants: Gina Salama and Martina Roshdy Maher.  They are a very dynamic trio indeed, cheerfully serving patrons, shelf-reading, repairing books, ordering new books, creating a digital catalogue of the library holdings, and reorganizing the librarian’s office.  They have brought some very good energy to the library.

The Tom and Linda Heagy Photo Archives has been filled with digital photographers downloading and processing images as well as Photo Archivist Sue Lezon, registrar Ellie Smith, Tina, and Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies (in March).  In addition to the registering and housing of our own film images and processing/organizing of our archives, they have been working on the scanning, organizing, and archival housing of our colleague Ted Brock’s photographic archives, partly funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America grant to the Oriental Institute for digitizing records for inclusion into the University’s Integrated DataBase (IDB).  There is never a dull moment in the Photo Archives, the heart and soul of our operation, and it has been a very busy place these days.

And so it goes.  Tourism has been noticeably increasing all winter, and is quite brisk in Luxor at the moment.  We have had an amazing array of friends, colleagues, and visitors passing through, including the Oriental Institute November and March tours to Egypt led by former Chicago House director Lanny Bell and OI Development Director Brittany Mullins; US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft; USAID mission director Sherry Carlin; Marnie Pillsbury, Ana Heeren, and Stephen Heintz of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF); David and Susan Rockefeller, Jr and friends; Margie Fisher; Wafaa El-Seddik; and a host of others.  We are eagerly looking forward to the four-day ‘Sekhmet Omnipresent’ Conference in Luxor from March 23th-26th at which 17 colleagues and I will be speaking about the powerful lion-headed goddess so beloved of Amenhotep III, an event organized by Betsy Bryan and Hourig Sourouzian. 

Before I close, I should mention that Chicago House participated in the filming of two documentaries this fall.  One was for the University of Chicago and featured all aspects of our work, and is being edited now.  More on that in time.  We also took part in the filming of a BBC documentary on the career of the photographer Harry Burton, best known for his extraordinary photography of Tutankhamun’s tomb and its contents. Both Sue Lezon, who is an authority on Burton and early photography, and Yarko were interviewed and filmed, and our on-site work was featured, since we still shoot large-format film as well as digital photography.  The documentary aired on Wednesday, March 8th, and is available for viewing on Vimeo (password is 'wavelength'):

We have one more month left of work before we fold up our tents and return home on April 15th but the temperatures have already begun their slow ascent.  It’s been a busy winter, and a busy spring, and soon it will be time to start getting those reports ready before we leave.  In the meantime we send our best to you, our friends, wherever you may be, and our sincerest thanks for your support.   There is too much to do out here, and we could not do a fraction of it without you.  Thank you!


2015-2016 FIELD SEASON


Dear Friends,

Warm (and belated) best wishes from Chicago House for a very happy new year 2016!  We are all well, but things have been so busy in Luxor during the last two months that there has hardly been a moment to write. December and January were filled with excellent work, friends and colleagues, new experiences, and some excellent holiday cheer.  The Mulid el-Nabi (the Prophet’s birthday) and Christmas were only a couple of days apart this year, followed by New Year’s Eve, so it was an opportune time for many of the staff to take some time to travel and see sites outside of Luxor.  Now, two months into the new year, we are all back at work and Chicago House is quite full.   

The first week of December saw the return of Margie Fisher to Luxor for a week accompanied our colleague Janet Richards, followed by visits by Salima Ikram, Emily Teeter, and Joe Cain.  On December 7th the entire Chicago House team visited Gregory Marouard, Nadine Moeller, and their team at Dendera and were shown the new Oriental Institute/French Archaeological Institute (IFAO) settlement archaeology project there directed by Greg, a real treat.  Their work is truly archaeology at its best, and this season marks a very exciting beginning to this long-term project. 

From December 10th to the 19th Jay, Margie, Janet and I took a tour to Sudan organized by Peter Lacovara and Egitalloyd Travel, our first venture south of Abu Simbel.  We flew to Khartoum and drove northwards in a fleet of five four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers as far as Tombos on the Third Cataract.  The sites we visited included Meroe (pyramid necropolis and city), Nuri, Naga, Mussawarat, Jebel Barkal, El Kurru, Dokki Gel, and Kerma.  The red deserts were extraordinarily beautiful, very African in look with their scrubby trees, and very different from Egypt’s deserts.  The whole trip was revelatory, and filled some major gaps in our knowledge and experience of that great land to the south of Egypt. 

Despite the absence of some of the staff on holiday, Christmas Day at Chicago House was warm and cheerful, and our Christmas dinner was attended by numerous colleagues and friends, including the entire Macquarie University, Waseda University, and Brazilian archaeological missions.  Tina and Richard arrived at the end of the month to resume their graffiti documentation work at Medinet Habu, and at the same time we were visited by OI VC member Andrea Dudek for a few days before and after a pleasant trip to Aswan over the new-year break.    

Once the holidays were over and the new year 2016 well launched, many of our foreign colleagues returned to resume their archaeological work.  Betsy Bryan was here with her Johns Hopkins team for a study season at Mut Tample, now finished; Richard Fazzini and Mary McKercher are back with Jaap van Dijk, Julia Harvey, and Dr. Ben Harer in the fore areas of Mut Temple; the Metropolitan Museum of Art Malqata Palace expedition headed by Diana Craig Patch has just departed after a month’s work; Susan Onstine and her Memphis team have just finished a six-week season; Hourig Sourouzian is once again at the Amenhotep III mortuary temple reconstructing shattered statuary; Jose Galan is back with his Spanish team at TT11 the tomb of Djehuty; Angus Graham and his Theban Waterways team are conducting surveys around the Ay/Horemheb mortuary temple and Birket Habu area; and many other colleagues and expeditions are here or en route.  It is a very full and busy winter archaeological season.

As for our own projects, we have inaugurated a new mud-brick restoration program at Medinet Habu along the south side of the mortuary temple and will start sandstone pavement-laying next month, all supported by our new USAID Egypt grant.  The Domitian gate has been finished off by Frank and Johannes, and the upper cornice blocks repositioned properly.  Our two new digital photographers Hilary McDonald and Owen Murray are helping Yarko with digital imaging of the western High Gate and Butehamun House areas and are doing some very interesting 3-D imaging of the terrain and shattered blocks before we start moving the material to protected storage platforms.  The Ramesses III southern well conservation work supported by our Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) grant has expanded to include the crumbling wellhead, which is now ¾ consolidated.  We started work on TT 107, the tomb of Nefersekheru, steward of Maqata Palace, on January 17th, with cleaning work in the portico supervised by Boyo Ockinga and Susanne Binder, after which Brett resumed first collation of Margaret and Sue’s exquisite drawings, and I started the second collation.  At Luxor Temple Jay is entering data on the Luxor Temple blockyard database and attaching aluminum number tags to hundreds of fragments; Hiroko is doing some spot conservation of a handful of needy architectural and wall fragments; and Krisztian is back doing facsimile drawing of the cleaned Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber, a collaboration between ARCE and Chicago House.  I am pleased to report that ARCE’s multi-authored publication of the Roman frescoes has been released to the public.  Art of Empire: The Roman Frescoes and Imperial Cult Cult Chamber in Luxor Temple, edited by Michael Jones and Susanna McFadden (ARCE and Yale University Press, 2015) includes a chapter on the Tetrarchic architectural renovations at Luxor Temple and their relationship to the Amun cult by Jay Heidel and myself, as well as beautiful photographs throughout the book by Chicago House photographer Yarko Kobylecky.  The paintings were cleaned between 2005 and 2008 by our Italian conservator friends under the direction of our dear friend Luigi De Cesaris (who tragically passed away in 2011).  The Epigraphic Survey will be publishing large-format facsimile drawings (done by Krisztian) and Yarko’s photographs of the frescoes in a future volume of our Reliefs and Inscriptions at Luxor Temple (RILT) series. 

There have been pleasant distractions during the last two months.  On January 21st Egyptian President El-Sisi successfully entertained the Chinese President at Luxor Temple in suitably high fashion.  In anticipation of the festivities the Amenhotep III court received a Chinese 'makeover' that was surreal but charming.  Even I had to admit that the gigantic gold and red lanterns suspended between the papyrus-bundle columns were impressive.  The musical and dancing events, combining Egyptian and Chinese musicians, singers, and dancers, were lovely (we watched it on TV).  The dignitaries toured around Luxor the next day - the helicopters hovering overhead were nerve-wracking, but everyone apparently had a very good time.  And Revolution Day on January 25th passed quietly and without incident. 

But there have been more transitions.  I am saddened to report that on January 7th our beloved Jean Jacquet passed away peacefully in Carouge, Switzerland, aged 95.  From 1997 until 2008 Jean and Helen, who passed away in 2013, lived and worked with us at Chicago House, and were inspirations and mentors in every way.  While we will miss them terribly, they will always be a part of us.  Jean’s obituary, written by Chicago House archivists Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies, can be found here:

And so it goes.  The time is zipping by, and before you know it I will be writing my update for February.  In the meantime, be well, everyone, and thank you from all of us at Chicago House, for your interest, friendship, and support!

Best from Luxor,

Ray Johnson




Dear Friends,

November has simply flown by, and it has been quite action packed.  At the beginning of the month the temperatures dropped from high, 100 degree F heat to decidedly more comfortable levels, which has made everything easier, especially the temple work. During the first week of the month the Medinet Habu conservation teams began work in two major areas of the precinct.  One team, supported by our new Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) grant resumed work on the consolidation and restoration of the southern Ramesses III well.  The other team focused its attention on the documentation, conservation, restoration, and development of the western sector of Medinet Habu that is covered by our new USAID Egypt grant.  The area includes the House of Butehamun and destroyed western High Gate, but also a paved approach along both sides of the temple that originally led to the back, and that we have already begun to restore.  Both teams of conservators, supervised by senior conservator Lotfi, have been assembled from the students in our Medinet Habu conservation training programs of the last two years, and it is very satisfying to see all of the activity at the site.  Sincerest thanks to the RBF and USAID Egypt for this invaluable support.  Finishing work on the Domitian gate has also been ongoing by Johannes under the supervision of Frank, including some restoration blocks that better communicate some of the missing upper cornices.  Senior epigrapher Brett has coordinated the ongoing epigraphic work in the small Amun temple with senior artist Margaret, and helped plan the epigraphic, conservation, and development programs for the whole precinct.  Epigrapher Jen assisted by Anait have been continuing their preliminary cataloguing of the shattered inscribed blocks of the destroyed western High Gate, and artist Keli has started drawing blocks of the monumental chariot scenes from the gate’s destroyed façade.  Frank has coordinated the purchase of sandstone paving slabs for the restoration of the Ramesses III walkways, and Lotfi is already supervising the making of mud bricks for the restoration of the walls that once bordered the paving, which will rise again.

Jay returned from Sheikh Abada/Antinoupolis at the beginning of the month and resumed his Luxor Temple blockyard fragment database work, numbering, documenting, and tracking all 50,000 inscribed wall and architectural fragments at Luxor Temple. This is a time-consuming, arduous task necessary for the proper analysis, documentation, and eventual publication of the material.  By the end of November he had created 3,269 records in the Luxor Temple fragment database, and entered 2,661 fragment records with photos.  Of the 1,931 fragments with location data, he has field verified the locations of 1,129, while 802 more have location data awaiting field verification.  In the last few weeks he began affixing stamped aluminum tags to field verified fragments and has so far tagged 206.  The goal is to eventually tag all fragments to facilitate the tracking of the material for future analysis, documentation, and restoration work.

Meanwhile, back at Chicago House, starting at the end of October and for several weeks during November Tina systematically catalogued and scanned 340 one-to-one inked and penciled drawings from the Labib Habachi archives stored in the Tom and Linda Heagy Chicago House Photo Archives.  When we received Labib’s photographic archives after his death in 1984 for archiving, we also agreed to archive his drawings, most of which were published in his numerous articles and publications.  We received the archives in a chaotic state; nothing was organized, and because Labib had an encyclopedic memory, not a single photograph was identified with any label!  William Murnane and Lanny Bell spent years painstakingly sorting the photographs site by site, but until now nothing had been done with the drawings.  Tina carefully unrolled each one, established the site, checked Labib’s publications to see where it was published, and catalogued all of the data.  Then she carefully scanned all of the drawings so that we now have a fairly complete scanned corpus of this material for our records.  Once scanned each drawing was archivally housed for storage.  Tina also boxed up duplicate sets of the Habachi and Jacquet scanned photographic archives on CD, which I presented on November 23rd to the new Director of the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) Documentation Center Dr. Hisham el-Leithy for the Documentation Center Archives in Cairo.  I must also mention that Chicago House Library volunteer Gina Salama has joined the library team as a paid employee now; welcome Gina!  Not only is she indispensible in the library, but she is proving to be invaluable in many other tasks, including the scanning of our 40,000 dictionary cards.  So far she has scanned more than 1500 cards and is well on the way to providing complete digital backup of that priceless resource.

On November 4th, Luxor Day (the anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb) the minister of antiquities Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty opened three new tombs at Gurnet Murai, including, appropriately, the tomb of Tutankhamen's Viceroy to Nubia, Huy.  The Getty Conservation Institute finished their work in Tutankhamen's tomb (KV 62) for this year at the beginning of the month (after installing new flooring, a ventilation system, and new lighting; and moving Tutankhamun's mummy in its sealed glass box into the annex).  Shortly after Getty departed Luxor, we received the sad news of the passing of our colleague Otto Schaden.  Otto was well known in the Valley of the Kings and the Western Valley for his excavation of the royal tomb of Tutankhamun’s successor Ay (WV 23) in 1972; his later work in the Valley of the Kings from 1992 clearing the tomb of King Amenmesse (KV 10); and in 2005 his discovery of a new shaft tomb (KV 63), the first tomb to be discovered in the King's Valley since Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.  Otto received his Masters degree in Egyptology at the University of Chicago, and participated in the Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition from 1962-63 and the Sudan Expedition from 1963-64.  He received his PhD in 1977 from the University of Minnesota.  In September, before we returned to Luxor, another friend and colleague of ours (and close associate of Otto’s in the KV) Edwin (Ted) Brock passed away unexpectedly in Cairo.  Ted specialized in the analysis and reconstruction of the shattered granite sarcophagi in the royal burial chambers of the Valley of the Kings, and left a rich legacy of physically reassembled and restored sarcophagi in the tombs of Merenptah (KV 8) and Ramesses VI (KV 9) on which he worked with his wife Lyla.  Ted was also an accomplished photographer, and worked with Chicago House at Luxor Temple documenting the rapidly changing landscape of Luxor in the years before the 2011 Revolution.  Both Otto and Ted were regular users of the Chicago House Library and frequent guests at our table.  We will miss our friends.

Thanksgiving weekend continued the Tutankhamun theme. Chicago House hosted its annual Thanksgiving feast, but noticeably absent were most of our antiquities ministry friends who were in the Valley of the Kings witnessing a very special event.  As most of you already know, on Thanksgiving Day, November 26th, our colleague Nick Reeves, the minister of antiquites Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty, many ministry friends, and a group of Japanese radar technicians used ground penetrating radar equipment in KV 62, the tomb of Tutankhamun, to test Nick’s suggestion that additional chambers – perhaps even another burial – were to be found behind the western and northern walls.  On Saturday, November 28th, the results were announced at a press conference hosted by the ministry at Howard Carter’s residence on the west bank (Carter House) which I attended with many of our colleagues.  As most of you know, the results were very encouraging.  More analysis of the data is necessary and will be ongoing in Japan this month, but there seem to be indications of at least two additional rooms off the painted burial chamber, one beyond the west wall, and another beyond the north wall.  This promises to be an interesting winter, indeed.

November saw many visitors and groups to Chicago House.  The first week of November Abbas and Mediha Helmy and the Friends of the Manial Palace Museum, Cairo group saw our work at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple, and joined us at Chicago House for a reception and library briefing.  On November 13th Oriental Institute director Gil Stein, wife Liz, and OI friends Nicole Williams and Larry Becker arrived in town to see Nadine and Greg's Edfu and Dendera work as well as Chicago House and its projects.  Gil had visited more than a decade before but had not seen our current work, so it was a particular pleasure to 'catch him up.'  Their visit coincided with a Far Horizons tour led by Bob Brier and wife Pat Remler, and everyone got to mingle with the Chicago House professional staff at a reception in the residence courtyard on November 15th.  Chicago House photographer Yarko arrived back on November 14th, co-senior artist Sue arrived back yesterday, and geologist Jim Harrell stopped by Medinet Habu to examine some Middle Kingdom blocks at the small Amun temple on November 30th.

So, we experienced a full November, and December promises to be even more interesting.  I will post an update at the end of the month, but in the meantime let me extend to all of you, our friends back home, our very best wishes for joyous holidays to come, and a very happy, safe, and prosperous New Year 2016.

Best wishes from all of us at Chicago House,

Ray Johnson, Director



October 30, 2015

I am happy to report that the Epigraphic Survey’s 2015-2016 archaeological field season is now two weeks underway, and all is well with us in Luxor.  When the Chicago House team arrived the temperatures were hot, hot, hot - in the low 100s F - but a few days ago the temps dropped to a ‘cool’ low 80s, and the cooler breezes have been blissful.  In celebration of the season’s beginning, last night Chicago House hosted its annual Halloween party in the residence courtyard, the opening party of the season, with over 80 attendees from a variety of archaeological missions: the Spanish mission to Vizier Amenhotep Huy’s tomb, two Polish missions working at Deir el-Bahri, the Franco-Egyptian Center at Karnak, the Spanish mission from the mortuary temple of  Thutmosis III, the American Research Center in Egypt, and numerous Egyptian and foreign friends and colleagues.  Nadine and Greg and their Edfu crew, mostly UChicago graduate students, took a break from their excavations around the great temple of Horus to join us as well; it was great to see them all and catch up.

After Brett and I finished the paperwork for the season at the ministry of antiquities in Cairo ten days ago, the Chicago House documentation, conservation, and restoration teams resumed their work at Medinet Habu.  I am pleased to announce that after a summer of grant-proposal writing and intense development networking, Chicago House has been awarded two grants for continued and expanded preservation work at Medinet Habu.  One is from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation (RBF) for the continuation of the Ramesses III southern well restoration project, and covers the conservation work for this entire season.  The other is a four-year grant from USAID Egypt that will cover the documentation, conservation, restoration, and development of the western sector of Medinet Habu as an open-air museum and new tourist site.  We are enormously grateful to both the RBF and USAID Egypt, whose current assistance will allow us to continue our critical programs at Medinet Habu without interruption.  Thank you!

It promises to be a busy autumn.  We have already hosted a library briefing, courtyard reception, and site visit at Luxor Temple for a group of 10 Egyptian and 10 mostly American fellows from the Shafik Gabr Foundation initiative ‘East-West: The Art of Dialogue.’ Shafik is one of Chicago House’s earliest ‘Friends’ and sponsors, and it was a pleasure to meet and talk with this talented group of young thinkers and entrepreneurs that the foundation has annually sponsored since 2013.  This was just the first of many groups scheduled for November and the rest of the season.

I will write again next month with a report on our progress as well as interesting events around town.  In the meantime please accept our very best wishes from Luxor, and sincerest thanks for your interest in and support of our work.  Oh... and Happy Halloween!

Best wishes from all of us at Chicago House,

Ray Johnson, Director


2014-2015 FIELD SEASON

April 30, 2015

On April 15th the Epigraphic Survey successfully completed its 2014-2015 archaeological field season, its 91st, and the Chicago House team departed Luxor for home.  The week before, we closed our operations at Medinet Habu, Khonsu Temple, and Luxor Temple.  Equipment including ladders and scaffolding was trucked back from the temple sites for cleaning and storing at Chicago House.  Friday, April 10th was the last day of library use.  It’s always a bittersweet time, as we compile reports on the work accomplished during the last six months for the antiquities ministry and the Oriental Institute and prepare to uproot and head home for the summer months.  The weather was hot, but the nights were comfortable, which always makes it harder to leave.    

During the first week of April I spent a few days in Cairo paying my respects and saying goodbye to our friends at the US Embassy, ARCE, USAID Egypt, and the antiquities ministry.  I had a long and very pleasant meeting discussing cultural heritage preservation issues - including the work of Chicago House - with newly appointed US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft and Cultural Attaché Mark Wenig.  I met with our dear friend, ARCE Assistant Director Mme. Amira Khattab and delivered the preliminary reports and staff paperwork for next season (security forms, passport documentation, and photos, all prepared by Tina) that she kindly submits on our behalf to the antiquities ministry later in the summer, God bless her.  I had good meetings with our USAID Egypt friends in Maadi, including new director Sherry Carlin, who had an excellent visit with us in Luxor in late March.  I also had very cordial meetings at the antiquities ministry in Zamalek with antiquities minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty and Foreign Missions Director Mr. Hany, both of whom have been tremendously helpful and enthusiastic colleagues and greatly facilitated our work in Luxor.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Yasmin El Shazly in her new office at the ministry.  Dr. Yasmin was formerly Registrar of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but she is now coordinating registration and data-tracking systems for all of the Cairo and regional museums, including the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and the national Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) as well as the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir.  We wish her the best of luck in these important new endeavors.

This season we brought back to the USA something very precious: all of the facsimile drawings (85), photographs, and large-format negatives (105) for the production of our next facsimile publication, Medinet Habu X: The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple Part 2: the Façade, Pillars, and Architrave Inscriptions of the Thutmoside Peripteros, production of which will begin this summer.  Volumes XI and XII are also well underway, but this one, Volume X, is particularly sweet.  The façade and ambulatory pillars that are the major focus of this volume have a long and rich history, the nuances of which we have learned as we recorded them.  Carved after Hatshepsut’s death by Thutmosis III, they depict the king before the major gods of Egypt, offering to and being recognized by them as king.  With only two exceptions (Re-Horakhty and Atum), all of the god figures later were chiseled away by Akhenaten’s agents, but were recarved and restored after Akhenaten’s death in the late 18th Dynasty.  Horemheb’s names survive on several restoration inscriptions, but the restoration probably started earlier, perhaps during Tutankhamun’s reign.  Between four and five painting phases have been noted by our team, particularly eagle-eyed Krisztián Vértes.  These correspond to the initial decoration of Thutmosis III plus several different restoration and renewal phases: the post-Amarna restoration, a 20th Dynasty phase (when Ramesses III incorporated the structure into his enlarged mortuary temple precinct); a 21st Dynasty renewal phase under Pinudjem; a 29th Dynasty Akoris restoration phase; and at least one and possibly two Ptolemaic painting phases.  In each phase the color scheme of the painted reliefs changed, sometimes dramtically, and because the new painting was applied over the old, traces of all phases of painting survive in bits and pieces.  It has taken some careful observation and thought to sort it all out, but Krisztián has done so, in consultation with Brett and the epigraphic team, and is preparing a special study of the painting phases exclusively for this publication.

Just days before we left we installed two educational signage panels for Luxor Temple.  Laser-etched aluminum, they were produced in Cairo and arrived in the nick of time, one for the front of the complex that describes the context of Luxor Temple, and a second panel that describes and presents a plan of the first court of Ramesses II.  Both panels were designed and drawn by Jay.  We will see how they weather over the summer, and are planning many more, for Luxor as well as Medinet Habu.

And so it goes.  Most of the team have brought back work for the summer, to process, ink, analyze, translate, or prepare for publication.  In the weeks ahead I will be preparing the next Chicago House Bulletin for our friends and donors, with our heartfelt thanks for your help, in anticipation of our annual donor appeal.  Our USAID Egypt grant, which has sustained us for ten years and allowed us to grow to meet the challenges of a changing Luxor, is now finished, and we have a LOT of fundraising to do to keep our operation going at this high level.  We have made a difference, and we cannot stop now.

You will be hearing from me again very soon.  Best and thanks to you all from Chicago!

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

April 1, 2015

Dear friends,

March in Luxor was full of events, accomplishments, discoveries, milestones, visitors, and yes, rising temperatures.  It was HOT; 90 F - 100 F this past week.  And there was endless excitement.  Hourig Sourouzian has raised yet another Amenhotep III colossal statue section, this one the lower part of the second, southern quartzite colossus of the Amenhotep III mortuary temple second pylon (leg, throne, and another beautiful Queen Tiye figure)  - it’s breathtaking.  This month our ARCE friends discovered two unknown, exquisite 18th Dynasty painted tomb chapels in the clearance of the courtyard in front of TT 110, where conservation continues, and an epigraphy field school for Egyptian inspectors conducted by J.J. Shirley and Will Schenck has just finished for this season.  Two of our Khonsu inspectors trained in drawing techniques last season by artist Keli Alberts were part of the program, Shimaa and Peter, and the whole group regularly used the Chicago House library for their research.  From March 5th to the 17th we were joined at Chicago House by staff member in absentia (and Krisztián’s wife) Juli Schmied and their son David on his first trip to Egypt and Chicago House.  It was sweet to have Juli back even for a short while, and to meet little David.  In the middle of the month Jay and I were very pleased to attend Margie Fisher and Roy Furman’s wedding in Palm Beach (March 14th).  Seeing our friends so happy was purest joy and WELL worth the jet lag.  We are still smiling. 

On March 12th Brett McClain finished his collation for the season at TT 107, the tomb of the noble Nefersekheru, and our hope is to finish the collation of Margaret De Jong and Sue Osgood’s beautiful drawings next season.  Jay Heidel and Krisztián Vértes continued their documentation work at Luxor Temple, Jay in the blockyard drawing Ptolemy I blocks and updating the new blockyard database, and Krisztian in the Imperial Roman sanctuary penciling Roman frescos on the southern wall.  Jay also took some time to instruct some of the Luxor Temple inspectors on epigraphic drawing techniques.  Photographer Yarko Kobylecky assisted by Ellie Smith photographed miscellaneous blocks in the blockyard, including two additional Ptolemy I blocks.  He also continued the hi-res scanning of all of the large-format negatives produced this season.  Conservator Hiroko Kariya finished her condition study of the blockyard holdings, moved the last of the small fragments to protective shelving, and finished her work for the season on March 14th

Also during the past month, Keli continued working on some devilishly tricky reused blocks in the walls of Khonsu Temple, finished her work in room 11 and moved on to room 1. 

On March 15th our fourteen Egyptian conservation students concluded this year’s program at Medinet Habu with a special graduation ceremony in the Chicago House library, followed by a celebratory luncheon in the residence.  Alf mabruk and congratulations to them all; they are a very talented group and will go far.

On March 19th we hosted a review of our work on both sides of the river by USAID representative Sylvia Atalla in anticipation of the conclusion of our USAID grant on March 23rd.  The next evening I attended the inauguration of a new, computerized security system at Luxor Temple by Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty, Deputy Minister Dr. Youssef Khalifa, Supreme Council of Antiquities Chairman Dr. Mustafa Amin, newly appointed Director of Upper Egypt Sultan Eid, and newly appointed Luxor Antiquites General Director Dr. Mustafa Waziri, where I also met the new governor of Luxor, Dr. Mohamed Sayed Badr.  That same evening I joined Sylvia, Julie, ARCE director Gerry Scott and wife Kathleen, and John Shearman for dinner to meet new USAID director Sherry Carlin, in Luxor for her first briefing.  The next day, Sunday, March 22nd we were very pleased to host a review of our work at Medinet Habu for the antiquities minister Dr. Mamdouh, SCA Chairman Mustafa Amin and their respective entourages; the governor of Luxor and his entourage; our USAID Egypt friends including director Sherry; plus all of our Ministry friends from both sides of the river, and our ARCE friends (whose new tombs were viewed first that morning).  There were over a hundred people, and it was like trying to control a tidal wave, but it went very well.

The throng stayed for two hours and saw every aspect of our operation, and met our epigraphic, conservation, and restoration teams, including the Egyptian conservation students and Chicago House conservators Lotfi Hassan and Nahed Samir.  Our visitors were also able to meet with the antiquities ministry conservators with whom we work on the site and who do the conservation maintenance work on the mortuary temple proper.  Of special interest was the sandstone Domitian Gate, presently covered in scaffolding, in the final stages of restoration supervised by Frank Helmholz and our stone team, where that very day the last big block was hoisted into position.  Our friends were also very interested in our epigraphic recording, both traditional and digital.  Margaret De Jong and Tina di Cerbo gave excellent demonstrations on our various techniques, and Tina demonstrated how the some of the ink graffiti has disappeared from the walls since we began our recording in the 1920s and 1930s.  We showed everyone the southern Ramesses III well that we are restoring, and showed Sherry and the minister’s party how the USAID-funded dewatering program for the west bank (activated in 2011) has dried out the area sufficiently to allow much-needed conservation and restoration work, impossible even a couple of years ago because of the wet ground.  We showed everyone the House of Butehamun at the far western end of the precinct with its inscribed slender white columns that we excavated in the early 1930s and are now conserving.  While there I explained what we have done and what we need to do in future seasons in the southern and western areas.  We even made it out to the ruins of the destroyed western High Gate where Jen Kimpton is working, assisted by Anait, doing preliminary database recording and mapping of the hundreds of shattered sandstone gate blocks and fragments that cover the site. Jen explained the history of the gate to the group, including its partial destruction during the civil wars at the end of Dynasty 20, and the more thorough destruction later.  We described our plans to record, move, conserve, analyze, reassemble, and present the restored blocks and wall sections in an open-air museum at the gate site.  It was hot that day, especially out in the back, but we were very fortunate to have a sweet, cool wind during the entire visit. 

We ended up in the mortuary temple proper where there was some shade, where the minister gave interviews, and met with our conservation students and the ministry conservators working in the first court.  The review was a great success, and everything we had hoped for, thanks to the kindness of the minister and our ministry friends.  Now everyone knows what we are doing, why, and how.  After everyone left, and a little lunch, I hopped across the river to show our work at Luxor Temple to the USAID group, plus squeezed in a visit to Chicago House and the library afterward – it was definitely a full day!

Photo Archivist Sue Lezon spent the first part of March with us working with Brett on assembling all of the material for the production of our next volume Medinet Habu X, scanning what still needed scanning, and packing it up for transport back to the USA; Sue herself took back a large portfolio of drawings and negatives.  While with us Sue discussed necessary computer and software upgrades with the epigraphic team members, Yarko, Tina, Ellie, and with Alain and Emmanuelle Arnaudies, who arrived on March 8th to continue their work on the Photo Archives master database.  Structural engineer Conor Power joined us on March 7th for a few days to review the structural integrity of Luxor Temple, check the plumb bobs and crack meter on the pylon to see if there was any movement (there was none), and his report was a good one; the dewatering program continues to function well and has stabilized the Luxor Temple foundations. 

This week has been about as busy as the one before as we start the process of tying up our work for the season.  On March 28th I attended a dinner hosted by Luxor British Consul Ehab Gaddis in honor of the British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, where we discussed tourism, economic development, and cultural heritage issues.  On the 29th we were paid a first visit by new US Embassy Cultural Attaché Mark Wenig.  On March 30th after dinner we had the pleasure of hosting Luxor governor Dr. Mohamed Sayed Badr to a tour of Chicago House and the Chicago House library and a discussion afterward about Luxor’s future, the governor’s visions, the realities, and our part in it.  On March 31st we hosted our Getty Conservation Institute friends to dinner at Chicago House, including old friend Neville Agnew and Getty Trust president Jim Cuno, former Chicago Art Institute director, a most pleasant reunion.   

It's hard to believe that in two weeks our 2014-2015 field season will be at an end, and it will once again be time to head home to process the data we have collected this season, ink penciled drawings, write reports, start production of our next volume, raise funds for the work, and prepare for the 2015-2016 season.  In the meantime there is much to do here as we tie up loose ends and wind things down.  There are people to see and say goodbye to, and I have one more tour to give at Luxor Temple for a group of Egyptian Faculty of Tourism students.  Life is full! But it will be good to be home.

When next I write it will be from cool Chicago.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all, and once again, sincerest thanks for your interest and support.  You have made this season a great success indeed.

Best wishes from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

March 1, 2015

Dear friends,

Februarys are usually among the busiest months of our archaeological field season, and this February was no exception.  The month saw old projects continued and new ones started, and lots of comings and goings at Chicago House.  Conservator Lotfi’s family (wife Dina, her sister Nora, and sons Karim and Hani) joined us from Cairo for a week; co-senior artist Margaret returned from the US for the last months of the season; stone mason Johannes departed for home after helping Frank and the stone team with the Domitian Gate; Tina returned from the US; Pia is here visiting with husband Yarko, and co-senior artist Sue Osgood departed for home after three months’ field work.   

Always a busy month for visitors, February also saw a whole series of briefings on site at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple, as well as at Chicago House, for interested groups, students, and colleagues.  These included a group of students from the Dutch/Flemish Institute in Cairo briefed by Brett at Medinet Habu and the Chicago House Library on February 3rd; the Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt out of England this week; and, also at Medinet Habu, a group of engineers from CDM, the firm who helped design and execute the USAID Egypt-funded dewatering programs on both sides of the river in Luxor (east bank 2006; west bank 2011), and more recently at the site of Edfu (2014).  The group was escorted by engineer Thomas Nichols, who coordinated the Edfu project and is currently working on new dewatering projects in Alexandria and Kom Ombo.  It was a pleasure to demonstrate to our friends how worthwhile those projects are and to show them how the area around the site of Medinet Habu is drying out, allowing crucial conservation and restoration work to continue, and to begin.  Other colleagues in town this month included Angus Graham and his family, Zahi Hawass (in town with a group of 130 Americans!), Hisham and Diane Tayeby and their family (who live in the same town as Sue O. in Vermont), Don Ryan, Betsy Bryan from Johns Hopkins working in Mut Temple, Pat Graham and Peggy King (University of Chicago Women’s Board), and our ARCE friends Gerry and Kathleen Scott and Jane Smythe in town to review ARCE’s west bank work. 

Jay returned from a succesful winter season at Antinoupolis on February 21st and resumed his work in the Luxor Temple blockyard, drawing Ptolemy I blocks and checking location data on the new blockyard database using his iPad, a first in the blockyard.  He will continue to work with conservator Hiroko and Photo Archives registrar Ellie on filling gaps in the blockyard numbering system, and accounting for the location of every registered block in the precinct as part of our new blockyard data management program.  He is also continuing his informal instruction of two of our inspectors, Nadia and now Marwa, in epigraphic drawing techniques.  Hiroko continued her condition survey of the blockyard material, and Krisztián has been filling in the gaps of his Roman fresco documentation in the Imperial Cult Chamber on the southern wall, eastern side, with Yarko photographing areas not covered before.  Krisztián started the penciling of the eastern wall cavalry frescos while Yarko was photographing, and is now penciling the fresco remains immediately to the left of the apse on the southern wall. 

At Medinet Habu, Lotfi and Nahed continued the USAID grant-supported training program for our fourteen Egyptian conservation students, now in the final two weeks of this year’s program.  They have been working on the consolidation of the southern well blocks, desalination and treatment of various deteriorating walls within the small Amun temple precinct, consolidating fragmentary material within the MH blockyard, and cleaning/consolidating Domitian Gate blocks currently in the final stages of restoration.  They have learned a lot and have been a big help in the process.  The Domitian Gate work supervised by Frank is reaching the final stages of construction; the eastern jamb is now mortared and complete, with the western jamb following suit.  Soon the team will start winching the first of the great lintel blocks into place.  Artists Sue and Margaret have been working with Brett on the final details and consistency tweaking of all the drawings and photographs that will appear in Medinet Habu X, but they are also working on drawings that will appear in Volumes XI  and XII.  Jen has continued her painstaking preliminary documentation and inventory of the hundreds of blocks and block fragments of the destroyed western High Gate in anticipation of a major conservation and restoration effort there starting next year.  Yarko continued his Medinet Habu photography in the blockyard, the western High Gate, and the small Amun temple assisted by Ellie.

The month saw the resumption of our work at Khonsu Temple, Karnak and Theban Tomb 107.  On February 10th artist Keli supervised by epigrapher Jen resumed her documentation of two inscribed blocks of Horemheb reused by Ramesses III over the entrance doorway of Room 11 in Khonsu temple, still partly covered by Ramesses III-inscribed plaster.  She is drawing both sets of inscribed decoration, since the Ramesses III reliefs are in a very fragile state.  She – and we – are very pleased to acknowledge that two of our antiquities inspectors from last season, Shimaa and Peter, were chosen to participate in a month-and-a-half-long ARCE/AEF-funded epigraphy field school coordinated by our colleagues JJ Shirley and Will Schenck in Theban Tomb 110, recently cleaned and conserved by ARCE.  Both Shimaa and Peter were coached by Keli last season in epigraphic drawing techniques which they practiced under Keli’s watchful eye while they worked with us at Khonsu temple.  Mabruk to them both!  The field school will focus on the documentation of the Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III-period reliefs of the tomb, but will also teach the five students research skills in the Chicago House Library.  The field school participants had an orientation session in the library last week courtesy of librarian Marie, who showed them how to use the library resources, and Ellie, who showed the group how to access our photo files in the Photo Archives.

On February 11th senior epigrapher Brett resumed the collation of the wall reliefs in the portico of TT 107, the tomb of Nefersekheru, steward of Amenhotep III’s jubilee palace, Malqata, a sprawling, six kilometer-long complex south of Medinet Habu.  The exquisitely carved sunk relief details of the noble steward and his entourage were barely begun, and are in rough shape, but are well worth the effort of properly drawing and recording them.  Sue and Margaret’s drawings are among the most beautiful and detailed of their careers in Luxor.  The limestone in which the reliefs are carved is in terrible condition, and all of our drawings will be used as a reference to their condition in the conservation of the reliefs and the restoration of several missing pillars of the portico.  The palace itself has been the focus of excavation and restoration measures this month by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Diana Craig Patch, Catharine Roehrig, and Janice Kamrin) and the Ancient Egyptian Heritage and Archaeology Fund (Peter Lacovara), with some conservation assistance from Hiroko.  Despite suffering a broken arm two weeks ago, plucky Diana squired her team through their normal season; they completed their fieldwork on schedule this week.  

A very special double event occurred on February 23rd at Deir el-Bahri: the official opening of the Hatshepsut mortuary temple Third Terrace Re-Horakhty solar court restored by the Polish-Egyptian team currently directed by our old friend Dr. Zbigniev Sfranski, followed by a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan House in the Assasif plain in front of the temple.  Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty presided over the opening of the solar court, assisted by the minister of Tourism as well as the Polish Ambassador.  The luncheon at the Metropolitan House following the inauguration was a very pleasant affair, attended by many of our colleagues and friends.  This beautiful facility with its domed central reception area was built by the MMA as their base of operations in Luxor, and has been used as an expedition house by the Polish-Egyptian team since the 1960s.  Mabruk to Zbigniev and our Polish-Egyptian colleagues, the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology in Egypt, the Ministry for Antiquities and Heritage, AND to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On February 10th I attended a farewell reception at the US Embassy in Cairo for outgoing USAID Egypt director Mary Ott, who is now based in Washington, DC.  From the time more than a decade ago when she was USAID Egypt deputy director under Ken Ellis, to her time during the last few years as director, she has been a good friend to cultural heritage preservation work in Egypt, and to Chicago House.  We will miss her, and wish her all the best back home.  During the reception I had the pleasure of meeting and welcoming new US Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft (coming to Egypt from Iraq), new DCM Thomas H. Goldberger, and Consul General Sean Murphy.  We look forward to hosting some site visits for them here in Luxor in the near future.

And so it goes.  What I have related is of course only a fraction of what happens out here; it is astonishing to me how much goes on during the course of a single day!  But we are all well, working hard, and enjoying the final months of the season.  Changes are in the air… Egypt is preparing for new Parliamentary elections in mid-March, so the campaign posters are beginning to appear everywhere.  Luxor has a new governor, and the Antiquities Ministry Luxor director, our old friend Abdel Hakim Karrar has just this week retired, with the choice of his replacement still pending.  We have noticed a distinct increase in tourism, both western and Egyptian tourists - including American groups - which is making everyone happier.  Luxor is busy.  And dare I tell you that the temperatures are beginning to climb…?  This week we have had two days in the upper 80s F.  Yes, it’s quite the contrast to the Midwest and eastern USA!   

Before you know it I will be writing again, at the end of March.  In the meantime, be well (and stay warm), and please accept our best wishes from sunny Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

February 2, 2015

Dear friends,

Warm greetings to you all from cool, sunny Luxor, where January certainly has shot by.  In the weeks after New Year’s Day the Chicago House staff members who were away on holiday returned to Chicago House to resume work, and our holiday guests departed.  On January 6th Peter Lacovara took up residence with us for most of the month before his Amenhotep III Malqata Palace season with the Metropolitan Museum of Art team.  MMA Egyptian Department director Diana Craig Patch, Catharine Roehrig, and Janice Kamrin arrived on January 29th and whisked Peter away to their west bank hotel, the New Memnon, where they will be in residence during the entire month of February.  Once again we are sharing our Land Rover with them for the month, an annual tradition now.  On January 7th, Coptic Christmas, we were visited by former Chicago House finance manager Safi Ouri and her mother Nabila, who were in town for some Egyptian sun from a bitter cold and rainy Jordan.  Unfortunately they hit town just as we experienced a two-week cold snap with nighttime temperatures just above freezing (I can hear you all back home snorting with derision, but you must remember that Chicago House has no heat!).  Luckily the days stayed sunny and pleasant, and we got through the cold snap just fine (in case you were wondering), with just a few cases of the sniffles and some of that awful flu going around.  On January 8th the Chicago House team participated long-distance in Professor Jan Johnson’s celebratory Festschrift presentation party at the Oriental Institute with a short video of us all wishing her well. 

At Medinet Habu the Domitian Gate work reached a major milestone this week.  All of the new replacement blocks have been cut and finished, and the testing, checking, trial placement, and tweaking of new blocks with the old ones is now done.  Under the supervision of master stone mason Frank assisted by stone mason Johannes and our trusty stone crew the permanent installation of old and new blocks with mortar began on the 27th, right on schedule.  In the coming weeks the Domitian Gate will slowly rise again and this time it will be for good.  Bravo to the stone team; it already looks sensational, the result of a lot of care and hard work. 

Lotfi, Nahed, and the fourteen conservation students have also made excellent progress with the training and their various projects.  One team has cleaned out decaying lower wall surfaces inside the small Amun temple sanctuary, and part of the outside wall on the northern side, in preparation for infilling with porous lime mortar and sandstone patchstones.  Another, more advanced team (from last season) has been working on reassembling shattered wall blocks from the dismantled Ramesses III southern well.  Another group has checked and cleaned the walls of the Butehamun House in order to see what walls need reinforcement or replacement next season.  Epigrapher Jen assisted by Anait has been doing preliminary surveying of the western High Gate area, blocks, and fragments, preparatory to our planned cleaning, moving, and consolidation program next season, and Jen has continued the preliminary entering of fragments on a master database.  Photographer Yarko assisted by Ellie has been taking record shots of all the MH work, including before and after cleaning and conservation, and some preliminary reference shots of some of the fragmentary inscribed sandstone relief material from the western High Gate, as well as miscellaneous material in the MH blockyard.  Artists Sue and Keli have been working with Brett on drawings for Medinet Habu Volume XII, specifically the eastern entryway of the bark sanctuary.  I am now working with Keli on the final director’s review of a scene on the front of the bark sanctuary, MHB 156, with figures of Thutmosis III and Amun recarved and ‘updated’ by Ptolemy VIII in the Ptolemaic style, including a wildly exuberant repainting of the figures.  It is pure delight for me to see how beautifully Keli has caught all of the details of this extremely detailed scene.  Brett has been reviewing each and every drawing enlargement that will be published in Medinet Habu X back at the temple wall, checking, updating, and finalizing all of the translations and epigraphic commentary.

At Luxor Temple Jay continued his digital drawing of the Ptolemy I block material for our ‘Bentresh’ study during most of the month and gave informal drawing lessons to inspector Nadia, while Krisztian returned and resumed his penciling of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber.  On January 8th Luxor Temple conservator Hiroko Kariya arrived back for a couple of months work in the blockyard, inventorying and tracking the blockyard collections (with Jay), condition-surveying the blocks and holding areas, and doing miscellaneous maintenance work with our workmen in consultation with the Luxor Temple inspectorate.  She will also be doing some work with the MMA Malqata team in the Amenhotep III palace complex.  This week we extended the chain-link fence in the center of the blockyard open-air museum to include a ramp that makes the whole area wheelchair- (and baby carriage-!) accessible.  Jay departed at the end of the month for the Antinoupolis winter season, but is continuing to enter data on the LT blockyard database, including block locations, in coordination with Hiroko, while he is away. 

On January 15th Photo Archivist Sue Lezon returned home after more than a month over the holidays with us finalizing the photographic images for Medinet Habu X with Brett, and arranging for Yarko to fill any gaps.  On January 19th I had the pleasure of attending the Scientific Committee meetings of the Centre Franco-Égyptien d'Étude des Temples de Karnak (CFEETK) in Cairo at the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) headquarters.  As an ‘outside reviewer’ of the work of the Karnak Center, my task was to critique and comment on the work of the last two seasons, always a pleasant task, because the excavation, documentation, conservation, and database work is always an inspiration. 

And so it goes; all is well with us as we begin the new month.  February will see the resumption of our work at Theban Tomb 107 and Khonsu Temple, Karnak, as well as the continuation of the work at Medinet Habu and Luxor Temple.  But I will write more about that in a month’s time.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all, from all of us out here!

Best from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey 

January 7, 2015

Dear friends,

Happy New Year 2015!!! We hope that everyone experienced pleasant holidays and a good break. Our December just flew by, and even with the holidays it was a full and productive month. At the very beginning of the December, after her Edfu season, Nadine Moeller stayed with us at Chicago House for a few days and helped with some surveying at Medinet Habu. On December 13th Krisztián joined Jay at Luxor Temple and resumed his drawing of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber for our volume devoted to those extraordinary paintings; he will continue that work later this month. Jay continued his digital drawing of the Bentresh and Ptolemy I blocks in the Luxor Temple blockyard and resumed work on the new Luxor Temple blockyard database and management system. He has continued to enter and update the blockyard data and is presently drawing up (using AutoCAD) a key plan of the blockyard holding areas, platform by platform, to facilitate tracking and locations of the blocks and fragments.

At Medinet Habu the fourteen Egyptian conservation students have been busy learning and applying stone conservation techniques in the MH blockyard under the watchful eyes of Lotfi and Nahed. Lessons take place in the MH blockyard, but the students have also resumed the consolidation of the shattered blocks from the upper wall blocks of the Ramesses III southern well. Lotfi and the stone team restored the first of several broken roof blocks with two stainless steel dowels and successfully rejoined the two pieces, a major milestone. Stone mason Frank and the team built up the Domitian gate doorjambs to their original height to test the dimensions, made some adjustments, and took down some of the blocks to prepare them for permanent placement. On January 5th they successfully rejoined the broken lintel (the largest block of the gate) with two 1m long stainless steel dowels, a significant step towards completing the project. Mabruk, Frank! The epigraphic team has been working on finishing up any loose ends for Medinet Habu X, including adding the painted borderlines beneath the square pillar scenes in the ambulatory - the major focus of the publication - where they were not already indicated. They have also been working on the completion of the 21st Dynasty Pinudjem inscription that wraps around the outside of the small Amun temple (to be published in Medinet Habu XI). Artists Margaret, Sue, Krisztián, and Keli displayed all of the facsimile drawings in the Chicago House Library for review for Brett, Jen, and me to review, and I must say, it is quite an achievement. Some of them were drawn with pen and ink, and some were drawn completely digitally with our new Wacom digital ‘tools,’ and it is impossible to tell which is which. Before he transferred to Luxor Temple, Krisztián finished most of the work on the small Amun temple bark shrine exterior western wall and gate, which will be published in Medinet Habu XII; yet another tour de force, seamlessly combining digital and inked drawings. Photo Archivist Sue Lezon and registrar Ellie Smith arrived in the middle of the month; they are now working with Brett compiling and arranging the photographs and scans that we will publishing in Medinet Habu X.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, and before some of the staff took off for the holidays, our kitchen crew produced batches of Christmas cookies that we decorated with colored frosting, packaged up, and distributed to friends and colleagues on both sides of the river, a nice treat. On the 13th we put up and decorated the Christmas tree and public rooms, and put out red pointsettia plants in the dining room and tea room that Tina had procured in Cairo. Kitchen helper Zakaria single-handedly decorated the courtyard with lights and decorations as a gift to the house, and it has never looked so festive; shukran, ya Zakaria! We were fifty-five at Christmas dinner, a nice mix of Egyptian and foreign friends, colleagues, and whole expeditions, including the University of Memphis American team working in the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak; the Waseda University Japanese team working in western Thebes; the Australian mission working in Dra Abu el-Naga; and ARCE Luxor director John Shearman and wife Khadija. Dr. Wafaa el-Seddik and her family joined us for the holidays, an annual event now, and Mark Chickering joined wife Sue Osgood, adding a sweet touch to our holiday. Our New Years Eve was a smaller affair but warm and festive, with additional guests from Rome, cartographer Marcello Spanu and his wife Emanuela Borgia from the Antinoupolis team (who will be back at the site at the end of this month). Richard Jasnow joined Tina to continue their graffiti documentation at Medinet Habu and was a welcome addition to our New Year’s celebration.

On December 21st we celebrated the Winter Solstice with a small bonfire on the Chicago House roof at sunset. We had much for which to be thankful; on December 18th one of our more beloved workmen, Abdel Haris (who has tended the library as long as I have been here) and his son Ahmed (who works with us at MH) were struck by a speeding car on the west bank. Both suffered broken limbs – Abdel Haris two broken legs – but we are lucky that they weren’t killed outright. We sent them both to a private hospital in Qena where they were treated, and they will be at home for the rest of our season.

As the holidays have progressed - and today are now ending (with Coptic Christmas) - we have noticed an increase in tourism in town, which has been good to see. We have talked to several small groups in the Chicago House Library about our work, and are scheduled to brief more groups later in the month. February promises to be quite busy for visitors. Additional expeditions are already beginning to arrive, among them Suzanne Onstine from the University of Memphis; Betsy Bryan from Johns Hopkins; and Peter Lacovara for Deir el-Ballas and later Malqata Palace work. It’s already a busy beginning of the year.

I will be back in touch next month with another update. In the meantime, please let me extend my very best wishes to all our friends back home and everywhere in the world for a joyous and fulfilling New Year 2015! Special best wishes and love to Professor Janet Johnson, who on January 8th is being honored at the Oriental Institute and presented with a mockup of her Festschrift, Essays for the Library of Seshat: Studies Presented to Janet H. Johnson on the Occasion of Her 70th Birthday. MABRUK, dear Jan!

Best wishes from Luxor and Chicago House,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

November 28, 2014

Dear friends,

We had expected November to be as low-key and quiet as last season, but it has been quite the reverse, starting on the very first day of the month!  On November 1st we had the pleasure of a site visit to Medinet Habu by the deputy Minister of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) Dr. Yousef Khalifa, who reviewed our documentation and conservation work at the House of Butehamon at the back of the Medinet Habu precinct and reaffirmed our concession there.  The individual whose names and figures grace the slender, plastered-stone shafts of the four-columned hall that Chicago House and Üvo Hölscher excavated in 1930 was a 21st Dynasty official responsible for the rewrapping and reburial of the royal mummies whose tombs in the Valley of the Kings were despoiled in the civil wars prior to Dynasty 21.  Butahamon’s name was even found in an ink inscription on the wrappings of the re-wrapped Ramesses III mummy.  Much speculation has been focused on this structure; was it a residence, or an office, or even a funerary chapel (as our colleague Takao Kikuchi suggested in a thought-provoking article in MDAIK 58, 2002)? The texts on the columns are funerary in form, but the structure of the building is decidedly domestic with a platform at the back of the hall, where the owner traditionally sat and received guests, or supervised the work at hand.  It is possible, indeed probable, that the structure had multiple functions. Butehamon’s coffin can be seen in the Turin Museum, acquired in the 19th century, but his tomb is unknown.  The goal of our program is to do facsimile drawings and translations of the column texts based on stitched-together photographs taken by Yarko Kobylecky, (supplemented by photographs taken by Chicago House around 1930), conserve the fragile plaster, extend the mud-brick casemate walls and add some fill for stability, and re-erect two fallen partial columns from a mostly destroyed entrance hall.  Eventually we will also restore two sets of ancient sandstone-slab walkways from the time of Ramesses III on ether side of the mortuary temple that will allow visitors to see the site.

On November 6th Jay and Frank returned from Antinoupolis in Middle Egypt, where Frank consulted with Rosario Pintaudi on some future stone restoration work at the site. That day we also we had the pleasure of hosting a large Far Horizons tour group to Chicago House for a reception and library briefing, the first in almost two years.  It was good to have our friends Bob and Pat Brier back with us, and the group enjoyed a site briefing by Brett at Medinet Habu the next day.  Emily Teeter and Joe Cain, in town overnight with another tour group, joined us for the reception and dinner on the 6th.  On November 9th Christian LeBlanc and the Ramesseum team inaugurated a new collaboration between Chicago House and the Franco-Egyptian Documentation Center at Medinet Habu. At our invitation the team has erected scaffolding along the inside of the Medinet Habu small Amun temple Ptolemaic Pylon in order to record the numerous reused blocks of Ramesses II that are exposed there, quarried from the side walls of Ramesses II’s mortuary temple (the Ramesseum) in the late Ptolemaic period.  Christian and epigrapher Philippe Martinez will be integrating the new block documentation with their drawings and photographs of the standing wall reliefs still preserved at the Ramesseum that they have been recording for some time.  On November 11th Jay resumed his work at Luxor Temple drawing Bentresh and Ptolemy I blocks on the Wacom Companion portable drawing tablet.  Jay has finished digitally penciling the text blocks and is now penciling a series of Ptolemy I offerings scenes in various scales from the same monument as the texts.  We have fragmentary wall scenes from at least two registers, large-scale scenes possibly from a pylon or entryway, and some smaller-scale doorjamb scenes.  It is hoped that once the blocks and fragments are documented and analyzed we will be able to establish the location of the original monument, somewhere in the vicinity of Karnak.

On the afternoon of the 11th about 20 members of the Mehen foundation (for the study of ancient Egypt) from the Netherlands, visited Chicago House, and we had a very pleasant time discussing archaeological preservation issues in the library.  They had visited the Oriental Institute Museum in September and were very pleased to visit the OI in Luxor.  Speaking of the Chicago House library, there are so many expeditions in town at the moment we have already had record numbers of library users in addition to our regular Egyptian Masters and PhD students.  The last few Fridays – including today - have been standing-room-only in the library, something that usually only happens in the spring!

On November 15th we began the second year of our most recent Egyptian conservation-student training program, generously funded by a grant from USAID Egypt that covers most of our Medinet Habu work.  Six students from last year are continuing their on-site conservation training, and eight new students are starting this season.  The program is directed by Medinet Habu senior conservator Lotfi assisted by Nahed, and is designed to give students fresh out of school valuable, hands-on field experience that will make them better qualified for future employment.  They are a bright, motivated group, and it is a great pleasure helping them achieve the conservation skills that Egypt needs so badly, and that also will help them get good jobs.

On November 17th we marked a very important birthday.  That day, ninety years before, the Epigraphic Survey began its work in Luxor.  We celebrated the occasion by taking a house trip to Edfu to see the work of the OI’s Nadine Moeller, Gregory Marouard and their team at the Edfu settlement site. We have watched their work with great interest over the years, and it just gets more amazing.  We also saw the not-yet activated dewatering project sponsored by USAID Egypt and implemented by our friend, engineer Thomas Nichols, whose work is sensitively and beautifully done.  We look forward to its activation soon, as the area is quite damp, and the groundwater salts are a real threat to the ancient temple as well as the settlement remains.  While there we were allowed by the local Antiquities Ministry officials to visit the roof area of Edfu temple, a very special, breathtaking treat and something none of us had ever experienced before.  Because I was obliged to be in Cairo that night, we postponed the Chicago House 90th birthday dinner until a few days later, and on November 20th we had a warm, in-house celebration that included members of the some of the earliest staff of Chicago House.  Yes; as a surprise, Jen passed out masks of previous Chicago House staff members that she had beautifully crafted out of the 1927 staff photograph, digitally enlarging the faces.  I was given first director Harold Nelson’s face; Brett was given John Wilson’s face; librarian Marie was given original librarian Phoebe Biles’ face; Jen had first female epigrapher Caroline Ransom William’s mask; Jay got architect Üvo Hölscher’s face; Yarko received former photographer Hans Lichter’s face, etc.  Our predecessors felt very close to us that night, and I think that wherever they are now, they were pleased to be included.

In mid-November I finished the final director's review of four extraordinary drawings done by Margaret of the Ptolemy VIII lintel over the facade entryway of the Eighteenth Dynasty Amun temple at Medinet Habu.  As part of the restoration and renewal of the bark sanctuary and peripteros, Ptolemy VIII's workmen erased the original Thutmosis III winged sun disk over the façade doorway and replaced it with four, small scale, sunk-relief offering scenes with incised hieroglyphic texts that are very difficult to see and little-known, but are very important for understanding the later theology of the temple.  During the penciling stage of the drawings, before inking, Margaret worked closely with Brett - who specializes in Ptolemaic texts - on the difficult spots, facilitating the whole collation process.  The four drawings are a technical tour de force, and some of the most beautifully drawn Ptolemaic reliefs in the history of Egyptian epigraphy.  They are also the last of the drawings earmarked for Medinet Habu Volume X. The Eighteenth Dynasty Temple, Part II. The Façade, Pillars, and Architrave Inscriptions of the Thutmoside Peripteros, and represent a major milestone in our Medinet Habu documentation program.  Production of this volume will begin in Chicago this summer."

This past week a Spanish-Egyptian security team started trenching the Medinet Habu precinct for electrical cables that will power a new lighting and security-camera system being set up all over Luxor: Karnak and Luxor Temples, Deir el-Bahri, the Ramesseum, Gurna hill and the Tombs of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and Medinet Habu.  We have shared copies of Hölscher’s extremely detailed plans of the entire Medinet Habu precinct with the team to help them avoid buried walls and features that are not visible from the ground, and will be assisting wherever we can in the installation process.

Finally, on November 27th Chicago House hosted a festive Thanksgiving dinner with our friends and colleagues, including Nadine, Greg, and the Edfu team; Peter Brand and his University of Memphis team; many antiquities ministry directors and friends; numerous heads of foreign missions and colleagues; and even some US Embassy friends, Acting Deputy Chargé d’Affaires David Ranz and his family.  We were 80 total, and while the turkey was the size of a small car, there wasn’t anything left of it by the evening’s end.  A fine time was had by all, and the holiday season was well launched.

And so it goes in the Two Lands.  Best wishes to you all for a joyous December holiday season!  I will be back in touch in the New Year with a full report of our December activities.

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey

October 31, 2014

Dear friends of Chicago House,

I am writing to you from balmy Luxor, where Chicago House officially reopened its doors on October 15th,  and everything is going smoothly as we begin our 2014-2015 archaeological field season.  I signed the contract for the season at the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) in Cairo week before last with the new Foreign Missions director, Mr. Hany Abu el-Azm, who was very helpful.  Brett, Jen, Margaret, Keli, Jay, Frank, Anait, Lotfi, Marie, Krisztian, Yarko, Johannes, and I all arrived back in Luxor safely during the last couple of weeks; Tin has been in residence since September for the opening and cleaning.  Jay went immediately to Antinoupolis in Middle Egypt for a short autumn season with the Italian mission from the University of Florence directed by Rosario Pintaudi.  On October 20th Brett and I met with MAH Luxor director Abdel Hakim Karrar at the main inspectorate offices in Luxor and passed on the signed contract for the season, after which we met with Gurna MAH director Talat Abdel Hakim and met our two inspectors, Miss Fatma Ahmed Salem and Miss Sanaa Youssef Ahmed Ali in western Thebes.  We resumed our work at Medinet Habu on October 22nd, unblocked and unlocked the doors to the small Amun temple sanctuaries (and found it dry as a bone inside – the dewatering program funded by USAID Egypt continues to work well).  That day we also transferred four trucks of equipment and supplies, including scaffolding, ladders, lights, etc for our documentation, conservation, and restoration work.  This season Chicago House is sponsoring another Egyptian student conservator program, supervised by MH senior conservator Lotfi Hassan assisted by Nahed Samir, which will include the six students from last year plus another new group this year; there is more than enough to do, and this will give them all valuable field experience at the same time. They and the stone team will be working on the Domitian Gate restoration project; the Claudius Gate (prep work); the MH blockyard conservation project; restoration of the Ramesses III southern well blocks; desalination of the back sanctuaries of the small Amun temple; and condition studying, cleaning, and conservation of the House of Butehamon at the western end of the complex (which we started this week).  Our documentation programs will include the House of Butehamon plus the small Amun temple reliefs and graffiti.  We are also continuing the condition study, documentation, and analysis of the blocks and fragments of the western High Gate, destroyed in antiquity and excavated by the Epigraphic Survey in 1932.  All of the work at Medinet Habu is generously funded by a grant from USAID Egypt, now in its final six months.  

We reopened the Marjorie M. Fisher Chicago House Library on Friday the 24th and immediately had three patrons who joined us for lunch, including our old friend Andrzej Niwinski.  Tina and the Chicago House workmen did their usual amazing job in preparation for our return.  In addition to opening and cleaning the house and a zillion other maintenance tasks, they replaced all of the screens in the public rooms of the main house and did some pretty extensive plumbing work in the courtyard - onerous, but very successful.  Most of the work is done in-house now by our talented crew under Tina's capable and ruthless direction.  (Our workmen love her).

Luxor was surprisingly full of tourists when we arrived; there had been a couple of conventions in town, and it remained lively for days, with dozens on felluccas on the Nile, buses everywhere, and hotels busy - just like old times.  Week before last a huge tour boat chugged by Chicago House with people dancing on the deck to an extremely amplified rendition of 'Besame mucho' (!), quite surreal.  Everyone hopes it's a harbinger of better days to come.  It’s good to be back, warm during the day, cooler at night, and getting cooler as the days go by.  To mark the beginning of the new season, we resumed our annual  Halloween party on Thursday (October 30th); Nadine, Greg, and the Edfu team joined us, as well as a host of other missions.  We have a number of groups and visitors scheduled to come through town in November, including some US Embassy and USAID friends and perhaps even the new minister of Antiquities and Heritage, Dr. Mamdouh el-Damaty.  It's going to be another busy winter.

So that's what is happening with us.  It’s been an excellent season beginning; the work is going smoothly, and it's been good renewing contacts with colleagues and friends.  Stay tuned for more monthly updates as the season progresses.

Warm best wishes from Luxor,

Ray Johnson, Director, Epigraphic Survey