Reconstructing the Second Pillared Hall of Karakhamun

By Kenneth Griffin

The blog post for this week has been written by Dr Ken Griffin, the Curator of the Egypt Centre, Swansea University, who has been participating in the South Asasif Conservation Project since 2010. This post will focus on the reconstruction of the northern face of Northern Pillar 3 (NP3) within the Second Pillared Hall in the tomb of Karakhamun.

The reconstruction of the Second Pillared Hall of Karakhamun has been an ongoing project since the remains of the pillars first began to emerge from the debris during the 2010 season.

Most of the walls and pillars had been heavily destroyed. While the architecture of the hall and a significant part of the decoration were reconstructed, many gaps in the decoration remain.

I was thus very excited when Elena Pischikova sent me photos of new fragments, which had been discovered just a few weeks ago in the foundations of the modern walls just outside the superstructure of TT 390. Quite a lot of these fragments originate from Northern Pillar 3 (NP3), which was rebuilt in 2015.

NP3 was found completely destroyed when it was excavated in 2010, with trace hieroglyphs present on the base of the southern face only. Karl Richard Lepsius, who visited the tomb in the 1840s, recorded a small number of inscriptions that excavations have confirmed were located within the Second Pillared Hall. Although Lepsius was primarily concerned with the names and titles of Karakhamun, he also included short extracts from BD 80 and 104, both of which are inscribed on this pillar. Additionally, the entirety of BD 104, which is also from this pillar, was copied by Vladimir Golenishchev (Griffith Institute Golenishchev MSS. 15 [b]), who visited Thebes at the end of the nineteenth century. This would indicate that the pillar was still intact at the time of Golenischev’s visit.

The northern face of the pillar was completely lacking any decoration when it was discovered in 2010, yet remarkably it is one of our best reconstructions. It was inscribed with chapters 51 and 104 of the Book of the Dead (BD). BD 51 is a “spell for not walking upside down in the god’s domain”, while BD 104 is a “spell for sitting amid the great gods”. Strangely, BD 51 is actually attested four times within the tomb of Karakhamun (once in the First Pillared Hall and three times in the Second Pillared Hall). The reasons for this reduplication of the text are unknown. Perhaps it was a favourite spell of the tomb owner, or maybe it highlights his greatest fear of the afterlife!

Just a few weeks ago, two large corner fragments were excavated from the foundations of a wall. Since almost all the texts in the tomb of Karakhamun are now known, I had previously typed up a reconstruction of each text in JSesh, an open source hieroglyphic editor. A recent feature to the program is the ability to search a sign or combination of signs within a folder containing JSesh files. This has allowed for almost instantaneous identification of fragments, particularly those containing large sections of text. For example, one of the aforementioned fragments has the signs 𓈎 𓈎 𓀁 𓀀 in one column, which a search in JSesh reveals it to be part of BD 51. Since this text appears four times within the tomb, a search of the hieroglyphs found on the adjacent face of the fragment indicates that it contains BD 57. Thus, this fragment can be precisely identified as coming from the north-eastern corner of NP3.

A similar process was used for the other corner fragment, which is from the north-western corner of the pillar. Most exciting is that both fragments join seamlessly with others inserted into the pillar reconstruction since 2015, thus demonstrating the accuracy of the restoration process.

Additional fragments for this pillar face were found at the same time as the two corner fragments and have also been inserted into the reconstruction

As always, this remains a work in progress as new fragments are identified restored. Just a few days ago, more modern walls were discovered around the open court of TT 390  with fragments originating from the same pillar (BD 57 and BD 80). The work continues!

This work is very much a team effort, which involves the excavators, epigraphists, and our wonderful Egyptian conservators!

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