Happy Holidays From the South Asasif Conservation Project!

Dear Team Members, Friends, and Supporters of the South Asasif Conservation Project,

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2016! Next year we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. We are looking forward to seeing you at the site and at our second Thebes in the First Millennium BC Conference.

Thank you for giving Karakhamun a hand and keeping him immortal!

Hands

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Discovery of Padibastet

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Excavation of the open court of the Mayor of Thebes and Fourth Priest of Amun, Karabasken (TT 391) started in 2013. Three years of work in the court yielded a large amount of exciting discoveries. One of the most important ones was the discovery of the lost High Steward of the God’s Wife, Padibastet. Padibastet re-inscribed the entrance doorframe and vestibule of the tomb of Karabasken. In addition his stela was carved on the west wall of the sun court of the tomb. The research of our team member Dr. Erhart Graefe identified this previously unknown High Steward as the grandson of Pabasa A bearer of the same titles and owner of TT 279 in North Asasif. Most of the owners of the beautiful monumental tombs of the North Asasif bore the same title. Yet Padibastet reused a Kushite tomb in a different necropolis. It must be evidence of his very short time in office.

Four beautifully carved images of Padibastet and a collection of his texts at the entrance area and the court of the tomb of Karabasken allow to assume that he was buried in this tomb. We now have two high officials of the 25th and 26th Dynasties sharing the same tomb. Future field research will yield more information on their burials. We are looking forward to an exciting 2016 season!

The announcement of the discovery was recently made by the Ministry of State for Antiquities. Graefe’s paper on Padibastet will appear in the 2nd volume of our AUC series Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis.

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Erhart Graefe is placing a fragment on the doorframe of Padibastet.

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MSA conservator Taib Hassan Ibrahim is reconstructing decoration on the south side of the vestibule. The vestibule is not a room but rather a corridor with a short staircase starting in the middle. The architect of the team Dieter Eigner suggested calling it a “staircase vestibule” as an early version of a Kushite vestibule transformed into a room in the tomb of Karakhamun. According to Eigner’s opinion all the architectural features of the entrance to the tomb were carved for Karabasken and later reused by Padibastet.

July in South Asasif Part II

This season our main conservation efforts are concentrated in the Second Pillared Hall of the tomb of Karakhamun. In July our international team of conservators, artists and researchers started recreating the doorframe on the south wall of the hall. Abdel Razk, Ali Hassen, Tayeb Hassen, Hassan Eldemerdash, Sayed Abo Gad, Anthony Browder and Katherine Blakeney are proudly presenting the first results.

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Delivery of steel rods by Darren McKnight allowed us to start one of the main phases of the reconstruction process planned for the season – securing the architrave on top of the pillars of the north aisle.

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Beautiful sections of a monumental architrave topped with cavetto cornice were uncovered during the 2009-2010 seasons. Numerous titles of Karakhamun and the cornice still retain their original bright colours.

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After numerous preparations and measurements the first fragment was lifted today and placed on top of the second pillar.

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Ken Griffin is taking in the long-anticipated moment.

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The high central aisle of the court, topped with a monumental cavetto, will create a temple type processional passage to the focal point of the Second Pillared Hall and the whole tomb of Karakahamun – the statue of Osiris.

July in South Asasif Part I

Time runs very fast and we are already in August. Work in the middle of the summer is very hard but always rewarding. Today after nine hours in Karakhamun in 46 degree heat we still felt lucky to be surrounded with incredible art and people. Here are only two examples:

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Builder Ahmed

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Offering Bearer from the First Pillared Hall

Last month was very productive. Our team members truly enjoyed field work in the Open Court of the tomb of Karakhamun. They looked slightly disheveled but always happy.

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Taylor Woodcock and Luna Zagorac from AUC featuring the latest archaeological fashions at the end of the work day.

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Suzanne Arnold and Sharon Davidson spent so many days sifting debris and sorting small finds that we even asked them for the reasons of their happy facial expressions. All we heard in response can be summarized as “the work was gratifying, rewarding, and giving a sense of accomplishment”. Sharon added that in this hot weather she would appreciate some Canada Dry. It is understandable as Sharon came from Toronto. It is Sharon’s fourth year on the Project. This year she has assumed a new role as volunteer coordinator (Thank you!)

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Reconstruction work in the tomb of Karakhamun is progressing with incredible speed due to the hard work of the mission members and new power tools donated to the Project by our wonderful sponsors. News from Karkahamun will be featured in Part II of this blog entry.

Recreating Karakhamun’s Second Pillared Hall

The reconstruction of the Second Pillared Hall of the tomb of Karakhamun is one of the goals of the 2015 season. This work has already been going on for a number of years but now with our new stonecutting machine continuously cutting blocks for pillars and slabs for walls we believe in the success of this ambitious plan. The Second Pillared Hall is the least-preserved room in the tomb of Karakhamun. Used for years as a quarry it did not have much left in situ when we finished its excavation in 2010.

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Thanks to our  epigraphers, builders, stonecutters  and incredible conservation team of

Abdel Razk Mohamed Ali,  Ali Hassan, Tayeb Hassan, Mohamed Shabib, Mohammad Azab Hakem, Hassan Eldemerdash, Tayeb Sayed, Mohamed  Badawi, Sayed Abo Gad, and Hussein Mohammadayn  walls and a false door rose by 2014. Thousands of fragments of the hall’s original decoration came together into a monumental puzzle.

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This photograph taken at the end of the 2014 season shows the remains of the pillars on the north side. The 2015 season began with the rebuilding of the pillars.

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Reconstruction of the decoration of the second pillar on the north side started from the top with BD vignettes. It is conducted by Ken Griffin and our conservation team.

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This photograph shows the beginning of the installation of the BD 57 vignette on the eastern face of the pillar.

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With the lower part of the figure of Hathor in a tree and streams of water offered to Kharakhamun sitting on a chair, it is almost complete.

The northern side of this pillar features a combination of two vignettes of BD 104 and BD 51. It seems that Spell 51 plays a special role in the tomb of Karakhamun as it was used four times in both halls of the tomb. As it is a “Spell for not Walking Upside Down in the Necropolis”€, Ken Griffin suggests that this was Karakhamun’s worst nightmare. This fear is completely understandable and we are happy to reconstruct the text that can prevent our tomb owner from such a misfortune.

The south wall is growing as well. We are rebuilding a section to the east of the entrance to the chapel of Karakhamun’s brother, Nesamenopet. The western section of the wall is decorated with an offering scene reconstructed in 2013-2014.Image012

The remains of the seated figure of Nesamenopet on the bottom of the wall are the only traces of the doorframe of the entrance to his chapel found in situ.

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Its counterpart on the eastern doorjamb will be reconstructed this year.

This little head was fond in 2010. All these years we saw it as a head of Karakhamun from a BD vignette or a lintel. It was difficult to locate its original place because it did not have a distinctive break pattern on the back of the stone. Its back was accurately chiselled in the manner of ancient repairs. Karakhamun’s bedrock is very inconsistent even in the same layer. Patch stones were used to fill the areas of weaker stone not fit for carving.

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This season the conservators were able to join this head with its body and Karakhamun lost this face to his brother Nesamenopet.

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This group of fragments will shortly be installed on the newly rebuilt south wall flanking the entrance to the chapel.

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Katherine Blakeney and Ali Hassan, who reconstructed the figure are tracing it on the wall to mark where all of the fragments will go.

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The Arrival of Samson

Today we are celebrating a big day in the history of the South Asasif Conservation Project. Our dream of obtaining a stone-cutting machine has finally been realized. For years we had a group of stone cutters preparing blocks and slabs of limestone for the reconstruction of the architectural features and decoration in the tomb of Karakhamun. The work was very hard (especially during the summer months when we tend to have our seasons) and rather slow.

This season, thanks to the help of our wonderful supporters, we were able to deliver the magical machine from Cairo. The team was excited and intrigued. Nobody knew how it was going to cut our huge blocks of limestone.

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It took us a while to find out how it worked.

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Erhart Graefe was the one who discovered its secret weapon – a diamond wire.

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The trials performed yesterday and today were highly successful. The wonder machine can cut blocks of different sizes and thin slabs. The surface of the cut blocks is so smooth that it does not require additional treatment. Its speed and quality of work gives Karakhmun new hope to be reconstructed in our lifetime.

Today the team voted on two important issues – the gender and the name of the machine. It turned to be male and named Samson. As it was Erhart Graefe’s suggestions he was appointed the Godfather of Samson. Delilah is still in the works.

Here is a video showing Samson in action:

Start of the Season Part 2

South Asasif Conservation Project continues documenting the first days of the new season and celebrating the reunion with our great mission members and beloved activities at the site.

 

Dieter Eigner may look a little lonely on top of the entrance staircase in the tomb of Karabasken but we know that he the enjoyed the peace and quiet of this imposing environment. His documentation of every step is impeccable as always.

 

 

 

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Erhart Graefe returned to his reconstructions of the texts of the Ritual of the Hours of the Day in the First Pillared Hall of the tomb of Karakhamun. We hope that this hard work will result in the reconstruction of the texts of the Seventh and Eighth  Hours in situ by the end of the season.

 

 

Gabriele Schier feels a deep connection with the remains of the superstructure of the tomb of Karakhamun. Thanks to her tireless recording of the bricks remaining in situ we hope to be able to produce a digital reconstruction of the superstructure after finishing clearing all related areas.

 

 

 

   

Our great conservation team is truly on fire this season.

 

We know that Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali, Ali Hassan Ibrahim, Said Ali Hassan, Mohamed Abu Hakem, and Hassan Dimerdash Ahmed are capable of solving unsolvable problems but this week they outdid themselves.

 

Here is only one example. The fragment blow was on our “confusing images” list for a long while. We saw it as register line with a leg of a chair on it (without a stand underneath?) or an offering animal (without a hoof?)

 

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This week our heroes turned it 180 degrees and found a direct join with another confusing fragment. Immediately it became evident that what we were looking at all this time was not the lower part of the chair leg but its upper part. The register line transformed into the seat of the chair and a red stripe on the other fragment manifested itself as  the end of the folded cloth in the hand of Karakhamun. We were missing these pieces in the reconstruction of a seated figure of Karakhamun finished last year but could not recognise them as a part of it.

 

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Today the newly identified fragments were added to the reconstruction of the figure of Karakahmun. To everybody’s   delight they fitted in perfectly well. Karakhamun’s figure, although very fragmentary, was reconstructed by Katherine Blakeney based on the remains of the ancient grid still visible in some places. The calculations were so precise and the placement of fragments by the conservation team so punctilious that the newly found frgment connecting the two parts of the previously reconstructed figure  went in very smoothly.      

 

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We believe that the team will remain inspired and productive for the whole season and show great results!

 

 

 

Start of the Season 2015

The South Asasif Conservation Project has opened for the 2015 season. Congratulations to all our mission members in Egypt and all over the world, as well as our friends and supporters!

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We are so happy to be back at the site and reunite with our wonderful MSA conservation team. Everybody looks very cheerful on the first day photograph but the hard work started already on the next day. All the members of the team are happy to resume their usual activities and face new challenges.

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Our amazing Reis Mohamed Ali took charge of the workmen.

It is always a joy to reunite with old friends, like Reis Mohamed, who has been working with us for many years, but it is also thrilling to meet new friends, such as our inspector Alaa Hussien Mahmoud and our new team member Mohamed Yahia Ewada, Director of the West Bank.

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Conservators Ali Hassan and Said started with dusting the architectural elements in the Second Pillared Hall in the tomb of Karakhamun.

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Katherine Blakeney and Ali Hassan have already found a new fragment to add to the standing figure on the north wall.

Our epigrapher Ken Griffin is back to sorting boxes and boxes of inscription fragments while Francesca Jones and Annie Haward are working on the reconstruction of BD 17.

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The head of our registration department (among other duties), John Billman and MSA wood conservator, Mohamed Mahmoud Mohamed are in the middle of a profound discussion on the conservation of a coffin lid found at the end of the previous season.

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Katherine Piper went back to cataloguing the fragments of Karakhamun’s painted ceiling.

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Marion Brew and Courtney Bobik are happily taking elevations in the tomb of Karabasken.

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We will be regularly reporting on different kinds of activities in the South Asasif necropolis and our preliminary results. More mission members are arriving next week to take up the baton. Stay with us for the great season of 2015!

Dear Team Members and Friends of the South Asasif Conservation Project!

The gates of the South Asasif tombs are closed now. We expect them to open again only in a few months time, reunite with our wonderful team and invite friends to visit us. Meanwhile take this beautiful bird from the tomb of Karakhamun as a good omen and a have very Happy Holidays!

Good Omen

Irtieru and the Woman in Black Garments: A Story told by Miguel Molinero Polo

Captura de pantalla 2014-09-03 a la(s) 00.05.30Forty-five years ago, Shadi Abdelsalam premiered The Mummy, The Night of Counting the Years. Since then, the film began a career of awards and recognitions that still show it as one of the most admired works of Egyptian cinema.

The director based the story on an event of extraordinary importance for archaeology, the discovery of the Deir el-Bahari royal cachette. Despite the positive assessment of film critics, Western Egyptology censored some of the “freedoms” that Abdessalam had taken regarding the historical events. This judgment did not consider the intentions of the work, which are not those of a documentary that describes more or less faithfully the events of the spring of 1881. The Mummy is a parable about the identity of contemporary Egypt, shot in a difficult decade for the country, through the queries of a young man faced with a terrible secret: his family survives on the systematic looting of a group of coffins, those of their ancestors –of themselves– hidden in the Theban mountains. The gurnaui main character has a fictitious name, Uanis -his relatives are just “mother”, “brother” or “uncles” – while the names of the archaeologists are real (Gaston Maspero, Ahmed Kamal) as well as that of his community, the Hurubat. These, indeed, included the Abd el-Rasul family –not mentioned as such in the film– the historical discoverers of the royal mummies’ cachette.

Here begins the relationship –completely accidental, as is well understood– between the film and the activities of the SACP. The Abd el-Rasul family lived until 2007 in Rasayla, the house built around Irtieru’s courtyard. In fact, this was its central feature, a sun court with porticos on the north and south sides still concealed by the remains of the mud brick houses. Its rear rooms reached Karakhamun’s pillared halls. I do not have reliable information on the location of this family’s residence in 1881. Perhaps some of the readers of the SACP blog could provide consistent data on this particular. They may have lived already where they were known, in Rasayla, or very near, since twenty years after the actual events related in the movie, Robert Mond’s report on his archaeological activities in 1902 called TT 209, which is very close in the wadi Khatasum, as the tomb “near the house of the Abd el-Rasul”.

After the burial of Uanís’ father, at the beginning of the film, the uncles present their condolences to the family. The conversation turns to the obligation of the deceased’s children to respect the way of life of the family and keep the secret about the looting of the coffins. The scene takes place in the home of the fictitious Abd el-Rasul. The setting represents a tomb whose access is a ramp with a flight of central stairs and side ramps as in most late tombs. It is most intriguing that even if it is a Theban tomb, the walls do not appear decorated with the colourful scenes that characterize those of the New Kingdom. They are covered with carved columns of hieroglyphic texts without colour, a specific feature, again, of Late Period tombs, even if in those the signs could be filled with coloured pigments. This wall decoration is austere and therefore closest to the spirit of the film. But, at the same time, the similarity with Karakhamun’s tomb (and others of the Late Period) is evident. Did Shadi Abdel Salam ever get inside the house of the real Abd el-Rasuls? A part of the movie’s scenes were shot in the West Bank, therefore it is not impossible: this family’s ancestors were the main characters of the film and he was a person with a deep interest in history. Did he ever see Karakhamun’s tomb, at the back of Rasayla, and still accessible in the 1960s, when the director was preparing and shooting the movie? Was it the inspiration for the aforementioned setting? The similarities between both of them are evident.

In the aforementioned scene, the condolences are presented to Uanis’ mother, a woman dressed in the black garments of a widow, sitting with dignity on a dikka, and surrounded by respect for her figure and her words. Mixing reality, film and my own imagination, every time I enter tomb TT 390, that of Irtieru, accessed through the ruins of the Abd el-Rasuls’ courtyard, I cannot stop thinking about this scene. And we enter this tomb many times during the campaigns of the SACP. The underground part of the tomb is fully excavated and now hosts pottery, bones and the fragments of decoration from Karakhamun’s Burial Chamber being studied by SACP team members. The actual Irtieru was a female scribe, as stated by the titles in her tomb. And at each entrance to her tomb, I imagine Irtieru the Wise, completely dressed in black –it is anachronic, I know– sitting with total dignity on a carpet, with a similar gesture to that of the movie character on her dikka. She leans slightly at my entrance and tries to whisper her advice in my ear: where to place again each block of decoration that has dropped from the ceiling and walls.

The film can be seen on Youtube. There are several versions, some include English subtitles.

The short films by Shadi Abdelsalam, most of them with an Egyptian subject, are also accessible through Youtube. For example, The Eloquent Peasant.

A commentary on the film The Mummy, written by the author of these lines is accessible through Academia.edu (in Spanish).

The last stories of the 2014 season written by Kenneth Griffin and Marion Brew will be featured in the next blog entry.