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Friday, February 8, 2008

We begin now to look at the work being done in the temple this winter. It started January 16, while I was still traveling with the study course, and Chuck Van Siclen has been our Field Director. The primary work for this season consists of two project areas. The first is the west region at the front of the temple proper, directly behind the porch with columns, where two walls were dismantled last summer. We removed nearly thirty columns parts naming Hatshepsut which had been placed in a foundation to broaden the temple during the reign of Thutmose III (ca 1479-1425 BCE). The dismantled walls had been undermined rather profoundly due to the high water table eroding the sandstone blocks, and the west side was more than 7 centimeters lower than it should be. Now we begin the rebuilding of the two dismantled walls – using masonry and impermeable layers to eliminate movement of salts and dampness into the stone placed above. These two photos show the sand base being prepared to rebuild the west-east running wall -- and the masonry wall beginning.

Preparing the sand base
Starting the masonry wall

Work on the wall

 Chuck and Franck Burgos, our stonemason, are particularly having challenges during the rebuilding of the wall, because the level of the stones is confusing and not as anticipated. Over and over Franck re-leveled the blocks removed last summer in order to place them correctly, but always with an error – until finally he recognized the degree of subsidence on the west side of the foundation. During the dismantling this was not apparent because we had not removed the westernmost blocks – only turned them, but it is they that are causing the difficulty in leveling. To the eye no one would even notice, but Franck certainly does, and we will be remedying this situation next month, removing the west blocks entirely before rebuilding the north-south line of stone, the area visible on the left side of the last photo here.

Franck and Chuck in discussion
Working on the wall

The other area of work concentration is the north wall of the temple porch, on the east side. We dismantled and rebuilt the remainder of this wall in 2006 and took from it the decorated blocks that had been reused there from the original stone temple when the wall was rebuilt around 700 BCE. Those blocks were conserved and restored and are now on display at the rear of the temple. The stone that was not decorated and was entirely disintegrated was buried on the site, and the wall was rebuilt with newly quarried stone. Now we are completing this work at the east end of the wall, and you can easily see how poor the quality of the stone material and the construction are.

North wall of temple porch
North wall of temple porch

Kent, Hiroko and Betsy
Kent at work

Our team this winter is small but designed to tackle the specific tasks at hand: the two wall areas and the continued documentation of material, by drawing and photography. Here you see Betsy with Hiroko Kariya and Kent Severson, both superb stone conservators. They are assessing and treating the blocks from the walls both before and after removal. Because of Franck’s careful dismantling techniques, that edge the blocks away from adjacent stone before lifting, we are able to see any decorated surfaces before removal – unless it is face down. This allows the conservators to be proactive and to limit the action of drying and salt migration. Just keeping the stone damp and covered helps the process greatly, so all the decorated blocks are being moved to the mastaba platforms where they are covered with cotton and plastic.

Hiroko working on a block

Hiroko works on a fragile block still in situ. There are several at this lower level of the wall so there is time to consolidate before removal. Another block that was far more deteriorated had to be removed in pieces. Kent and Hiroko work to conserve its carved and painted surface, which depicts the shoulder and beard of a god.

Hiroko at work
Kent and Hiroko

Two blocks reused in the wall creation: one with the head of the falcon-headed moon god Khonsu is beautifully painted; the other, placed upside down in the wall, may be part of an architrave and has extremely large scaled hieroglyphs that formed part of the stock phrase ending royal epithets: “like Re forever”.  The cobra (from ‘forever’) is beautifully worked!

Block with head of Khonsu
Block with hieroglyphs


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