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More secrets from Karnak
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 16 - 06 - 2005

The discovery of a life-sized dyad statue of a Middle Kingdom Pharaoh and the reconstruction of two prestigious monuments are among the latest achievements of the Franco-Egyptian archaeological team working at Karnak Temple in Luxor. Nevine El-Aref tours the site
At the Karnak Temple, history has a special scent and taste. Within its pylons is amassed an unsurpassed assembly of soaring obelisks, awe- inspiring chapels, and splendid sanctuaries reflecting the spectacular life and great civilisation of Ancient Egypt. Although most of Karnak has been thoroughly excavated, the temple still conceals and occasionally reveals more of the Pharaohs' secrets and mysteries.
Last week, during the annual inspection tour carried out by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) to check on the latest achievements of the French Egyptian mission at Karnak Temple, one part of a rare limestone dyad (pair statue) of the 13th- Dynasty Pharaoh Neferhotep I was announced. After being buried for nearly 3,600 years in the temple ruins, the statue of Neferhotep, whose name means "beautiful and good", was uncovered by archaeologists from the Centre Franco-Egyptien D'Etude des Temples de Karnak (CFEETK) in a niche 1.5m below the foundation pit of Hatshepsut's obelisk at the Wadjyt hall. It is a life-sized statue of the Pharaoh in the customary royal striding position, wearing the royal head-cloth nemes and holding a mace in one hand. The forehead bears an emblem of a cobra, which Ancient Egyptians used as a symbol on the crown of their Pharaohs. They believed that the cobra would spit fire at approaching enemies.
The style of the statue is typical of Middle Kingdom royal art, as reflected in the pleats of the nemes, the large ears, and the stern expression. The second half of the statue is still buried in sand and waiting to be unearthed, but according to archaeologists there are several obstacles to be overcome. Architect François Larché, former head of the CFEETK, told Al-Ahram Weekly that uncovering the second part of the statue and lifting out the dyad would be a critical operation requiring accuracy and specialised techniques.
The part of the statue already revealed suggests that the two figures are holding hands, and shows Neferhotep's cartouche carved between their shoulders. Larché said the uncovered part of the statue was blocked by the remnants of an ancient portico, while the second was still hidden under the foundations of Hatshepsut's obelisk. "In an attempt to raise it, the portico has to be dismantled. The obelisk might be removed temporarily from its current location until the process is completed," Larché said.
Any question of lifting the statue sparks uproar among Egyptologists, who are divided into two groups; French architects and Egyptologists are totally in support of action, citing the fact that this is a unique statue of a Pharaoh of who has few representations, as well as its being a valuable addition to the overwhelming number of monuments at Karnak Temple. On the opposing side are Egyptian Egyptologists, who fear an unpredictable disaster that might lead to major damage to the obelisk or the portico.
To put an end to the debate Zahi Hawass, secretary- general of the SCA, has assigned a professional committee of French and Egyptian architects, archaeologists and restorers to discuss the issue and decide on a solution. "We cannot remove a whole temple to unearth a statue," Hawass commented.
A similar statue ascribed to Neferhotep I was unearthed in 1904 in the Court of the Cachette and is now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
According to Larché, the discovery suggests the existence of an important installation in this zone at some point before the New Kingdom (1569- 1081), along with the buried calcite base and Osirian sandstone statues excavated in the foundations of southern Wadjyt hall.
Holeil Ghali head of Upper Egypt Antiquities said the discovery came about during regular excavation work in the Wadjyt hall, which begun last October with a small sounding in disturbed areas of the courtyard pavement. The exploration was part of a comprehensive research programme being carried out since 2002 in the central zone of Karnak and aiming to clarify understanding of the various phases of construction of the sanctuary from the Middle Kingdom to the reign of Amenhotep III (1410-1372). It is also hoped to shed more light on the different stages of construction of this area during the 13th Dynasty, as well as to analyse the vestiges found in the foundations that testify to its former occupation.
Neferhotep was the 22nd ruler of the 13th Dynasty. The son of a temple priest in Abydos, he ruled Egypt from 1696-1686 BC. Experts believe that his father's position helped him to ascend the throne, since there was no royal blood in his family. Neferhotep was one of the few Pharaohs whose name did not invoke the sun god Re. It is written on a number of stones including a document on his reign found in Aswan.
The inspection team also visited the temple's open- air museum where a number of royal chapels are on display after being dismantled, restored and re- erected. This year the calcite chapel of Amenhotep II (1454-1419), which has been re-erected at the entrance, is the highlight of the open-air exhibition. Blocks of this chapel were found within the walls of the Temple of Mut, which is far from its original location -- determined by analysts to be between Tuthmose I's two obelisks in front of the Fourth Pylon.
Amenhotep II chose this location in an attempt to make use of the obelisks' strength to hold and support the ceiling of his chapel. During the reign of Ramses II, blocks of the chapel were reused as plaques to describe the Pharaoh's marriage to the daughter of the Hittite king after the signing of the historic peace treaty between the two rulers.
Sabri Abdel-Aziz head of the Ancient Egyptian Department in the SCA said the conservation and preservation focussed on cleaning and checking the cohesion of the stones and treating them with auxiliary consolidation. The cleaning of the wall faces has been completed, while the installation of the coloured coatings is in process on both the chapel and the reproduction of the obelisks.
Monuments built by Amenhotep I (1545-1525 BC) have their part in the reconstruction process. Some 1,400 blocks of his temple found within the structure of the Third Pylon, the Cachette Court and the north corner of the temple precinct are now being restored pending reconstruction in the open-air museum. Architectural study of the blocks will permit the reconstruction of Amenhotep I's temple and its transformation up to the reign of Hatshepsut. According to Emmanuel Laroze, the new head of CFEETK, once the plan is finished and the blocks restored the rebuilding project will be implemented.
The Karnak Temple's central zone was also on the inspection tour. There, another dismantling, restoration, photographing and rebuilding project is taking place, this time on the gate erected by Seti II. Larché said that while carrying out the work it was found that Tuthmose III had built walls on both sides of the axis of the Forth Pylon courtyard, their faces turned towards the axis and decorated with a large part of the text of the Pharaoh's Annals. Each wall was perforated by a door which gave access to two new courtyards, one on the north and one on the south. The wall enclosing the southern of the two courtyards was dismantled by Seti II and many of the blocks reused.
While archaeologists were taking apart the eastern part of Seti II's wall, several decorations dedicated to Tuthmose III were uncovered. The western end of the wall extending the periphery was also revealed. The exposed side was decorated with a very beautiful scene showing the Pharaoh in front of the god Amun.
Houses used by the priests of Karnak and located beside the sacred lack have also been restored, as well as statues and entrances to the Fourth Pylon. In collaboration with Memphis University, the last part of a relief featuring military scenes found on the external south wall of the Hypostyle Hall has been restored and documented.
In an attempt to shed more light on the various construction stages of the area enclosed between the Middle Kingdom court and the Fourth Pylon, Rashid Migalaa, a member of the Egyptian team, has fabricated a wooden model of this area. This model will be put on display in a suitable place within the Karnak precinct.
At the end of the tour Laroze led the delegation to the Hypostyle Hall of Amun Re, where a century ago French archaeologist George Legrain found the splendid statues of the Karnak Cachette. Here a photographic exhibition shows 12 black and white photographs of the 1904 excavation. Workmen are shown in action removing limestone blocks, brushing the sand off a statue and pulling on a thick rope with a huge granite object attached to its end. Photographs of some of the statues are also exhibited.
"This is a new trend to be implemented," Laroze told the Weekly. He said the new exhibition revealed this unique discovery, one of the most important in Karnak, in a new light. It will also provide visitors to the temple with information about the objects that have been found and are now exhibited in both the Luxor and the Egyptian museums. More photographs will be added to the display in the future.
Over the next archaeological season the CFEETK will complete the excavation at the eastern side of Karnak Temple so as to provide a path for visitors which will enable them to admire the remains of the various epochs of Egyptian history.


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