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Expanding on the cult of Osiris
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 05 - 02 - 2009

Studying and restoring a part of Egypt's ancient history at Karnak Temples was the task of the Franco-Egyptian Research Centre of Karnak in 2008, Nevine El-Aref reports
The work undertaken by the Franco- Egyptian Research Centre of Karnak Temples (CFEETK) in 2008 was slightly different from in previous years. Last year's study focussed on restoration more than excavation. The site that took up much of the centre's attention was the Osirian cults and featured the chapel of Osiris Wennefer Neb-Djefau, the path of Ptah and the neighbouring chapels of Osiris Neb-Neheh and Nebankh-Pa-Usheb-Iad, as well as the temples of Osiris from Coptos, Opet and Khonsu.
To achieve an efficient progress in restoration at the chapel of Osiris Wennefer Neb-Djefau, the CFEETK had to continue excavation in the area in an attempt to complete the plan of the mud- brick walls that surround the chapel.
Egyptologist Laurent Coulon said that comparing archaeological investigations carried out at the chapel's south eastern façade and its east- western side opened to the Ptah path had given a better understanding of the stratigraphy and more clearly define the methods used for the foundation of the wall around the first gate of the sanctuary.
"Excavation and observation of the debris found between the chapel and the Ptah path, which were in a thicker level around the chapel's outer wall, provided more information about the construction of the chapel," Coulon pointed out. He explained that the information showed the chapel seemed to have been reconstructed at some point between the 30th Dynasty and the Ptolemaic era, while the thicker part of the debris proved that the wall continued until it reached the Ptah path. The steep slope between the chapel and the path indicated that no earlier construction was established there.
Three fire areas associated with an activity of bronze working, one of which was fitted out with bricks, were also found at the south-east of the chapel. A number of coins and some bronze slag were also uncovered in these structures, probably linked with the making of statuettes of Osiris found in the sector in 2003.
Cleaning work continued at the chapel of Osiris Neb-Neheh in a very confined way, especially in the perspective of removing the blocks lying in the dust. New reused blocks were discovered. The most significant was a fragment of a lintel showing Ankhnesneferibra, god Amun's wife playing a sistrum in front of Amun and followed by the great overseer Padineith. Emphasis was placed on the restoration of the blocks, which were found in a very bad state of conservation. Among them was a much damaged one showing Amun and Khonsu. A fragment of the façade of the naos, which bears the beginning of a hymn to Osiris engraved on the north doorjamb, was placed back in its original position.
Restoration of the chapel of Osiris Neb-Ankh- Pa-Usheb-Iad continued after it was reconstructed last year. Restorer Agnes Oboussier said that this year the walls were cleaned to preserve the paintings, which on its turn allowed for the completion of the epigraphic documentation.
The ceramics uncovered inside the large mud- brick building behind the chapel contained several coherent elements dating back to the 26th, 27th and 30th dynasties. The levels posterior to the last activities of the building delivered abundant sherds dating back to the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Among these sherds appeared some Mediterranean imports or productions coming from bordering countries, such as amphorae from Cyprus, Phoenicia and the Aegean area.
Archaeologist Mohamed Hussein said that analysis of the pottery uncovered inside deep pits revealed that during the Ptolemaic period the southern part of the building had been dismantled. The most significant elements, often in a very fragmentary shape, were Egyptian amphorae in brown Nile clay, characterised by a high neck decorated with a network of streaks as well as cups, small convex dishes and bowls of Hellenic tradition. Pots and vessels with floral decoration painted in black were also identified.
The second campaign of study of the temple of Osiris from Coptos, located at the north-eastern area of the temenos or sacred enclosure of Amun at Karnak, continued this year as part of a larger research programme on the sandstone chapels established around this Osireion.
François Leclère, who carried out the research, said that the aim of the study was to provide a better understanding as to which context the temple was built, which required a larger scale of fieldwork. In 2008, Leclère continued, the survey of sandstone and mud-brick walls of the building was completed, an architectural map of the building was drawn and the epigraphic and photographic survey of decoration and inscriptions of Ptolemy XII and Emperor Tiberius, which are still in situ inside the main axial room and on the doorjambs of the chapel, were carried out. Excavation work at the courtyard, especially at the evacuation of the fill of a large pit in the northern part and the exploration of the foundation trench of the entrance portal, had been completed, as well as the excavations of the surrounding areas of the temple found at the eastern and western sides located between the two enclosure walls of Amun.
"The complete cleaning of the north pit of the courtyard showed that it was dug in a massive, mud-brick structure earlier than the temple construction, the complex organisation of which was not still able to be recognised in detail without a fine re-examination," Leclère pointed out.
At the western end of the north wall of the courtyard foundations, a single reused block was brought to light, a column bearing the name of Amenirdis I, while the foundation pit of the main door of the sanctuary delivered most notably the lower part of a doorjamb bearing the name of the 25th Dynasty King Chabaka.
"Brushing the sand and debris of previous excavations off the mud-brick wall of the temple's façade revealed that a possible restoration was perhaps carried out on a part of the façade at the beginning of the Roman time," Leclère said. He continued that cleaning work at the eastern part of the temple had uncovered the existence of a former thick outer wall with a sort of a bastion. Studies on this wall revealed that it could be dated to before the 21st Dynasty and so probably went back to the New Kingdom, but its link with the former great enclosure wall of the Amun Temple was still not clear as a recent study seemed to be able to go back to the end of the 18th Dynasty, especially the reign of Amenhotep III or Horemhab rather than to the reign of Tuthmosis III.
Leclère said that more than 20 scattered blocks were consolidated, and the granite block coming from the bark chapel of Tuthmosis III and reused as the threshold of the main door of the temple was also restored, as well as the stelae of Amenhotep II and Taharqa. Several objects such as bronze coins and faience cobra heads found during cleaning work were also restored.
Archaeologist Emmanuel Laroze said that architectural studies were made of the Opet Temple, in particular those parts that contained pieces of wood in their construction. "It seems henceforth certain that stone blocks were forwarded with a ramp built against the north side of the monument," Larose said. At the courtyard a massif stone foundation was identified as the vestige of an earlier Ethiopian temple.
The restoration at this temple concentrated on the micro-sandblasting of the two main chambers of the temple. The ceiling, the architraves, the lintel and the capitals of the hypostyle hall were cleaned, while the consolidation of the ceiling of the offering room required a temporary scaffolding built in red brick. Metal pieces raised upon the intermediate floor served to maintain broken parts with the ceiling during the implementation of steel reinforcement. The stones of the ceiling were strengthened with a metal structure installed on the roof. The scaffolding was dismantled after this work of consolidation. The ceiling, which is darkened with soot, and five damaged small windows were also restored.
During the restoration of the foundation, a sandstone block belonging to a monument of Tuthmosis III and bearing a dedication text to goddess Opet was found within the structure. "It is a remarkable discovery for the history of the area," said excavator Guillaume Charloux, who added that it was the first time that the existence of the Opet Temple was mentioned under the reign of that Pharaoh. Numerous limestone blocks dating to the same period were also unearthed. Most of these were in a fragmentary state and some were decorated on both sides.
The Temple of Khonsu was also subjected to restoration, especially the area between the Opet and Khonsu temples where a stairway was found last year suggesting that both temples were associated. This part of the mission was devoted to the analysis of Khonsu Temple rituals and reliefs of divinities in order to understand the performance of rite in the temple. "Particular subjects in ramesside rooms were perfectly integrated into this ritual, but the question of their origin is still problematic," Egyptologist J C L Degardin said. He pointed out that comparison with other monuments built at the same period, for example the Medinet Habu Temple on Luxor's west bank, allowed a better understanding of particular architectural organisation.
The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) is currently developing a restoration project for Khonsu Temple, while Chicago House is participating in the project by carrying out a survey on the reused blocks. "The nearness of both Opet and Khonsu temples associates naturally the two teams in a common project of training and developing the south eastern area of the Amun- Re Temple," Degardin said.


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