Mummification Museum Lecture - Ted Brock Karnak and Luxor
Dewatering project at Karnak and Luxor TemplesDr Edwin Brock 5th November 2006
The project was inaugurated in January last year by Dr Zahi Hawass and specialist form the US and Sweden. It is expected to finish at the end of this month.
The reason it was needed was that Karnak and Luxor temples, (in fact all temples in Egypt) were at risk from the rising water table.
This has been caused by irrigation especially of water hungry crops like sugar cane. This means the foundations of the temples are constantly in contact with water. The capillary action within the stone draws the water up and natural evaporation causes slats to be deposited on the surface or just underneath he surface of the stone. This then crystallises below the surface of the stone and forces the stone o separate. The surface is pushed out and this causes the loss of decoration. Additionally the constant moisture itself makes the stone to revert to its original state of sand. Eventually the block itself disintegrates. This affects limestone at well as sandstone.
A consortium of Egyptian, US and Swedish companies and people is addressing the problem. The Supreme Council of Antiquities is the client, it is financed by US and Sweden; SWECO project manage with the work actually being done by EGYCO.
At 10 metres below the surface they are using perforated collection pipes with gravity flow to a pumping station. Also 20 metres they have deep well drainage to deal with artesian water. The plan is to lower the water table by 2 meters.
The Chevrier ditch was an early 1920’s attempt to deal with the problem but it was not successful because the design was poor using an open ditch which rapidly filled with debris, plant life and the sides crumbled. However as it was already there the team decided to make use of it. The old pumping station form that attempt may be converted into an industrial museum.
Firstly a level 73 metres above sea level was identified and the pipes were laid 10 -12 metres below that. There are man holes for inspections. Temporary dewatering wells were needed in order to clear the sites for excavation. There are 2 pump stations with cement caissons, 12 metres high.
At Luxor the pumping station is situated in the S/E corner and when it is finished the area will be landscaped. The discharge pipe goes through an old tunnel under the Corniche. As at Luxor there was no existing trench they had dig from fresh and although there was a plan this was changed when antiquities were found laying in the path of the trench.
At Karnak it was anticipated there would be little problems with the antiquities as the excavation of the Chevrier ditch had already uncovered them. However there were two areas which they anticipated might be a problem. One, where the trench cut across the avenue of sphinxes, and the other, in the area of the Aten Temple.
A part of the project was the need to monitor the impact of the dewatering both during the excavation and ongoing through the life of the project. This was achieved with a mixture of Tilt Beam and Crack sensors. The readings are taken 2 -3 times a week and so far there has been no significant movement. Slides were shown of the various sensors in situ one crack beam sensor at Luxor temple at the mosque and another at Karnak on top of a pillar. Care had been taken that the cables did not obscure the reliefs. At Karnak there is one architrave that is partially support which is being carefully monitored. There is a tilt beam monitor at the 10th pylon and crack monitor at the 2nd pylon. The gateway of Ptolemy III at the Khonsu temple is another critical area.
The team has the responsibility of noticing antiquities, removing them from the route of the trenches if possible or moving the line of the trench if not. Test pits are dug before excavation takes place in order to establish the presence of antiquities. At Luxor temple test pits were dug in the proposed area of the pumping station and antiquities of late Roman and medieval times were found. House foundations with reused pharaonic blocks. There are a lot Roman remains at Luxor temple because it was converted into a Roman fortress around the 3rd centenary AD. The site of the pump station was altered because of the remains of Roman fortifications. Brick channels both red brick and mud brick were found. Frustratingly further excavation of the area had to be stopped because of the water table. There is great excitement that once the water table is lowered further excavation would be possible and many more things may be uncovered. The purpose of this project is not excavation so what they are trying to do is establish a map of signposts so that future excavations know where to start.
They have found lots of pottery from the Late Roman and Christian times. As well as coins, one from the time of Diocletian post 294 AD and many others from 379 AD.
The route of the discharge pipe also had to be changed because of the discovery of antiquities and Dr Brock noted the cooperation of the engineers when this happened.
Some discoveries posed question about the origin of the site as blocks of Thothmosis IV were found. Where did these come from? Was there a previous structure or were these brought here.
An example of a late Ptolemaic statue with an odd fringed robe was found. Various architectural elements column bases etc. Decorated blocks. An interesting limestone block with 3 images of the pharaoh whose origin was not known. A rare statue of the king in a smiting pose.
A partial block statue of Akhameneru was found with its head missing. His tomb is located near Harwa and he is known from several sculptures. There was a God’s wife of Amun but missing the names from the Late Period.
The trench was parallel to the Roman wall so they were concerned it would cut across the Eastern Gateway. It was made of reused blocks. A tower was found with 7 or 8 courses of bricks, there could have been more but the excavation time was limited. There were decorated clocks of Amenhotep III, Rameses III reused in the tower. Also medieval house foundations reused various blocks such as a solar court block, talatat with the names of the Aten, Nefertiti, and Akhenaton in a sed garment. 25th dynasty blocks. The walls of the old church also incorporated blocks. The trench crosses the avenue of sphinxes with their circular planters the trench line was moved to be between two sphinxes.
At Karnak the area of El Baharwah revealed sandstone blocks of Ptolemy XII dedicated to Khonsu Neferhotep and this was another shrine that has to be left for future excavation but at least they know where to start.
Investigations where the trench crossed the avenue of sphinxes were made but no sphinxes were found in the area of the trench. The pavement was removed and will be restored when the project is finished.
The sacred lake was dredged so that as the water level is reduced it remains a lake of water. The material from the dredging was captured and investigated; the slides showed a picture of when the lake had been drained before and most material removed however some things were found this time.
In the area of the Aton temple where Chevrier found the Akhenaton Colossus the team found a middle kingdom structure so the trench was shifted to the west. Ceramic material was recovered; it appears that there was a settlement to the East, south and North of Karnak.
The testing and installation should be finished in a month’s time and the results should start to appear a month after that.
In the question and answer session
The area of the Presidium (Luxor temple) which was a cult place dedicated to the deified emperor, holding the treasury and standards of the imperial army was discussed. Although many of the frescos had been removed lots remained and these were being restored by Chicago house. It was clarified that this was not a church but the art is related to early Coptic art.
The team is assigned to monitor movement for one year. If anything significant happens then the dewatering will stop until the change can be assessed, a reason ascertained and stabilised. An area of concern is the obelisk at Luxor temple which has a tilt to the Est.
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November 4th, 2006