Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 3, 2016

Our Last Days for the Season

Catharine Roehrig

Yesterday was our last day of work at the site. We spent the morning finishing up with drawing small finds, sorting pottery, and overseeing the workmen covering the excavated areas with sand.

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Workmen carrying sand to cover the site

Our inspector, Shereen, wanted to have a photograph taken of those of us who are still here, and we took another photo of the excavation crew after the last basket of sand was put in place.

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Janice, Diana, Shereen, and Catharine with our spectacular backdrop, the Theban cliffs

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Excavation with Diana at the end of the day

Today we took our small finds to the magazine and packed up the equipment for next year. And late yesterday afternoon, they finally got the electricity hooked up for our guard house (upper right in the photo above)!

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Catharine, Shereen, and Diana at the Palace

February 3, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 2, 2016

The Guardhouse

Diana Craig Patch

Last season the Inspectorate of the Antiquities of the West Bank asked us to consider building a guardhouse at Malqata to aid in the site’s protection. Each year JEM has undertaken to do something to improve the state of the site. So we agreed to build this structure for the MSA. We chose a high natural hill that doesn’t have any cultural material associated with it –west of the West Settlement and the North Village− and provides a great lookout for the main structures of the site. Last year we dug the foundation and put up the walls, the roof, and installed windows. The guardhouse seemed virtually done.

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The guardhouse, plastered and waiting for its hiba coating

Well we were wrong because a group of ten workmen have been working very hard for three weeks giving it the finishing touches. They applied a mudplaster surface to all walls inside and out and then added two more coats to make the building a desert color while protecting it a bit from rain. They added a concrete floor and concrete surfaces to the eight mastabas or benches that are against each wall inside and out. One of our talented workmen installed all the wiring for the circuit breakers, switches, sockets, and plugs.

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The finished guardhouse

The last unfinished step, a big one, was connecting the guardhouse to electricity. The company came last week and laid the large cable but were unable to finish the timer and hook up to the main power. Apparently that happened this evening, so we hope to see lights in the new guardhouse and satisfied guards, who will help protect the site.

February 2, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 1, 2016

Lost and Found

Diana Craig Patch

During work in the area west of the Audience Pavilion, we have consistently recovered small molds made from pottery. The fabric is Nile clay tempered with fine sand, and frequently with lots of coarse sand, which I refer to in my notes as grit. Grit for me is very visible as little dark irregular chunks.

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Mold for a round-petalled rosette

The molds were used to make the beautiful little faience ornaments like the mandrake featured in an earlier blog (An Ancient Egyptian Aphrodisiac). The most common image that we have collected is that of a rosette. Rosettes come in many varieties: ones with clear rounded petals, ones where the petals are long and thin so the rosette looks ridged, and ones I refer to as “spotted.” (I am sure there is a more elegant or technical term, but for now I know exactly what a “spotted” one is!)

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Mold for a “ridged” rosette

The people who were producing these ornaments would press faience paste into the mold to take the impression, which would then be trimmed and set it aside to dry. When dry the faience would be baked to harden it and produce the shiny bright blue color that is so familiar to us. At Malqata though, one finds other faience colors besides turquoise; dark blue, yellow, and even green faience occur.

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Mold for a “spotted” rosette

The other day we collected a piece of “plaster” in a level in N150 E180, the square where we have excavated the most this year in this site. Yesterday I had a chance to study it and noted the ball was evenly round and closer observation made me realize that the material wasn’t plaster, but a white substance with grit: faience. I am guessing that one ancient Egyptian workman’s task was to make little round balls of faience for another workman to press into a mold. He lost one and we just found it!

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Faience “preform” ready to be pressed into a mold

February 1, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | January 31, 2016

Out in the Desert – Again

Catharine Roehrig

Yesterday, Joel’s last day at the site, we went for a walk along the ancient roadway that borders Malqata to the west. Behind the Amun Temple, the roadway is raised and easy to see, but in other areas, where the elevation of the desert is higher, it becomes invisible. We decided to follow it south as far as we could, and we found this easier than we had expected. For example, the roadway forms a ridge that almost blocks the wadi to the south of the Coptic monastery, Deir el-Moharab.

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Raised roadway blocking the wadi south of the monastery

A bit farther south, there is another raised section that continues for about 100 yards. And each time we encountered a wadi, the remnants of the roadway were visible.


On the raised roadway heading south

Along the way, the road turns southeast at two points until it is heading straight for Deir el-Shalwit, a temple that honors the goddess Isis. Although the current temple is from the Roman period, there was almost certainly some sort of shrine there during the Eighteenth Dynasty, and probably before. On the way to this shrine, the road would also have passed by the Kom el-Samak, a small shrine built by Amenhotep III and excavated by Waseda University in the 1970s. (See Malqata South)

We finally lost all trace of the roadway just south of the power lines at the southwest corner of the Birket, but we could see its final destination about half a mile away.

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Deir el-Shalwit and Kom el-Samak in the distance

January 31, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | January 30, 2016

Analyzing the King’s Plasters

Alexandra Winkels •

This season, I had the pleasure of working with the Joint Expedition to Malqata (JEM) team for twelve days to analyze the site’s archaeological mortars and plasters. As a freelance wall painting conservator and conservation scientist I am performing a research- and PhD project investigating mortars and plasters in Ancient Egyptian wall painting and architecture from the pre-dynastic and pharaonic periods, and into the Greco-Roman period. Malqata, as one of the two preserved ancient Egyptian royal cities, is of course a very interesting place to examine which different mortar and plaster materials have been used for the construction of architecture and the decoration of architectural surfaces.

As the analysis had to be carried out on site, I set up my mobile “field laboratory,” with portable photographic and analytical equipment, in the old mud brick guard house next to the King’s Palace. Though it got a bit crowded at times, I enjoyed sharing the tiny room with hundreds of clay plaster fragments with elaborate bright colored wall painting decoration, uncovered by Peter Lacovara during this season (iMalqata Blog | January 19, 2016).

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The little mud brick guard house turned into a temporary little “field lab” and wall painting shelter.


For the comparative analysis of plaster materials from selected archaeological sites in Egypt I am implementing conservation- and natural scientific methods. Besides the analysis of the chemical-mineralogical composition of the original plasters I also investigate and document technological features that reveal the applied plaster and wall painting technology. At Malqata, I collected small mortar and plaster fragments from several areas of the site in 2015 and 2016. These include the King’s Palace, houses of the North Village, and the Amun Temple. Here is a short glimpse of what I found so far.

In the recent analysis, eight major mortar and plaster types, each being processed for individual technological functions, could be differentiated. For example, dark brown clay mortars, with varying contents of plant fibers as organic fillers and reinforcement, were used as basic floor, wall, and ceiling plasters. In some buildings, however, millimeter-thin yellowish- to brownish-white “plaster washes,” containing a high content of calcium carbonate and marl clay, were applied to floors and walls of selected rooms, and onto several throne platforms within the King’s Palace.

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Cross section of a yellowish-greyish white mortar with upper thin clay and white wash layer used to set and plaster stones of a bathroom basin (iMalqata Blog | February 16, 2015). Below, the cross section of a dark brown clay plaster fragment with white and Egyptian blue paint layers from a ceiling of the King’s Palace.

The most elaborate treatment was given to apparently more significant throne platforms and sections of floor within the palace. In these places, a fine layer of pure lime plaster covers the visible surfaces of the clay-plastered mud brick superstructure. This plaster type is much more stable than clay plaster as it cannot be dissolved in water.

In terms of wall painting technology, the polychrome wall and ceiling paintings of the King’s Palace were created directly on a smoothed clay plaster surface, without the overall interlaying of fine white wash or paint layer that we see in the painted tombs of the Theban necropolis. Aside from this, traditional construction methods were used in the composition of the paintings on the walls and ceilings of the palace as seen in the photograph below.


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Wall painting fragments from the King’s Palace showing lines and drips from a cord string soaked in red color, and traces of red outline drawings that preceded the polychrome paint application.

The color spectrum includes a differentiated use of varying blue and green colors that could be investigated further by visible-induced luminescence (VIL)-imaging (See VERRI, G. (2008): The use and distribution of Egyptian blue: a study by visible-induced luminescence imaging. In: Uprichard, K and Middleton, A, (eds.) The Nebamun wall paintings: conservation, scientific analysis and display at the British Museum. (41 – 50). Archetype: London) Egyptian blue emits a bright luminescence that lies in the infrared range when it is excited by visible fluorescent light. With an infrared-sensitive digital camera, this luminescence can be photographed. A special filter applied in front of the camera lens captures the IR-radiation, but blocks out all visible light. Using this technique, the tiniest traces of Egyptian blue that are not noticeable in visible light can be shown in the digital VIL-image.

In case of the Malqata paintings, the multi spectral imaging method helped to determine that the early synthetic pigment Egyptian blue was used not only in its pure form. Apparently, to achieve brighter bluish green color shades, it was also mixed with Egyptian green and a natural green earth pigment containing glauconite. The latter is a pigment production technique that continued into Roman times.


Wall painting fragment from palace room K1 photographed in visible light and with visible-induced luminescence imaging (levels increased). The outlines of the pure Egyptian blue color application (reduced due to pigment loss) are clearly legible in the VIL image. The bright shining dots in the bluish-green colored paint of the lotus flower show the luminescent pigment grains of Egyptian blue in mixture with Egyptian green.




Detail of a spiral from a ceiling plaster fragment, visible and VIL-image (levels increased); the green colored center of the spiral was painted with a natural green earth pigment containing glauconite. The bright luminescence of pigment grains within the green paint shows the additional intermixture of Egyptian blue.

January 30, 2016


Posted by: iMalqata Blog | January 29, 2016

A Quiet Friday


We spent much of today, our official day off, writing notes and catching up with things at The New Memnon, our home away from home. In the afternoon, we took a quick trip to the east bank to take care of some business at Chicago House and do some last-minute shopping. The weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed our time across the river.


Diana and Catharine enjoy the sunshine as we travel across the river to Chicago House

January 29, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | January 28, 2016

Meanwhile, Out in the Desert: Pots and Pits

Joel Paulson and Catharine Roehrig

The amount of broken pottery found around the palaces and other buildings at Amenhotep’s festival city is staggering considering that the area appears to have been used for only a few months during each of Amenhotep’s three festivals. Even if preparations at the site began a year before each celebration of the king’s Heb-Sed, the city and its villages would have been occupied for only three to four years at most. And the main settlement area is not the only place at the site where one finds masses of pottery from the time of Amenhotep III.


Sherd-scatter photographed in 1917

A century ago, and probably long before, odd features were noted in the desert to the west of Malqata and the Birket Habu. Over a vast area, huge swathes of pot sherds litter the desert surface, and many of the sherds seem to be associated with well dug pits. The pottery includes the same types that are found around the buildings of the festival city, and a large percentage appear to have been large open-mouthed storage jars. But, it’s not just the types of pottery that are of interest – it’s their vast quantity and their unexpected location.

The initial impression is that the pottery was buried in pits and, at some later time, the pits were dug out and the pottery was strewn about. Whether the pots were buried whole and broken when they were dug out, or whether they were broken in some ceremony connected with the Heb-Sed and then buried, is not clear. Either way, they appear to have been smashed on site with groups of sherds from the same jar lying in and around the pits. At this time it’s impossible to make even a crude estimate of the number of pots that the ancient Egyptians took out into the desert to bury.


Joel and our assistant, Feisel, in the distance using the GPS unit to plot a huge concentration of pits and sherds

Another major point of curiosity is the location of the pits and sherds, which extend intermittently in large and small concentrations over an area ranging from a hundred meters (the length of a football field) to almost a kilometer from the King’s Palace. Why the ancient Egyptians would haul the pottery so far from the palace for disposal is one of the mysteries of these pot sherd pits.

For the past two days, we have been surveying the area covered by the sherd pits and scatters to determine their locations and extent. Next season, we will ask permission to study these areas in more detail. Scientific excavation and pottery analysis may help answer some of the questions about the purpose and function of these interesting features.

January 28, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | January 27, 2016

Site K

Peter Lacovara

Thanks to a generous grant from the Institute for the Study of Aegean Prehistory, we were able to survey an interesting and enigmatic feature of Malqata, a strange outlier to the Birket Habu mounds. Called “Site K” by Barry Kemp, who excavated it in the early 1970’s, the place is a small, mysterious mound. When trenched, it appeared to be filled with material from the destruction of a palace decorated with murals on mud plaster. The contents of the mound were sampled and found to contain not only remains of painted decoration similar to that in the King’s Palace where we are working, but also fragments with much more clearly Aegeanizing motifs. Examples are a rosette terrain (a circle or dot design) and wild plants in a rocky landscape that bring to mind paintings like those found on Santorini and Crete.


Recording the stratigraphy at Site K with Mahmoud Mohammed Hussein

The King’s Palace at Malqata also had some Aegean motifs, such as a leaping calf, bull’s heads with rosettes, and running spirals. Daressey reported, but sadly did not illustrate, some other scenes that could have been inspired by Minoan or Mycenaean art.


Ceiling Painting with Bull Heads from the King’s bedroom, Malqata; MMA excavations, 1910–11, Rogers Fund, 1911 (MMA 11.215.451)

Why would these foreign style paintings be in an Egyptian palace? I think it was for the same reason that French furniture was chosen in the Eighteenth Century for the White House in Washington, D.C. and for the Catharine Palace in St. Petersburg. Rulers always like to show their cosmopolitan tastes, and Amenhotep III was certainly no exception.

It has been unclear as to what building these fragments at Site K may have belonged, but one possibility is that it represents an earlier palace that was demolished and re-built elsewhere during the expansion of the Birket. The demolition might also correspond to the later re-orientation of the site. To get a better idea of Site K and how it relates to the rest of Malqata, several sections were drawn through Kemp’s old trenches, which are still visible. These trenches will also be tied into the work of Angus Graham of The Egypt Exploration Society Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey (Searching for the Venice of the Nile) who is making a study of the Birket and the other harbors in the Theban area. Hopefully these studies will add more to our picture of the history of the site and Amenhotep’s grand and ever-changing design.

January 27, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | January 26, 2016

101 Years Ago at Malqata

Catharine Roehrig

In the winter of 1914/15 the Museum’s excavation season was rather short-staffed due to the outbreak of the First World War in Europe. That fall, the first arrivals were Norman De Garis Davies, director of the Graphic Section of the Egyptian Expedition (Met Around the World-The Egyptian Expedition Graphic Section) and a young artist named Hugh Hopgood, both of whom were British. Wanting to employ as many of the Museum’s workmen as possible, Davies oversaw excavations in a number of tombs, including Theban Tomb 52, which belonged to a scribe and “astronomer of Amun” named Nakht who probably served in the reign of Thutmose IV and may well have lived into the reign of his son, Amenhotep III (Facsimile painting from the tomb of Nakht).


Facsimile painting of a wall in the tomb of Nakht, Norman DeGaris Davies and Lancelot Crane, Rogers Fund 1915 (15.3.19b)

In 1914, the upper sections of the tomb were accessible, and the first chamber, with its charming decoration, was well-known. However, the shaft and burial chamber had not been excavated. In the debris that filled the shaft, Davies discovered a small, kneeling statue of Nakht holding a stela inscribed with a hymn to the sun-god Re. As one can see from the black & white photograph taken in Egypt, the paint on the statue was well-preserved, and the only damage to the text was the excision of the name of the god Amun which had occurred during the reign of Akhenaten only a few decades after Nakht’s death. At the end of the excavation season, this statue was given to the Museum in the division of finds. Tragically, it was lost at sea when the ship it travelled in was sunk by a submarine on its way to New York. (For a similar statue, see Statue of Roy)

Davies’s work in the tomb, including the watercolor facsimilies he painted of the decoration (now on display in the SE corner of gallery 135 at the Museum) were published as the first volume of the Robb de Peyster Tytus Memorial Series, which had been funded by the mother of one of Malqata’s early excavators (imalqata-Special Guests).

Part-way through the 14/15 season, another British member of the expedition, Hugh G. Evelyn-White, arrived and began excavating at Malqata in an area north of the King’s Palace on the other side of a cultivated field. Here, remains of another mud brick structure, built on a perpendicular axis to the King’s Palace, were visible on the surface. In the course of the season, a large structure with several outbuildings emerged. Now called the North Palace, it was dubbed White’s Palace in the excavation report. The North Palace is slightly lower in elevation than the King’s Palace. In 1914/15, it was between two cultivated fields. Consequently, it lies very close to the water table and the area is now covered with a healthy, and tenacious stand of halfa grass. At some future date, we hope to work in this area, but for the moment, we try to keep the halfa grass in check.


“White’s Palace,” photographed early in 1915 at the end of the excavation season

January 26, 2016

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | January 25, 2016

An Ancient Egyptian Aphrodisiac

Diana Craig Patch

The small fragile faience ornaments that were collected during the first years the Met excavated at Malqata have always been favorites of mine.   These colorful images of floral elements were probably used to decorate different things, including broad collars. This season one of the images for these pendants, fruit of the mandrake (Mandragora sp.), has appeared on several objects.

The mandrake is a short plant whose leaves occur in a basal rosette on the ground. Found traditionally around the northern and eastern part of the Mediterranean, it appeared in Egypt during the New Kingdom, grown in gardens of the elite members of Egyptian society.

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Ipuy’s garden with a mandrake plant growing along the canal to the right, Rogers Fund, 1930 (30.4.115)

A perennial herbaceous plant, it is best known for its long thick branched root that in many folk cultures were assigned human characteristics. The flowers are greenish white, pale blue, or even violet and its short-stemmed fruit, a berry, is a deep yellow to orange with a calyx in dark green. The fruit was translated into Egyptian imagery as bright yellow fruit whose calyx in paintings is green and in faience, a deep blue.

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A tile illustrating a mandrake plant in a garden, Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.942)

The leaves and root contain deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids, making the plant potentially poisonous. Depending on the amount ingested, which varies from plant to plant, the parts used, and preparation technique, emetic, purgative, and narcotic side effects are likely; a mandrake can cause a toxic overdose. Based on what records survive from antiquity, it appears that the plant was used medicinally. Greek literature suggests possible applications for treating gout, wounds, and sleeplessness; for the Sumerians, it was a remedy for pain.

The mandrake, however, becomes a popular image in Egyptian art because the plant and its berries are associated with the concepts of love and desire, possibly to be achieved or aided by a potion made from the plant. As suggested by Kate Bosse-Griffiths, the mandrake had connotations for male potency and the strengthening of sexual power, especially in the mid to late Dynasty 18.

Nakht banquet with mandrakes.

A young woman at a banquet in Nebamun’s tomb passing mandrake fruit

In love poems and in contexts where rejuvenation is the theme, such as in the festival city of Amenhotep III, we find many images and representations of this beautiful but toxic little fruit.


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A pottery mold from an industrial area (N150, E180) at Malqata used to make faience elements in the shape of mandrake fruit

January 25, 2016

Interesting reading:

Kate Bosse-Griffiths, “The Fruit of the Mandrake in Egypt and Israel,” in Amarna Studies and Other Selected Papers (ed. by J. Gwyn Griffiths), pp. 82-96, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 182 (Fribourg, Switzerland and Göttingen, 2001).

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