Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 24, 2017

A V.I.P. Tour of Karnak

Diana Craig Patch and Janice Kamrin

On Wednesday afternoon, our team was treated to a spectacular tour of new work in the precinct of Amun-Re at Karnak. Our guide was Dr. Mustafa Waziri, Director General of Luxor, whose energy, enthusiasm, and ability to get things done is truly remarkable. We have known Dr. Mustafa for many years now. In 2008,when Zahi Hawass, then head of the antiquities department, agreed that building a wall to protect Malqata was an essential task, Dr. Mustafa supervised and directed the work. As we have said before, this wall saved Malqata!


General view of Karnak, looking west

Karnak is a wonderful site, with remains dating from the Middle Kingdom through to the end of the Pharaonic period and beyond. For more than a century, various institutions and missions from Egypt and abroad have carried out excavation, reconstruction, and conservation work at different monuments within this vast enclosure, but there is still much to be done. In recent years, Dr. Mustafa and his team have made enormous progress, accomplishing an incredible amount in a short time on a shoestring budget. The Governor of Luxor has been a great help, always forthcoming with materials, and Dr. Mustafa expressed his gratitude to the American Research Center in Egypt (especially the Luxor director, John Shearman), which has also provided some of the much-needed supplies.


Looking out over the Middle Kingdom court to the Festival Hall of Thutmose III

One important initiative, now well underway, is the replacement of old cement with new, good quality mortar in the columns and walls of the Festival Hall (Akh-menu) of Thutmose III. This project should be finished in the near future.


A relief scene showing exotic animals and plants, with the new conservation material visible (lower right)

We then walked down a newly created and paved path – excellent as a guide for visitors, both to help them know where to go and to keep them off the more vulnerable parts of the site—to the Eastern Gate, where some of the most impressive work has been done.


The east gate of the precinct, from the Temple of the Hearing Ear

There is a Temple of the Hearing Ear built by Ramesses II that has now been reconstructed and cleared of the halfa grass that made it inaccessible to visitors. This opens up a new vista to the west, and adds greatly to the visitor experience. This was not an easy task, and according to Dr. Mustafa’s description of the work, it seems there were many scorpions lurking among the fallen blocks that sent more than one workman to the hospital!


From left to right: Dr. Mustafa, Diana, Janice, and Joel, flanking a newly-installed offering table (photo by Serenela Pelier)


The Temple of the Hearing Ear, looking west. Note the head of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, which seems to peer over the walls

Dr. Mustafa then left us in the hands of his Chief Workman, Mr. Farouk, who is in charge of all the workmen on the East Bank; his brothers also hold important positions in the antiquities department. The Farouk family has done these jobs for several generations now, and are rightfully proud of their heritage. Mr. Farouk showed us his ongoing reconstruction of a colossal statue of Ramesses II that had been discovered first by his father in the area where the village east of the precinct once drew their water. Most of the statue had been buried for millennia, with the exposed parts used by the local population for a variety of purposes, including as a whetstone and as a pumice stone to soften their calloused feet.

Mr. Farouk with the colossal statue of Ramesses II

Dr. Mustafa is also supervising the reconstruction of a colossal statue of Amun at the Luxor Temple. We only have a few days left to finish our work here, but we are hoping we can find time to go and see this important initiative.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 23, 2017

The Sacred Beetle

Serenela Pelier

Last Saturday one of our workers made an exciting discovery. An Egyptian dung beetle, also known as a scarab beetle, was found within a spoil heap of the Industrial Site that Diana and I are currently excavating. The beetle was already dead when discovered, but that did not reduce our excitement one bit! The presence of the scarab was a wonderful surprise, especially for Catharine and Diana, because even as veteran archaeologists in Egypt they had never come across one before. Intrigued, we asked two of our Egyptian team members, Wallah and Hassan, if they had seen a scarab beetle before. Hassan had seen many of them; however, surprisingly, this was Wallah’s first time so this was an interesting experience for her too.


Scarab found in a spoil heap at the Industrial Site

Several species of the dung beetle, most notably the species Scarabaeus sacer, enjoyed a sacred status among the ancient Egyptians. The scarab beetle was one way the sun god Re could be represented. It was the sun god Re’s role in the daily cycle of renewal that the ancient Egyptians connected to the scarab beetle, whom they named Khepri. The god’s name is homophonous with a verb that means ‘to become’ and makes the connection to rebirth and resurrection. The link between a scarab beetle and the sun comes from the ancient Egyptians’ mistaken assumption that the young beetles hatching from dung balls were acts of self-creation. They also noticed that scarabs rolled their dung balls from east to west and understood this to be the explanation for how the sun moved across the sky: it was pushed by a giant scarab.


Colossal scarab of Amenhotep III, by the Sacred Lake in the temple precinct of Amun-Re at Karnak


Back and base of scarab inscribed with Amenhotep III’s prenomen
Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.6)

The scarab became so important that the ancient Egyptians fashioned amulets in its image; these were popular charms from the end of the third millennium B.C. until the Ptolemaic Period (ca. 300 B.C.). Thousands of these amulets have been found, not only in Egypt but in the Near East and other lands around the Mediterranean Sea as well. They range from naturalistic forms carved in full detail to simplified shapes reduced to a general outline. The bases can display a variety of designs, including hieroglyphic inscriptions, royal names, divine figures, geometric or floral designs, humans, and animals. The sizes of scarabs also vary and can range from small, that is, between 1 and 3 cm, to large, with some examples over 10 cm long. Scarabs have been found in variety of materials, most commonly glazed steatite, but also faience (a type of ceramic that is also glazed), hard stones, and precious metals.

Commemorative scarab inscribed with a text about a lion hunt
Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.264)

Although the majority of scarabs were amulets, during the reign of Amenhotep III, our king, and his son, Amenhotep IV−the latter more commonly known as Akhenaten− large scarabs were commissioned to glorify the king and commemorate his accomplishments. Such scarabs were made to be distributed throughout Egypt and Egyptian territories, spreading news through their inscriptions. Texts recorded on these historical scarabs concern marriages, wild bull hunts, lion hunts, jubilees, and the creation of an artificial lake.


Scarab with the name of Amenhotep III. Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.4)

Surprisingly we have yet to find a scarab at Malqata. Perhaps one of these days we will get lucky!

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 22, 2017

Hot Air Balloons Over Malqata

Janice Kamrin

Going up in a hot-air balloon is a great way to see (and photograph) the landscape and monuments of Luxor, although it is not for the faint of heart. Members of our team have taken balloon rides in the past, and gotten some good aerial images of Malqata and its surroundings.


The balloons go out first thing in the morning, and have usually landed by 7:00 or 7:30. We see them out of our window when we wake up, and often watch them in the distance as we head out to the excavation site.


However, the balloons are to some extent at the mercy of the wind, and every once in a while, a balloon will actually land at Malqata, near or even on the ancient remains. This is of course terrible for the site.


We had two balloons pass right over Malqata today – one made it just past the King’s Palace to land outside the “French House,” but the second landed on the road between the West Villas and the West Settlement, with the balloon itself collapsing right on top of the ancient remains.


It is a difficult balancing act for the team. On the one hand we want to support an activity that tourists enjoy and brings much-needed income to the local population, but we are committed to protecting a unique and fragile archaeological site for future generations. We want people in the years to come to be able to marvel at Malqata’s survival and learn about its importance from the archaeological remains we are preserving, and to be able to continue to see Malqata from the air.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 21, 2017

Digging the West Settlement

Janice Kamrin

For those of our readers who know nothing about excavating in Egypt, this blog’s for you.

This is our third season in the West Settlement, which, as you may recall, is the area between the West Villas and Diana’s Industrial Site, west of the North Village. We began at the south end of the site, and as we move to the north, we continue to uncover traces of walls that follow the same alignment exposed in seasons 1 and 2. Last year, we found large quantities of pottery, bones, and charcoal. The squares that we have excavated so far this season have produced the same type of material, but far less of it, and we have hardly any small finds. As we move up the slope, the site seems to be petering out, perhaps because it was higher and more exposed to the elements, or maybe because we are reaching the northern boundary. We are excavating the adjacent squares to the north and west now, so hopefully we will know more by the end of the season.


View of the 2016 excavations, looking southwest. In the distance are the West Villas.

When I say we, I mean a whole team of people. I am the site supervisor for the West Settlement. Diana is the “mudira” (director) for the whole settlement area, while Peter is in charge of the palace. Both Diana and Peter are very experienced archaeologists, and I consult with them regularly to make sure I understand what we are uncovering and to decide where to go and what to do next.


Consulting with Diana as we work in the West Settlement

At the West Settlement, we work in 5-meter squares, laid out by our surveyor, Joel Paulson, on a grid aligned with the cardinal points. We put stakes in at each corner, and run strings from north to south and east to west. After we got tired of tripping over the stakes, we started putting empty water bottles over them so we could see them better, but the strings can still be a hazard! We name our squares according to their southwest corners, so, for example, I just finished working in N150/E135 and am now working one square directly north, in N155/E135. We started in the 2015 season at N120/E125, and have cleared fifteen squares so far.


Plan of the West Settlement, from the 2015-16 excavations

Within each square, we first remove the surface layer, which is generally full of large to medium pebbles in a silty matrix. There are usually sherds, but since these could come from anyplace on the site, we only keep the “diagnostic” ones (more on that later). We sometimes find interesting bits and pieces like beads, which we keep and record, but with the understanding that they may not be part of the original history of the area but may have been blown or washed in from someplace else.


Mahmoud (left) and Gahalan (right) working in the West Settlement

Most of the actual excavation is done by two skilled “trowel men,” Gahalan Mohamed Sayed Mahmoud and Mahmoud Mohamed Hassan Mohamed. These men have been with me since the first season, and have really gotten to know and understand the terrain. The West Settlement (like the North Village) is a difficult site, as we are tracing walls of which in most cases only a part of the lowest foundation brick remains. My team has to work very carefully so that they do not inadvertently remove important material. They use, as their unofficial title suggests, trowels and also large brushes.

Gahalan and Mahmoud work a few centimeters at a time, scraping away the surface with their trowels or sweeping with their brushes, paying close attention to features and fill. If the color or consistency changes significantly, they stop so we can decide what to do. They have gotten very good at identifying the different kinds of cultural remains – the walls, of course; tumbled mud brick from decayed walls, most of which is just little jumbled bits and pieces, but some of which we find just as it fell in ancient times; depositional layers of pebbly silt; desert surface, which can be quite hard and uneven, but can also be a little softer and more level; and every once in a while a bit of a level surface associated with the walls.

The fill that Gahalan and Mahmoud clear from the square is swept into a plastic dust pan by a young man with a mattock (a larger, rectangular trowel) and dumped into a “basket” – actually a rubber bucket with short handles. Our “in-betweener,” as I like to call him, is also named Gahalan, although we also sometimes have a younger Mahmoud. I think it’s just a coincidence that the West Settlement trowel men and in-betweeners have the same names! Gahalan the Younger helps our basket carriers, Mohamed Qenawi, Mohamed Ali, and Ehab Mishrigi load the buckets onto their shoulders so they can take the debris off to the dump, which is off to the west in an area that we think has no cultural remains underneath.


Gahalan Jr. helps Mohamed load a basket onto his shoulder

We work down, level by level, in 5 to 10 cm. strata. As we move to the north, the site slopes up, and it seems that the ancient builders terraced the walls that they built here. So we can’t work completely in consistent, level layers, but have to adjust somewhat to the natural contours of the site. As we go, we collect pottery sherds in yellow plastic bags labeled with the part of the square and the level in which we are working. Animal bones and plant remains such as charcoal go in smaller bags along with tags recording the same sort of information. We try to identify distinctive deposits and features so that we can assign feature numbers, which gives us a more exact location for the material (especially animal bones and plant remains) we find. We often leave features pedestalled so that I can map them properly onto our master plan. We also record the location within the square and level for our small finds. I takes notes about the work as we go, describing the matrices that we are digging through, recording feature numbers and descriptions, assigning object numbers to the small finds, and just generally trying to keep track of what’s going on.

As each level is completed, Gahalan and Mahmoud clean the exposed surfaces so that Catharine, our field photographer, can come and take a series of photographs. I also photograph the animal bones, and draw the small finds. Catharine has a field setup over near our lunch canopy, and, when the wind allows, she takes photos of the small finds.


Catharine in her field studio by the lunch canopy

As Gahalan and Mahmoud excavate, I create one or more plans of the square (assisted this season by our senior inspector, Migahid), depending on how complex the stratigraphy is. In this site, I rarely do more than two plans per square, if that: since everything is so close to the surface, we don’t usually have more than 3 strata, and there are rarely interesting features on top of one another. I plan at 1:20, and sometimes map more complex areas at 1:10. To make a plan, I lay a large meter tape along one of the sides of the square, making sure that it is taut so that it starts at the south or west at 0 and ends in the north or east at 5 meters, and take points from the string that marks the edge of the square with a smaller metal tape. When I have walls, I try to draw each brick that I can see, and plan everything as accurately as I can.


1:20 plan of Square N145/E130, excavated in 2016

Once we have exposed and planned all of the architecture, I am able to assign numbers to the walls and “locus” numbers to distinct areas bordered by walls. We don’t give these areas specific identifiers such as “room” or “courtyard” at this point because we are still working to understand their functions – locus is a nice, neutral term.

Once I get back to my office (my very comfortable room at our hotel), I transcribe my field notes into our Filemaker database. I download my photos and collect Catharine’s, add metadata, import the images into the database (where I cross-reference them so they will show up in the right places), and do various other clerical work.


The Object Register in our Filemaker database

You may notice that I haven’t said anything more about the pottery, although I promised. This year has not been so daunting, but in the 2015 and especially the 2016 seasons, we collected huge quantities of ceramics, including quite a few complete (but badly broken) vessels. We will be writing a blog later in the season about how we are dealing with this material, so stay tuned!


From left to right: Gahalan Jr., Mahmoud, Janice, Gahalan Sr., Ehab

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 20, 2017

Sitting Pretty II

Peter Lacovara

In an earlier blog, from Sunday, February 3, 2013 (Sitting Pretty), we talked about the royal throne platforms and the canopies they supported, and in the blog for Saturday, March 1, 2014 (Pharaonic Dates), we reported on the wooden model dates used to decorate these structures. At the close of last season, mixed in with a large amount of painting fragments piled in a corner of one of the suites of rooms off the central columned hall, we found pieces of painted wood which came from one of these canopies. And this season in another spot we found a fragment that may also have come from this type of structure.


Amenhotep III seated under a canopy (from the tomb of Kheruef)

Painted wood fragments of a canopy found in the 2016 and 2017 seasons: 1. pole; 2. Block border; 3. Roof support with cut outs for crossbars.]

The fragments found last season included a striped pole about 10 centimeters in diameter and about a meter long and a flat crosspiece with vertical stripes of color.  These would have come from one of the poles that held up the canopy and from the flat cross member that attached them to one another.

A few days ago we came across another long piece with regularly squared cut-outs which could have come from the roof of a canopy made of flat boards like a modern gazebo. Unfortunately, these fragments had all been tossed aside by earlier excavators so we cannot tell where they were originally from. Since the palace was dotted with at least 13 throne platforms, that doesn’t help narrow it down!


Reconstruction of the kiosk fragments by Piet Collet

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 19, 2017

Someone’s Trash is another’s Treasure

Diana Craig Patch

My goal this season at the Industrial Site is the identification of an area at Malqata where glass and faience were manufactured. As you may remember from previous blogs, I started working in 2015 in an area west of the Audience Pavilion because I noted that many sizable pieces of slag were scattered on the surface of old spoil heaps from The Met’s earlier excavations. This waste is associated with furnaces, but none of the earlier excavators noted that they had found either slag or kilns in this area.


The spoil heaps west of the Audience Pavilion at the start of the excavations of the Industrial Site


Slag from the Industrial Site. Similar pieces suggested that this was the place to look for kilns or furnaces.

I was not disappointed when, during the 2015 season, the first square I worked in produced not only slag but sherds from crucibles used to melt the glass ingots, tiny fragments of which were scattered among the modern radim (spoil heap). Last year I continued to clear this radim bit by bit in arbitrary levels; there is no observable stratigraphy in these heaps. At the base of last year’s square, I found some intriguing architectural remains, parts of which ran under its north baulk. Having finished the square begun in 2015 and put on hiatus after I broke my arm that season, I excavated to the desert or gebel surface with no clear indications of any burning or kiln structure. So, now I am tackling another portion of the large spoil heap started last season on my hunt for the manufacturing site.

Although excavating spoil heaps may sound a bit unconventional, I find it a challenge. For the early excavators of Malqata, everything at the site was an unknown. As a result, they focused their attention on exploring and recording the large architectural structures: the King’s Palace, the Audience Pavilion, and the Amun Temple. In excavating these large structures, they did not always collect the little broken bits, although it appears they did more of that in the King’s Palace than elsewhere at Malqata.

Our daily work is not without interest because we are finding many little but captivating objects that were overlooked a hundred years ago. These may assist us in developing a clearer picture of what was made at the Industrial Site and how it was done. Many finds are objects broken during manufacture or tools that had worn out, but occasionally the workmen find an interesting bit of raw material.

Two days ago I found a small chunk of obsidian. Its concoidal fracturing –the circular way in which this natural silica glass created during volcanic activity breaks−is quite distinctive and cannot be mistaken for another material. This find is exciting because obsidian does not occur naturally in Egypt. Most people who have studied the sources believe that the Red Sea coast is the most likely source for obsidian used in Egypt.


Chunk of obsidian from the Industrial Site

We know that obsidian was a desirable, although rare, stone in ancient Egypt, because almost all the pieces are small. An example is obsidian’s use for the pupils in pairs of inlaid eyes of elite coffins, for example the inner coffin of Tutankhamun. However, rarely do we have any examples of larger objects in obsidian. The face from a small statue of Amenhotep III in the Egyptian Museum Cairo (CG42101) recovered from the courtyard where the Karnak Cachette was found is impressive in its use of obsidian. An ear (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 04.1941) and fist in two other collections probably belong to the same statue according to Peter. Robert F. Tylecote, then at University College, London, analyzed the ear’s obsidian and found that it was from an Ethiopian source.


A face of Amenhotep III made from obsidian

This last point brings me back to my little chunk of obsidian. This” exotic” material is only one of a variety of stones, including red and yellow quartzite, granodiorite, and Egyptian alabaster, that I find in the spoil heaps. All the pieces are quite small but none is locally sourced. In addition, some pieces have worked edges indicating that they once were part of a larger object. It appears that these chips, flakes and small chunks were discarded from the manufacture of larger pieces elsewhere. The glass and faience manufacture at the Industrial Site indicates the production of only small vessels, beads, and other decorative objects. Thus these scraps of “exotic” stone were probably delivered to this workshop to be reused in creating small decorative elements. Therefore the Industrial Site, like other manufacturing sites in ancient Egypt, was producing objects made from a variety of materials, not all of which required a kiln or furnace.


Two small pieces of stone — yellow quartzite and red granite — that are not sourced locally so were brought to the Industrial Site. All the non-local stones are very small pieces.

Postscript: Yesterday I found a large ball bead, which may have split when the craftsman drilled a stringing hole. The bead’s shiny black color and fine texture immediately identified its material as obsidian. The bead had been roughly shaped and manufacturing scars are still visible as faint facets; polishing would have come after a successful hole was drilled. Discarded, the preform was rediscovered by the workmen, explaining one way in which the ancient Egyptians intended to use the chunk of obsidian we found earlier.


A broken bead made of obsidian

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 18, 2017

100 Years Ago at Malqata

Catharine Roehrig

2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Museum’s excavations at Malqata’s Temple of Amun. This mud brick building is at the north end of the site, a fifteen minute walk from the King’s Palace where Peter is working, and ten minutes from the Western Settlement and the Industrial Site where Janice and Diana are excavating. We worked there during the 2010 season and learned some interesting details just by carefully cleaning some of the walls and floors.


Stairways leading to the three sanctuaries at the back of Malqata’s Temple of Amun after excavation in 1917

For those readers who don’t already know, the festival city of Malqata was established for the first heb sed, or rejuvenation festival, of Amenhotep III, who celebrated three heb seds during the last seven years or so of his reign. Stamped mud bricks tell us that the temple was called The House of Amun in the House of Rejoicing. The second phrase (house of rejoicing) probably refers to the festival city itself. The Temple was built for the second heb sed, and we found evidence that it was refurbished for the third.


Layers of flooring in the small hypostyle hall of the Temple of Amun

One way they spruced up the temple was by resurfacing the floors, which were paved with mud brick. We discovered this when we were cleaning the small hypostyle (pillared) hall that leads to three sanctuaries; the central one dedicated to Amun, and the others very likely to his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. At the edge of the floor near the entrance, you can see the mud brick flooring (1), the first thin coat of hard white plaster (2), the thicker layer of mud plaster above it (3), and the second thin layer of hard white plaster that joins with the plaster on the wall (4).


North wall of the vestibule where it abuts the east wall (front) of the temple building

Something else they seem to have done for the third heb sed was to add a small vestibule at the entrance to the temple building. This is suggested by the construction of the vestibule which abuts the front wall of the temple rather than being an integral part of the structure. It was also built on top of the bricks that pave the terrace in front of the temple. The types of bricks used in the vestibule walls are also different from others used in the temple. In the photo above, you can see that the paving bricks are quite large (40 cm in length); the temple wall is made of standard size bricks (30 cm in length); and the vestibule bricks are the smallest (27 cm in length). The vestibule bricks are also greyish in color and have a finer texture.

In the next year or two, we plan to begin doing some conservation work at the temple similar to what is being done at the Palace. In this way we hope to assure that it will still be here one hundred years from now.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 17, 2017

A Day Out

Janice Kamrin

Friday is our “day off,” which means that we don’t go out to the field. We usually spend part of the day catching up on notes and emails, and then perhaps go sightseeing or spend time with our friends here. Today has been an especially full day.

Right after breakfast some of us went to Medinet Habu, the huge mortuary temple of Ramesses III (r. ca. 1180-1150 B.C.), where we were treated to tours of three separate projects run by Chicago House of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Along the south side of the temple, Frank Helmholz and Johannes Weninger are supervising a large team of stone masons and mud brick experts as they conserve and reconstruct the stone walkway along the temple’s southern wall and some of the mud-brick structures that lay alongside.


The Eastern High Gate at Medinet Habu, seen from in front of the main temple of Ramesses III. To the left is a small Temple of Amun.

Farther west, nearer the great enclosure wall, master conservator Lotfi Hassan is working on the late Ramesside (ca. 1100 B.C.) house of the Necropolis Scribe Butehamun. He showed us how he and his team are carefully distinguishing between the ancient mud brick, the early 20th century reconstructions done by the site’s early excavator, Uvo Hölscher, and the new sections that they are adding now.

Finally, we went to see Jen Kimpton and Keli Alberts at the destroyed Western High Gate. This was once similar to the still-standing Eastern Gate, but was totally destroyed in antiquity. All that remains today are mudbrick structures and scattered blocks of stone. But many of these blocks still bear beautifully carved decoration and traces of their architectural contexts, and Jen and Keli are starting to put this ancient jigsaw puzzle back together on paper and reconstruct some of the original decorative program.


The Malqata team (minus Peter) in front of Stoppelaere House. From left to right: Serenela, Catharine, Diana, Salima, Piet, and Janice

Our next event was the opening of Stoppelaere House, attended by the Minister, Khaled El-Enany, and many of our friends in the antiquities service, This house, which was built in 1951 by the great Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, has just been restored by Factum Arte / Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation in collaboration with the University of Basel under the supervision of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to use as a training center for the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative Training Centre. This is the group that has, using advanced 3D scanning techniques, made a full-scale replica of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. They have now started their second major project – a complete scan of the Tomb of Seti I, which they will again use to make a replica of the tomb. This copy will be buried underground next to the replicated Tomb of Tutankhamun, so that the original sepulcher will be kept closed and not subjected to the damage created by even the most well-meaning of tourists.

West Bank, Luxor

A view of the excavations at Kom el-Hettan, as seen from the road we travel every day.

We are off now to the East Bank, where we will enjoy some shopping at the souk, and then attend an event celebrating the work of Hourig Sourouzian and her team at Kom el-Hettan, the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. We pass this impressive site every day on our way to Malqata, as it lies just across the road from our hotel. Greeting more friends and colleagues here in Luxor will will be a wonderful conclusion to a full day off.

Niv Allon

First, an apology is due. Not for the nerves frayed by suspense from waiting for yesterday’s mystery to be resolved, but rather, if in yesterday’s blog I gave the impression that interpreting an inscription is a straightforward, linear process, I misled you. .



Diana’s field photo again, to remind you . . .


. . .and Diana’s field drawing

Instead, every step brings new questions and possibilities that requires one to revisit previous assumptions and interpretations. As I mentioned yesterday, at first glance, the first sign seemed to be a quite convincing writing of the sound “a” and the second that of an “r.” When I consulted ancient Egyptian dictionaries, however, they offered very few words starting with this combination that would fit this context. A text on shrewmice (arar) would have been greatly appreciated, but seemed unlikely here. This failed attempt at finding a suitable meaning sent me back to the fragment and to a reinterpretation of the first sign as an “s,” as discussed in Part I. Together, the two signs begin a word quite commonly found in Malqata: srmt, “ale;” one of the most common offerings sent to the celebration of Amenhotep III’s Sed-festival.

A similar assumption relates to the relationships between the signs. Seeing the three signs together on one piece of pottery, it is hard not to assume they belong together. Stranded on this small and broken sherd, they almost beg to be read together, either following each other from top to bottom or perhaps even forming one word. Hieratic, however, is mostly written in this period—with the exception of religious texts and a few other genres—in rows and not in columns. The gap dividing the first two signs from the third suggests that the first two are to be read together, while the third is part of its own word. This would mean that more than just one space separates the two signs from the third. A whole line of text ran to the left of the two signs, all of which is now lost, like the rest of the second line of text which followed the third sign.

The third sign itself appears to be partially broken. Its general shape calls to mind a number of signs. Many of these hieratic signs relate to bird hieroglyphs and elaborate on a basic shape.



Bird signs from Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

Unlike the slight curve at the bottom of many of these signs, our third sign ends with a straight descending line, which continues until the break. Most writers pull their reed-pen at the end of signs, creating these small curves, but the writer of this ostracon seems to have done something quite different here. He was probably writing two signs together without raising his pen — like the ligatures, that is two joined letters — found in Möller’s book:



Ligatures from Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)


Unfortunately, none of these offers a happy match. The first, the third, and the fourth ligatures don’t have the upper curve, and the second has almost too many curves. In some examples, its upper part even forms the shape of half a circle. With the lower part of our sign broken, we are left in a difficult position.

The answer comes again from The Met’s jar labels. Looking for possible comparisons to our ligatured sign, I came across a sign in the following jar label:


Jar label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.1516)


Detail from MMA 17.10.1516

With its upper curve and its descending line, this sign resembles our ligature. The sign is in fact a combination of two signs “m” and “r” (m, and r) that write the ancient Egyptian title jm.j-r’ “Overseer,” and the ligature in our pottery fragmentary seems to indicate a similar combination of sounds.

A closer look at our pottery fragment and this jar label (17.10.1516) reveals more than one point of resemblance. Both open with the signs “s” and “r,” writing the word for ale, and both begin their second line with the ligatured signs of “m” and “r.” A second and even a third example from the corpus of jar labels at The Met seem to show a similar inscription:


Jar label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.418)

With these similarities in mind, it is possible to suggest that our pottery fragment once bore a similar inscription, which would have read:

sr[m.t dbH.w]…jm.j-r’

“Ale [(for) offerings] …(by) the Overseer…”

Now, Overseer is hardly a rare title in ancient Egypt and even in Malqata it is well attested in conjunction with various names. Only one Overseer that we know of, however, sent ale to the royal celebrations: an Overseer of a Garrison by the name of Ineni, to whom the abovementioned jar labels belong. Our pottery fragment might very well be a piece of a fourth contribution by Ineni of ale to his king’s festival. This is a particularly exciting identification.

Our inscription would then read:

sr[m.t dbH.w]…jm.j-r’-[jwaa jnnj].

“Ale [(for) offerings] …the Overseer [of the Garrison, Ineni]”

Not much is known about Ineni, except for his evident appreciation of ale. The inscription might suggest, however, one final scrap of information: a date. As William C. Hayes notes in his article dedicated to the jar labels of Malqata, (see Journal of Near Eastern Studies 10, no. 2, 1951, pp. 82-112) more than eighty percent of the jars of ale are associated with Amenhotep III’s first Sed-festival, which he celebrated in the thirtieth year of his reign. None of the jars containing this beverage is associated with the second or third time he celebrated this ritual. If indeed this fragmentary ostracon is to be read as suggested above, then the ostracon recovered two days ago from ancient fill in the Industrial Site, is, in fact not an ostracon but a jar label! Written on the vessel’s exterior, this fragment of inscription indicates it once contained ale, sent by the Overseer of the Garrison, Ineni, in regnal year 30 to his king, Amenhotep III, for the celebration of his first Sed-festival at Malqata.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 15, 2017

Another Bottle of Beer on the Wall (Part I)

Niv Allon

Over the weekend, Diana sent me a picture of ink marks on a small pottery fragment. Everyone was very excited since this is only the second piece of pottery with an ink inscription that we have found at Malqata.


Diana’s field photo of the ostracon

Although this ostracon might appear too broken and faded to decode, the few fragmentary signs that can be discerned give a clue regarding the vessel to which it once belonged, the contents it once held, and the person who might have sent it. It also provides us with an opportunity to share a bit of the process by which inscriptions of this kind are deciphered.


Diana’s field sketch of the ostracon

Like handwritten inscriptions everywhere, the writing of hieratic signs may vary from one hand to another and from one period to another, depending on styles and trends, as well as the surface on which it is written and the sign’s place in the word. Finding comparable writings from a similar timeframe is therefore essential. These can be found in a book by Georg Möller (Hieratische Paläographie: Die aegyptische Buchschrift in ihrer Entwicklung von der fünften Dynastie), who collected numerous examples of signs and organized them chronologically. Though first published in 1909, this book remains irreplaceable. It only has a limited number of examples from Amenhotep III’s time, but fortunately, the extensive collection of jar labels from Malqata in The Met’s collection provides us with a wealth of handwritten inscriptions contemporaneous with our fragment.

At first it is useful to observe the signs closely and study the manner in which they are produced. Hieratic is always written from right to left, and the first sign (on the top) begins in a curve at the left, turning into long and flat line, and ending with a bigger curve down. Only a few signs carry these characteristics, among which “a” (its hieroglyphic equivalent is ayin) seems very likely.


Sign no. 99 in Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

The sign on our ostracon starts, however, quite awkwardly above the middle of the sign below it. A similar writing appears, in fact, in an inscription on one of the jar labels from our collection (17.10.395), but rather than an “a,” the sign is an s. The sign “s” (bolt) is usually written in a continuous line with two strokes added to the middle of the line:


Sign no. 366 in Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

But the writer of the inscription on the jar seems to have done it differently:


Jar Label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.395)


Detail of 17.10.395

Instead of a continuous line, he divided it into two. It is thus, possible that the writer of our ostracon wrote the sign s (bolt) in a similar manner, but the left part of it was lost along with the rest of the inscription.

The jar label and our ostracon also share the second sign of the inscription. Some hieratic signs closely resemble their equivalent hieroglyphs, but for most part, hieratic developed along its own course, and signs that look very different in hieroglyphs can closely resemble each other in hieratic, and vice versa. The hieroglyphic counterparts of the second sign here might be a mouth (mouth) a hand (hand) or a rope (hobble), whose hieroglyphs are each drawn very differently, but closely resemble each other in hieratic.



Signs nos. 91, 115, 528 in Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

Of the three, the first choice seems unlikely, but here again our collection of jar labels from Malqata is very useful in providing close comparisons and it is an “r.”



Two examples of “r” from The Met’s collection of jar labels

The final sign is …tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion . . .!

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