The 2015 season of work preserving and “presenting” the ruins of the Palace of Amenhotep III at Malqata is in its second week. The preservation of the mud brick walls consists primarily of stabilizing fragile sections and applying one or two layers of new mud brick to the tops of the walls. The layers of new bricks protect ones underneath from continued erosion. The new bricks also will help visitors understand the extent of the walls, thus presenting a clearer picture of the overall palace plan and the room sizes and relationships.
The bricks we use today are the same sizes those employed during the original construction of the palace – 14 cm wide x 30 cm long x 8 cm thick and a larger size, 18 cm wide x 40 cm long x 10 cm thick. Actually we have found a few odd sizes of bricks as well, that are in between the two predominant brick sizes, but these are very few in number. Our bricks can vary up to a centimeter in all dimensions, particularly the thickness, just as the original bricks do. Our bricks are identifiable, primarily because they are new and not weathered like the originals, and each brick is stamped “JEM” during the manufacturing process. We use the different sizes in the same areas where they were used originally.
We do not know the reason two different sizes were used, but it is something that we continually study. At times, a different size is used in what is obviously a later construction, such as where a later wall is butted against a previously plastered wall. In other cases, it seems both sizes are used in the same wall. The primary distinction in the use of the two sizes is between the perimeter walls and the rooms surrounding the main courtyard of the palace. The smaller size bricks are used in the perimeter walls and the larger bricks are used in the palace rooms.
In addition to the application of mud bricks to the tops of walls; corners, wall ends, and doorway openings are also stabilized by new mud bricks. Identifying the doorways clearly is extremely important in understanding room relationships. However, if it isn’t clear that an opening existed, we do not represent it in new mud bricks. In other words if we are not certain about whether or not a feature such as a doorway existed, we do not interpret it by constructing what might have been missing. We simply end the wall in a series of steps in the masonry coursing, visually indicating that physical evidence of any additional wall or feature no longer exists.
During the process of stabilizing the walls we often find fragments of painted plaster buried at their bases. In most cases we simply leave them in place, or rebury them near the location where they were found. In cases where a particularly large or distinctive plaster fragment is found, we move it to a magazine. One particularly interesting fragment was located yesterday in the area of a doorway. In this case we carefully cleared the loose soil from over the fragment to determine its extent. We then even more carefully began the slow process of isolating the fragment by removing the soil from beneath it. We prepared a flat rigid support and as we removed the soil from beneath the decorated mud plaster, we slid the support under it. This operation was complete when we had the plaster on its new support. The last step was to secure and support the fragment’s edges with mud mortar. After the mud mortar had set, the fragment was transferred to the on-site magazine, where the sample will be evaluated by a conservator and appropriate action taken.