Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 21, 2018

Step by step by step by step…

Step by step by step by step…

Anthony Crosby

One of the priorities for this season at the King’s Palace at Malqata was to document, protect and interpret the one palace stairs that remains. Four palace staircases had been identified when the Metropolitan Museum’s excavations concluded in 1911, two of which had been recorded previously by Robb DePeyster Tytus and Percy Newberry during their 1901-1903 excavations.

The two staircases recorded by Tytus are highlighted in yellow. The one at the right is still partially preserved today. Detail of the palace plan published by Tytus in his preliminary report on the excavations in 1903. In this plan, south is at the top.

Only one of the staircases documented by the Metropolitan Museum is still visible today and that one is in an important interpretive area just north of the main central courtyard. Undoubtedly there were other stairways and ramps to connect various parts of the palace but the preserved staircase is apparently the only one that clearly provided access to the second level of the main palace area.

Model of a house with stairs leading to the roof. Gift of the Egyptian Research Account and the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 1907 (07.231.11).

The remains of this staircase consist of what I assume is the first step of four that were documented on the early site plans along with three parallel mud brick walls that formed the stair well. Both the steps and the adjacent mud brick walls were shown by Tytus with a flight of stairs on the west ascending to the south and the parallel flight of stairs on the east ascending to the north (see arrows on the plan above). The remaining mud brick walls and step (below) support this interpretation.

Facing south: the stair well of the remaining staircase with preserved step; and a plan of the staircase (in yellow) made by the Museum’s excavators in 1911. 

Okay, so we have one step made of mud bricks which are 17 cm long by 35 cm wide by 10 cm high, and the remains of three parallel existing mud brick walls 5.7 meters long that define approximately the overall width of the stairs. That’s a start, but what about the height of the riser, or step, and what about the width of the tread?

We can start by measuring the steps as recorded in the 1911 plan (above) and interpreting the width of the tread using the map’s graphic scale. This results in a tread of somewhere between 35 and 50 cm. This is quite a large range but the drawing that we are measuring was produced at a scale of 1 to 200 and, at that scale, the width of a line on the drawing could translate to several centimeters. There were three other avenues of research we pursued to more clearly define the stair details.

The first was to look at other examples of stairs that are contemporary and are also part of Malqata. I reviewed the documentation of several stairs at the site of Kom el Samak located just south of the palace site. The relevant structure was a desert shrine excavated by Waseda University in 1974. There were several monumental stepped ramps, the gradient of which was too flat to fit in the allowable space at the palace. Another stairwat appeared more functional with treads of 43 cm and a riser of 11 cm. We also looked at stairs at the Amun Temple located approximately 300 meters north of the palace with approximately the same tread and riser as the Kom el Samak stairs.

Another important consideration and one that would help establish the staircase details was to calculate the number of steps and the height of the steps that could reach a second level. Based on architectural modeling done at Amarna and other sites. I assumed that the height necessary to reach the second level would be somewhere between 3.5 and 4 meters which would include the thickness of a roof or ceiling system. If I used the step height of 11 cm and a tread width of 43 cm, the maximum height of each flight would be 1 meter and a total height of 2 meters, clearly not enough. To achieve a steeper stairway that could reach the appropriate height, we can increase the height of the step or decrease the width of the tread, or a combination of both. Increasing the height of a step to 15 cm, keeping the same tread width and assuming a 1 meter landing between flights of stairs we can gain approximately 3.6 meters or 12 feet.

Continuing our research, we communicated directly with Barry Kemp on the staircases at Amarna. Previously I had reviewed his book on Amarna but found it didn’t have enough specific detail about stairs. However, we contacted Kemp directly and he shared several important details. “Staircases at Amarna were normally built from mud bricks of standard size laid on their long edge. Thus, if the width of the bricks was around 16 cm, then the steps or treads would have been about the same height…”

Talatat blocks from a temple of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), discovered at Karnak Temple and included as part of a large reconstructed wall on display in the Luxor Museum.

Incorporating this important information into our design process would result in step height of 17 cm, as our remaining step consisted consists of bricks that are 17 cm wide. With an assumption that the second level would be approximately 3.6 to 4 meters higher than the first, 22 to 24 steps would be required. Assuming a landing of 1 meter, we divide the 4.7 meters by 11 or 12 steps for one flight and arrive at a tread width of 40-44 cm. Depending on the number of steps, the height reached by the stairs would be approximately 3.7 to 4.1 meters. The thickness of mortar and the variation in brick sizes could alter the actual number of steps to a minor degree. Of course we can never know the specific dimensions of the staircase, except the height of the steps, because all other information has been lost. However, this solution is logical as it incorporates the existing physical evidence, the documentation of the early Malqata excavations, and knowledge of normal construction practices of the period.

After the walls were capped, we laid out two additional steps to indicate the possible configuration of the lower stairway. The preserved step has been covered with sand.

Our next step was to construct a full size model of several stairs. We hope in the future to construct a partial staircase of four or five steps to show the general characteristics of a Malqata Palace stairway that is a considered response to the existing original conditions, to the earlier documentation at Malqata, to examples at similar sites and to traditional historic stair design.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 16, 2018

Fallen Ceilings

Fallen Ceilings

Catharine Roehrig

When we started work at the Palace two weeks ago, we had the workmen clean the walls that were going to be capped in the area of the King’s bedchamber and its antechamber at the southern end of the palace. In the process, they uncovered a section of fallen ceiling next to a wall in the southern half of the antechamber. Interestingly, the pattern of this ceiling is not the same as the fallen ceiling discovered in the northern half of the same room by the Metropolitan Museum in the winter of 1910-1911.

Looking east at pieces of the cow ceiling lying on the floor at the northern end of the antechamber. The decorated wall plaster at the center left is the east jamb of the antechamber entrance.

We know the exact location of the 1911 ceiling discovery because a photograph was taken of the fragments lying on the floor where they had fallen. (And yes, odd as it may seem, large numbers of the ceiling fragments were found lying face-up.) The pattern of this ceiling has a series of cows’ heads separated by spirals enclosing rosettes. At the time, it was possible to remove two large portions of this ceiling and set them in plaster. In the division of finds at the end of the year’s work, one section went to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the other was sent to New York where it is now on display in gallery 119 (11.151.451).

Section of the cow ceiling that was given to the Museum in the division of finds in 1911. Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.451).

The pattern uncovered two weeks ago consists of alternating red and blue concave squares with rosettes in the center. The lens-shaped spaces between the concave squares are painted yellow and have green circles at the intersections. A similar ceiling pattern was found by Waseda University in a room at the north end of the Palace during their excavations here in the 1970s (

A ceiling fragment that was found while cleaning a wall in room J. This piece has the same pattern as the fallen ceiling, but was not found in situ.

Anyone who has visited the nobles’ tombs at Qurna has probably noticed that the ceilings often have more than one pattern, and the same seems to have been true in the King’s Palace.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 13, 2018

What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath

Janice Kamrin

We have been excavating in the West Settlement now for a little more than a week, continuing to clarify the architecture and function of this intriguing site.

Plan of the West Settlement excavations, 2015-2018, with the magazine area to the south and living areas to the north (see Digging the West Settlement)

We began by opening up several squares along the eastern edge of the excavated area, hoping to find a connection between the buildings here and Diana’s industrial area farther to the east.

Hoping to avoid hitting any of the spoil heaps from the Met’s early 20th century excavations, we chose to continue a line of squares toward the north end of the site. The first locus looked promising – not far below the surface, we began to find a wall that fit in with the ones we had found in earlier seasons —one brick wide, laid as a stretcher, and running southeast to northwest across our grid. But as we moved to the east, it just petered out, as did any hint of cultural material, and we soon came down onto the natural desert substrate, a coarse, dark brown-grey matrix with outcroppings of lighter “tafla.”

The west half of Square N150/E140-N, looking north, with a new wall and mud tumble beginning to show.
Square N150/E145-N, level 1, looking E over N150/N140-N
Square N150/E140-N, looking east, with the natural desert surface exposed in the east half of the square.

As we extended our trench to the east, we continued to find nothing, just the original desert surface. When we moved to the south, we found some architecture in the western halves of our squares, but to the east, the architecture and most of the cultural remains are gone. In fact, although this is disappointing, it is not surprising: we are in a wadi, and it looks like water has washed away the eastern part of our excavation area.

N150/E140-N  level 1-3 and N155/E140-S, level 1-2, , looking E
View east down the line of squares at N150. Only the natural desert surface remained here, just below the current surface.
Overview of excavation site, 2018
Looking southeast over the site. The small wadi indicated here likely funneled floodwaters through the east edge of the West Settlement and washed away any remains.

The good news is that we have also opened up two half-squares farther to the south, hoping to find more of what we believe to be the boundaries of the complex. The bricks in these “exterior” walls are laid as headers, rather than the usual 1-brick wide stretchers, and are therefore wider and more substantial (although again, always only one brick high). And we are happy to report that we have found this type of wall in three places, helping us to complete the plan of the eastern part of the complex.

N125/E125, level 1, looking N
Square N125/E135, showing one of the newly exposed sections of exterior wall
Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 9, 2018

A Flock of Pigeons

A Flock of Pigeons

Catharine Roehrig

When we first arrived in Luxor, I was looking at the old photographs of the work done in the King’s Palace during the winter of 1910-1911 to see which ones might give us some information about the areas we are working on this year. At the end of the series there were a few photographs taken in 1912, during the following excavation season. Among these I found photos of ceiling fragments that were given to the Museum in that year’s division of finds. In 1912, the Malqata excavation team, which included Ambrose Lansing, Hugh Evelyn-White, and Herbert Winlock, were working in an area they called the “western extension.” This lay west of the King’s Palace, across a well-worn pathway that is now the desert road which cuts north/south through the site. The first group of rooms was later called Ho W1 and a second, farther west, was called Ho W2 (house west 1 and 2). The relationship between these “houses” is unclear because a wadi (dry river bed) has washed out the area between them, but they are now interpreted as a single structure called the Middle Palace.

Pigeon ceiling
Ceiling fragment depicting pigeons startled into flight. The end of a duck’s wing is visible in the upper left. Rogers Fund (12.180.257).

The ceiling fragments in question depict flying birds. One section is almost entirely composed of pigeons (12.180.257), with the edges of ducks’ wings indicating that there were other types of birds in the scene as well. The second section, smaller and more fragmentary, depicts pintail ducks. All of the birds are moving wildly as though startled into flight.

Both of these ceiling fragments are identified on their accession cards as coming from the King’s Palace, and similar ceiling paintings were found there by Robb de Peyster Tytus and Percy Newberry, who excavated there a decade before The Met’s Egyptian Expedition. However, thanks to the old photographs, it’s now possible to place them in one of the rooms in the Ho W1.

Photograph taken in 1912 showing the pigeon fragments where they fell. Note the wall in the background.
The same wall today partially covered with a century of wind- and water-borne debris

One of the photos shows the pigeon section of the ceiling where it lay on the ground. The photographic context is rather narrow, but there is a wall in the upper right of the photo. This wall, although now partially buried in wind-blown debris, is still recognizable today.

Photo taken in 1912 showing the position of the pigeon fragments. The sawhorses behind the fragments were part of a glass-topped table used to reconstruct the fragments.

In the second photograph, taken from Ho W2 looking east at Ho W1, the fragments are also visible. Behind the fragments are two sawhorses that would hold a large sheet of glass. Several of these glass tables had been used the previous season to facilitate the reconstruction of ceiling paintings. The fragments were placed face down on the glass and were then moved into position. When the reconstruction was as complete as possible, plaster of Paris was poured over the back to secure them for travel and display.

The sections of ceiling that came to New York are now displayed on the south wall of Egyptian gallery 119.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 7, 2018

Malqata’s Own Poet Laureate

Malqata’s Own Poet Laureate

Diana Craig Patch

Jan Picton from University College London has joined us this season as part of the team working at the King’s Palace on the reconstruction of the rooms at the south end of the building. Shortly after getting out to the site last Saturday and looking at the impressive number of reconstructed walls nicely demarcating the various suites and the ones that needed work, she asked me if the King’s Palace brought to mind the famous Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall.”   Although I knew the poem, I had not read it in years and after work, Jan shared a copy of his poem (“Mending Wall”). The images Frost created in this poem, although of course completely different in nature, are reflected throughout the palace.

Workman laying brick w wall kings bedroomjpg
Workmen mending a wall in the King’s Palace.

Even better, she shared her homage to Frost’s poem and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Mending Malqata’s Walls (with respect to Robert Frost)

By Jan Picton

Something there is that does not love the king’s walls,

That sends the ground-swell under it,

and spills the upper mudbricks in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of mud hunters is another thing:

we have come after them and made repair

where they have left not one brick on a brick.

The gaps I mean, no one has seen them made

or heard them made, but at season’s start we find them…

Greater blame to archaeologists who, in sharing history

and not backfilling and preserving, destroyed it.

So here we are to clean and record, to draw and make good again.

To relearn and share what we learn, to educate, and make a plea

to cherish this pharaonic heritage and leave a safer legacy.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 4, 2018

The Joint Expedition Returns to Malqata

The Joint Expedition Returns to Malqata

Diana Craig Patch

JEM_KP_2018_team at work reduced
Jan Picton begins cleaning a wall in the King’s Palace.

The 2018 season has started. The team began to assemble in Luxor on January 30 with the arrival of Janice, Catharine, and Diana. We delivered the signed papers from the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo to the appropriate offices in Luxor and were assigned our inspector.  Therefore, we were able to head into the field on February 1!  As of today, everyone is here and at work.

JEM_KP_2018_RmJ_PC cleaning reduced
Piet Collet brushes the surface looking for the edges of mud brick.

The site looks quite good.  There is the usual growth of camel thorn and we seem to be losing ground on the clearance of halfa grass in the area of the North Palace, but otherwise the many locales that make up the site of Malqata remained stable over the past year.

We’ve already started removing camel thorn. The West Settlement is in the background.

During the 2018 season, our attention will concentrate on two areas: reconstructing several important rooms or areas in the King’s Palace and excavation at the West Settlement. In the King’s Palace, we will be protecting walls in the area of the King’s bedroom at the south end, and at the north end, we will be working on the foundations of a staircase that may have led to a window of appearances.

Ja'allan and Ali working in Square N150?E140
Work begins in the West Settlement.

Meanwhile, at the West Settlement, Janice intends to excavate further in the square where an interesting fragment, the tail from a pottery statuette of Taweret, was previously discovered.  She also will move eastward towards the Industrial Site to see if a connection exists between her settlement and this production area.

Continuing the excavation in the square where we found the Taweret tail in 2015.
Posted by: iMalqata Blog | March 3, 2017

A Stamp of Approval

Diana Craig Patch

Sadly, this is the last day of the 2017 Joint Expedition to Malqata. The equipment is packed and ready to store and we are putting things into our suitcases for a midday flight out of Luxor tomorrow. As always, it is a bit sad to leave our site and our friends in Egypt.

I do not want to end on a gloomy note, so I offer here another interesting observation about the molds coming from the Industrial Site. With the first trowel scrape in 2015, we discovered a small pottery mold used to make a faience decoration. We have found quite a few molds since then, several of which I shared with you last season. This year was no exception and we found numerous molds for rosette, petal, and leaf shapes. The most common by far, however, are molds for openwork beads.

In the last level of N155/E180, two of the molds that were found raised an interesting question. What is used to make the impressions in the pottery that ultimately creates the mold? I had not thought about this question until I found two little rosette molds that must have been made with the same stamp. They look identical in size and style and each seems to have the same small tick on one petal.


So how were the designs in molds created? There must have been master stamps made from a hard substance that could have survived repeated use, especially for the forms that are so repetitive: rosettes, leaves, petals, mandrakes, and openwork beads. Possibly a master stamp would have been carved in a soft stone, like steatite, which allows for the addition of fine details. Steatite also could be baked to make the completed design harder. Then this design could be attached to a handle. I do not see any fingerprints in the pottery surface, which you would expect to see if you used the stamp with your hand.

I have never heard of a piece, however, that has been identified as a master stamp. Perhaps we haven’t recognized it yet, but these two small rosettes suggest one did exist, at least for one pair of rosette molds at Malqata.

ADDENDUM: In a few hours, we leave for Cairo and the United States, and we just wanted to say goodbye to our dedicated followers. We had a great season, and we look forward to sharing our next one with you. Here are a few pictures from our last dinner at the New Memnon. We want to thank Sayed and his wonderful team for making our stay so much fun.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | March 1, 2017

Sherd Yards

Janice Kamrin and Peter Lacovara

We are fortunate this season to have with us two talented trainees from the Ministry of State of Antiquities to help us work on the pottery from the site, Aisha Mohamed Montaser and Hussein Fawzi Zaki.  Aisha has trained in ceramic analysis at the American Research Center in Egypt’s Field School at Giza; Hussein is  Chief Inspector in the Valley of the Kings and is interested in the ceramics from the royal tombs of the New Kingdom.


Aisha and Hussein at work

Together, Aisha and Hussein have been helping us sort and record the pottery from both the King’s Palace and the West Settlement. One of their tasks has been to help develop a corpus of the ceramics found at the site to compare with that known from Tell el-Amarna. An exhaustive compendium of the pottery from that site has been published by Pamela J. Rose, and this will serve as a useful comparison to the material from Malqata.  It will not only be important to compare the Malqata ceramics with the Amarna corpus but also to analyze the similarities and differences among the various components of the site, such as the King’s Palace, the North Village, and the West Settlement, to see what they tell us about usage and function.


The cover of Pamela Rose’s Pottery Corpus from Amarna


In the King’s Palace, we have laid out what is known as a ‘sherd yard,’ which is a common feature of many archaeological sites. We have gathered diagnostic fragments, usually pieces of necks and rims, that can tell us what type of vessel the sherds originally came from. We chose an empty area in the palace to lay out the sherd yard and collected sherds from one of the ancient trash pits that the original Metropolitan expedition found chock full of pottery over a century ago.

Photograph and diagram of the sherd yard at the King’s Palace


Aisha and Hussein work with Pam Rose at the King’s Palace

We then sorted the pottery into rough categories based on shape and ware- the type of clay used to make the vessel. These broadly correspond to the classifications developed for the Amarna corpus. Aisha and Hussein began making technical drawings of the examples that show how both the interior and exterior of the vessel would have appeared.  This along with detailed descriptions of each piece will help us create a corpus for the site.



Sample drawing (from Rose, Pottery Corpus from Amarna)

In the West Settlement, we had a different sort of Sherd Yard – in this case a very large rectangle full of clean sand that we used to begin the process of laying out and sorting the sherds that we have collected so far. We were very fortunate to have Pam Rose herself come to Malqata for several days to work with us. She spent time with Aisha and Hussein in the King’s Palace, organizing the corpus there and supervising some of the drawing. She then came over the West Settlement, where she gave me some very useful hands-on training in ware identification, and helped us refine our collection forms.


Overview of part of the West Settlement sherd yard

Aisha, Hussein, and I spent the last few days of the season, while my excavation team was backfilling the site with clean sand, sorting some of the pottery from 2016. We made a great deal of progress, and are looking forward to continuing the process of analyzing this material and building our corpus next year.

Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 28, 2017

Under the Halfa Grass

Joel Paulson

One of the various site management activities that the Joint Expedition to Malqata (JEM) undertakes is clearing vegetation to protect the archaeological remains. Vegetation can be extremely damaging to mud brick both by retaining water in the soil and by putting roots into the brick and softer stone, causing them to break apart. This year, the JEM undertook the daunting task of removing the vegetation from the area of the North Palace. Like most of Malqata, the Metropolitan Museum excavated this palace in the early 20th century (1915-1916). But unlike most of the rest of Malqata, the North Palace is surrounded by agriculture on three sides and had become overgrown with halfa grass. During the few weeks we have been here this year, the Egyptian crew has been busy, removing a tremendous amount of halfa grass from this portion of the site, revealing the ground in this area to us for the first time since we started in 2008.


But there has been another benefit to removing the vegetation. When the JEM started its survey work, we could only find a few column bases from the North Palace for aligning and plotting the architectural plans from the original excavations onto the overall map of the site. With the new clearing, though, we are able to establish the pattern of the column bases in the first court of the palace and, from this pattern and with a little scraping and sweeping of the dirt, we relocated four additional limestone column bases. In addition, we can now see another column base in the second court, though it has been heavily disturbed. With seven of the twelve original column bases that existed in the first courtyard, we can now refine our location of the original plans. The fact that we were able to find features of this palace under the former heavy vegetation cover gives us hope that much more of this little-known feature of Malqata still survives, awaiting further investigation.


Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 27, 2017

Go Fish!

Salima Ikram

Malqata is a particularly amazing site as it is a settlement—and not just any settlement, but one that contains palaces, temples, workshops, and dwellings for the elite as well as for workers. Such sites are rare to excavate as most places that were convenient to live in during ancient times are still considered desirable dwelling places, and therefore are inhabited continuously and unavailable to archaeologists. Luckily, Amenhotep III’s festival palace complex now lies in the desert margins, so, for the most part, no new buildings have been built on it and we can easily reach the levels of Amenhotep’s time.


Working with the bones from the West Settlement in the shelter of the new guard house built by The Met at Malqata

I am delighted to continue my work at Malqata. For my Ph.D. I worked on bones that had been excavated in the 1970s, and since then have been adding to that material with what the JEM has been digging up in different areas, which is expanding our knowledge not only of the site, but also of what different groups of people were eating there.

This year I worked on the animal bones coming from a series of mud brick structures in the West Settlement, excavated by Janice Kamrin. The bones were found in corners of rooms or courtyards, or along walls, often mixed in with broken pottery. These were meticulously collected by hand—even very tiny fish bones have made it into the sample.

West Settlement: N145/E135

Deposit of bones, sherds, and charcoal along one of the walls in the West Settlement

The bones from this year’s work showed that the people who lived here were eating cattle, probably quite young and tender as they were under two years of age when they were butchered. Clearly, the king’s herds were providing food for the people here. They were also eating sheep, goats, and large quantities of poultry and fish. The poultry consisted mainly of ducks and some geese, all of which are pictured on the pavements and walls of the palace, and were either brought from near the Nile or were maybe even bred along the edges of the Birket Habu, the huge ceremonial lake just east of Malqata. The fish, mainly Tilapia and Nile Perch, might also have come from the same place. But not all the fish were Nilotic—this year there was a fabulous surprise. One of the fish bones that was identified came from a Gilt Headed Seabream (Sparus aurata), which thrives in both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. These fish also venture into brackish water, and thus might have been acquired from the Delta rather than from the sea. This would suggest that some of the fish that was being eaten at Malqata was imported from the Delta, probably coming in as salted fish.


Two fragments from the jaw of a Gilt Headed Seabream from the West Settlement

As there was no refrigeration in ancient Egypt, the Egyptians depended on salt to preserve meat, poultry, and fish. In fact, their salted fish was so famous that it was exported all over the Mediterranean! Once the fish had been caught, it was gutted, washed out, and then packed in salt for a week or two. After that, it would be hung out to dry a bit more, and then packed in jars, and sent wherever it needed to go. Some of the jar labels found at Malqata list Tilapia as their contents—maybe the Seabream was caught, along with the Tilapia, in the Delta, salted, packed into jars, and sent south to be eaten at the royal palace.


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