Conservation and New Discoveries at the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III

A team of conservators recently wrapped up its 13th season of work at the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. The group made steady progress this past spring in stabilizing, cleaning, documenting, and restoring various sections of the ruined temple. The site includes three pylons, or monumental gateways; the first of which features the famous Colossi of Memnon, which lead, along an east-west axis, to a peristyle courtyard. All three pylons once featured colossal statues of Amenhotep III flanking the northern and southern sides of the processional pathway, but only the first pylon's colossi have survived upright since Antiquity.

This most recent phase of work commenced with the removal of foliage and vegetation from the entire site. At the Colossi of Memnon, (photo 1) the team verified through monitoring that they had not moved since last season. The surfaces of both colossi were cleaned to remove bird droppings that had accumulated since the last campaign. Fine netting was installed to prevent birds from nesting in crevices of the statues.

In cooperation with the Institute of Geological Sciences of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, the team is studying the colossi and their masonry and mapping the restored upper part of the North Colossus. Soil and samples of wooden remains from the colossus were sent to the French Institute for Carbon 14 dating to determine the approximate time of previous restoration work. Modern restoration work from the 1960s was replaced with new bricks and white cement, which was then concealed with a soft mortar.

At the site of the second pylon, the torso of the North Colossus (photo 2) was returned to its original place and currently lies adjacent to its pedestal awaiting re-erection. The team continues to clean and desalinate the South Colossus, and document and conserve the quartzite piece belonging to both colossi. While working, team members found original bricks in the foundation of the pylon. These were protected with newly fabricated mud bricks of the same dimension stamped with Memnon. (photo 3)

The team recovered numerous parts of the north colossal statue at the third pylon, including the king's fallen bust and left knee, and pieces of the throne and statue base. (photo 4) These had fallen during an earthquake centuries ago and separated from the seated torso. The sculpture is carved in alabaster, a rare medium for large-scale statuary, and was sourced from the quarries of Hatnub, in Middle Egypt. Several blocks of black granite from the pedestal were also found, carved with personifications of foreign lands.

In the peristyle courtyard, fragments of statues were consolidated, and the stele that had been grouped and cleaned over the past few years was mounted in its original place on its recently reconstructed foundation. (photo 5) While cleaning the central part of the great court, the bust of a statue in granodiorite was uncovered. The statue represents a male deity wearing a striated wig, and was brought to the Supreme Council of Antiquities for cleaning. In the northern portico of the peristyle, fragments of columns and architraves, as well as fragments of statues of Sekhmet in black granite, were revealed and brought back to the conservation lab for treatment.

At the end of the season, the team covered large fragments with white fabric, covered structures with sand, and enclosed the perimeter of the working areas with a temporary wooden fence. Work will recommence in 2012.

Excerpted from the progress report by Hourig Sourouzian, director of the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project.