Completed Project

Ceremonial Enclosure of Khasekhemwy At Hierakonpolis

Kom el-Ahmar, Egypt

Hierakonpolis was the Predynastic capital of Upper Egypt, and grew to prominence in the mid-third millennium B.C. Dominating the site is an imposing structure built of unfired mud-brick, measuring 67 by 57 meters. Built by Khasekhemwy, the last ruler of Dynasty II (c. 2800-2675 B.C.) and one of Egypt's greatest builders and innovators, it is the oldest freestanding monumental mudbrick structure in Egypt. Archaeological trenches made in the foundations of the walls destabilized the structure, and wind and sand erosion enlarged these openings. Rain created vertical gullies running down many of the walls. The enclosure, along with the entire site of Hierakonpolis, was recently declared a protected antiquities zone by the government of Egypt, and was accurately surveyed, photographed, and documented. Despite the importance of the site, large holes were dug by those seeking buried artifacts and walls were pillaged by locals for clay to make bricks.

2000, 2002 and 2004 World Monuments Watch

WMF provided assistance to the British Museum archaeological mission to Hierakonpolis for the documentation of the structure, its condition assessment, and improvement in the stability of the complex through the insertion of newly fabricated mudbricks. Thousands of bricks were manufactured matching the composition of ancient mudbricks. Trenches were backfilled and the interior space of the structure was leveled to protect the archaeological layers and recreate a space that can be better accessed by visitors and members of the local community, who believe that this space has the power to facilitate pregnancies.Mudbricks, especially those found in archaeological sites of great antiquity, are a difficult material to conserve. This project demonstrated that low-cost and sustainable methods for the consolidation of earthen structures of this type are possible. The addition of new material to the original one is clearly indicated, and it does not compromise the authenticity of the site, since the material used is similar to the ancient one, and the technology of its fabrication and installation is comparable to ancient practices. Reconstructions made on assumptions were avoided, and the approach employed at the site was labor-intensive, since thousands of bricks had to be manufactured. Yet it may serve as an example for other sites with similar problems. This project respected both historic and scientific values, but also was very mindful of the contemporary importance of the site to the community who visit it to invoke the spirits for fertility. Any dramatic changes to the site might have risked alienating those who visit the site for such local significance.

Collaborators & Contributors

British Museum’s Hierakonpolis project

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