I found this article about the SCA's work on Karnak and the Valley and thought you all might find it interesting.
Ancient Egyptians considered it the most perfect of all temples. Nevine El-Aref reports on recent discoveries as Karnak reveals more of its secrets
A panorama view of karnak temple; a French restorer injecting a part of an Osirin statue, the red granite scarab of king Amenhotep III
Even in ruins, Karnak Temple remains a spectacular sight. Within the temple enclosure is a cluster of pylons, sanctuaries, chapels and obelisks, forming a vast open-air exhibition of history set in stone. Much of the site still remains to be explored. This year, following a methodological plan of excavation, conservation and archaeological research, a team from the Centre Franco-Egyptian d'Etude des Temples de Karnak (CFEETK), along with their Egyptian colleagues, have executed an ambitious project in five areas of the temple.
The first to be highlighted is the reconstruction of Amenhotep II's calcite chapel, which adjoins its neighbour, the Red Chapel of Queen Hatshepsut, at the entrance of the temple's open-air museum. Although Amenhotep's chapel is built up of various types of stone, most of them are calcite. Two huge, 12-ton blocks forming the second course of the chapel's side walls bear vertical inscriptions featuring the diplomatic marriage of Pharaoh Ramses II to the daughter of the king of the Hittites after the signing of their bilateral peace treaty.
The lateral sides of the chapel's huge ceiling slab are equipped with impressive protrusions. These are just as visible on the outer face left side of the chapel, but on the right side both the decorative face and the protrusions have completely disappeared. A granite stelae of Amenhotep II was found, while some decorative elements telling of the Pharaoh's glory are carved horizontally on some the chapel's huge calcite blocks.
"Reconstructing such a puzzling chapel was a really impressive work, carried out this year by the Franco-Egyptian team," said Sabri Abdel- Aziz, head of the Ancient Egyptian antiquities department in the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).
Abdel-Aziz said most of the chapel's blocks had been scattered all over Karnak Temple. Two calcite blocks were found inside the Temple of Mut, having been reused as stelae by Ramses II. The chapel's 90-ton ceiling slab was found inside the southern wing of the third pylon, while some decorative elements fixed against the chapel's back wall ware also found reused in the foundation of the fore gate built against the Fourth Pylon's gate by Tuthmosis IV. "Most of these blocks were in dire need of restoration," restorer Mohamed Hussein says.
He adds that the most fragile blocks were among those found in the Temple of Mut. They were suffering from deep cracks, a high rate of humidity and salts which were covering most of the surface. Meanwhile their decorative elements bore dark spots.
To make a proper and accurate reconstruction, Hussein said, all these blocks would have to be consolidated and the cracks reduced.
To separate the chapel's genuine foundation blocks from the ground in order to reduce erosion factors and the subterranean water level that could appear at anytime, a false foundation similar to the original one has been attached to the ground. Hussein promised that next season there would be a complete restoration project to return Amenhotep's calcite chapel to its original glory.
François Larché, director of CFEETK, said that architectural studies carried out on the reconstructed chapel had revealed that it originally stood before the Fourth Pylon, between the two obelisks of Tuthmosis. Further studies will take place over consecutive archaeological seasons to discover the chapel's original design.
The eastern side of the Sacred lake, dedicated to the dwellings of priests who served in the temple, was another working location as a continuation of the excavations carried out there since the 1970s. This year archaeologists discovered a number of ceramic fragments, tokens, seal imprints and coins dating from the reign of Pharaoh Shashanq I of the XXIInd Dynasty, as well as clay shreds and pots from the XXVIth and XXVIIth dynasties.
Silver ingots and two silver coins, originally from northern Greece and dating from about the XXVIIth Dynasty, were found at house number five. "This new discovery puts the emphasis on the wealth of its owner, and is much appreciated as giving a chronological fix, given that it places this treasure in history at the moment of the Persian debacle," Abdel-Aziz said. He added that the excavations revealed that the inhabitants of the houses were without doubt of high rank. Various titles of priests have been found, among them the priest in charge of opening the golden naos (shrine) of Amun.
In the area of the wall attributed to Tuthmosis III, rescue excavations executed in 1970s and in 2001 proved there was great activity in this area before the beginning of the New Kingdom. Archaeologist Aurelia Masson said that recent excavation had permitted the identification of eight phases of occupation, helped by abundant and various material: ceramics, seal prints, lithic tools, pearls and tokens. As chronological indicators these objects also testify to the function of their place of discovery. This excavation work, Masson said, has permitted the identification of three main historical periods ranging from the beginning of the First Intermediate Period to the beginning of the XIIth Dynasty; and from between the reigns of the XIIth-Dynasty pharaohs Sesostris II and Amenemhat III to the XIIIth Dynasty.
In order to join the new excavations to the older ones the modern fill was cleared and the foundation trench of the precinct wall was excavated. New structures began to appear. A bakery building dating from the XIIth Dynasty was found, along with bread moulds, a number of jars for storing cereals, and sickles, as well as silos associated with grinders and crushers. To the north of these structures a large quantity of wood was discovered inside a space delimited by mud-brick walls, at the same level as the bakery floor. Although the levels in connection with this wood had not yet been excavated, Masson said, it was possible to imagine a workshop whose waste was used as fuel for the bakery. Workshops with miscellaneous function could thus be mixed together in this area.
A geological study has been carried out by British geologists in order to complete the stratigraphy of the area. Geologist Sally Ann Ashton said that samples taken down to a depth of 72ms testified to human occupation, while below that level there appeared only layers of sand and silt. The sounding reached a depth of 73.8ms, revealing an occupation dating from the XIth Dynasty. "As the coring shows, the two metres of stratigraphy which still have to be dug will permit us to check whether remains earlier than the XIth Dynasty exist," Ashton said.
Excavations continued at the symbolic osirian catacombs found on the northeastern side of Karnak Temple. These are vaulted, mud-brick catacombs dating from the Late Dynastic Saite period, and include three levels of niche burials.
The top one is the most complete, being closer to the outside ground level. Many small osiride or mummiform figurines were unearthed. These are made of sand and plaster in the shape of a wrapped body wearing the white crown, and are decorated with representations of the "four sons of Horus" and by a flat oval item near the head, probably a scarab. These catacombs are the symbolic tombs of Osiris, and this is where a yearly funerary ritual was held in the month of Khoiak. This was the month associated with the funeral rites commemorating the life, death and re-birth of Osiris.
Approximately 40,000 painted limestone fragments and some fragile pieces of gypsum collected from the site are the best preserved decorations of the catacombs' southern corridor. They show the 77 guardian gods beside the Pharaoh's body. A project to re-assemble these fragments is now underway, and a great number has already been put together. After completion, which is expected to take another year, the relief will be reconstructed.
Excavation work at the Fifth Pylon was carried out in order to re-draw the plan of the Middle Kingdom mud-brick structures. "We uncovered a grid of parallel and perpendicular walls under levels dated to the New Kingdom, as well as ceramic materials which allowed us to date these walls from the end of the XIth or the beginning of the XIIth dynasties," Larché said. "We could also relate them to the other mud-brick structures cleared last year in the central zone."
Larché said that two hypothesis could be proposed for the use to which these walls had been put: they could be the foundations of a precinct or of a mud-brick pylon. As in the northern courtyard at the Fifth Pylon, fragments of a sandstone architrave in the name of Sesostris I, as well as fragments of octagonal sandstone columns, were reused in the southern courtyard as foundations for the base of Tuthmosis I's colonnade. While research was taking place at the northern end of the halls built by Queen Hatshepsut to determine the precise dating of the foundations of Tuthmosis III's chapels, Egyptologist Guillaume Charloux uncovered a narrow, 20m-long sandstone water channel underneath the paving of the easternmost chapel. This channel runs northwards as far as the southern face of the inner wall. Southwards, this channel was cut where the Hatshepsut halls were built. The stratigraphic study, Charloux said, permitted the dating of this channel to the reign of Amenhotep I, since the foundation of a wall was built in the time of this Pharaoh it took account of the passage of the channel. "This channel is composed of two courses perfectly fitted and sealed with plaster to make it waterproof," Charloux said.
Among the most significant restoration projects, and being achieved totally by Egyptian restorers, is the consolidation and removal of Amenhotep III's red granite scarab situated on the north side of the Sacred Lake. This has been relocated to the lake's western side in order to make more space for the influx of tourists inside the temple. Before the removal comprehensive consolidation and cleaning took place.
Next month, said Zahi Hawass secretary- general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the Ministry of Culture will launch an international tender to install a proper drainage system in the informal housing areas around both Karnak and Luxor temples, as well as installing a new irrigation system to drain surplus irrigation water away from both temples. The tender follows two years of studies carried out by a Swedish company, SWECO, which is involved in water damage intervention, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to prevent the infiltration of underground water to both temples.
Abdel-Hamid Qutb head of the engineering department in the secretary-general's office said that as a first step before the studies are completed, the Ministry of Irrigation tested out a variation in the irrigation system used in sugar cane cultivation, which involved switching from the traditional method of basin irrigation to a sprinkler system. So far, 100 feddans under cultivation west of the temple have employed this new system.
"The rising of water in this period is a natural matter," said Holeil Ghali head of antiquities of Upper Egypt. He added there are three reasons for the rising water table. The first is the cultivation of sugar cane beside the temple, while the second the heightened level of the Nile in July and August. "The third," he said, "is the weak drainage system in the slum areas behind Karnak." It is hoped that at least some of these issues can be addressed.
SPRUCING UP THE VALLEY: At the valley of the Kings on Luxor's West Bank, where the great Pharaohs were laid to rest, the SCA is undertaking another site management project with a budget of $2.6 million offered as a grant by the Japanese government. This project aims at developing and upgrading the area of the Valley of the Kings with a spruced-up Visitor Centre, a new security system and stricter rule for visitors. Sabri Abdel-Aziz, head of the SCA's Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department, told Al-Ahram Weekly that in addition to improving lighting and some restoration work on most of the tombs, the development project would provide a Visitor Centre similar to the one at Abu Simbel Temple. The centre would be equipped with a lecture hall and a screen room showing documentaries about the significant discoveries of the last century, such as the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun along with other documentaries about major restoration projects, including the restoration of Nefertari's tomb. A selection of photographs showing most of the important reliefs inside the valley's various tombs will be also on display.
Bookshops and bazaars selling replicas will be also provided. As part of the valley's site management project, there will be a large parking area at the valley's entrance. Visitors will be moved in and out of the necropolis through a battery-operated train with six small coaches.
A climatic control device will be installed inside the valley in order to control the rate of humidity inside each tomb. Reliefs have been adversely affected by visitors' respiration. The Valley's mapping project will run simultaneously in parallel with the later scheduled development. It aims at providing a detailed map and database of every archaeological, geological, and ethnographic feature in the valley as a step to protecting and preserving this magnificent site.
To safeguard the Valley of the Kings a high-tech security systems similar to the one operative at the Egyptian Museum will be installed. The new system includes mobile and fixed CCTV cameras, keeping the corridors and chambers of the tombs, as well as the surrounding area, under close surveillance at all times.