Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Missions working in Egypt, South Asasif Conservation Project: (Week 1 to 5)

The south Asasif Necropolis is not easily found. Located about 300m southwest of the imposing pylons of the tomb of Mentuemhat (TT34) of the North Asasif, it does not strike the eye as an important section of the famous Late Period necropolis. The toms are almost completely shielded by the houses of Herebat village, built around, and at times directly on top of the. With their ruined superstructures and never excavated substructures those tombs are little known.

Yet from what is know it is evident that the three largest tombs of the South Asasif, dated to the 25th early 26th Dynasties, are among the most important in the Asasif necropolis. It is clear that the earliest tombs of Kushite dignitaries (reign of Shabaqo) were built in South Asasif and the building activity moved to the North Asasif only by the end of the Dynasty.

Described by travelers of the 19th century as among the most beautiful of Theban tombs, they have been gradually falling into a state if destruction and oblivion. People lived, cooked, and kept their livestock in them. Numerous floods brought debris and deteriorated the walls. Surrounding villages used them as quarries. Exquisitely carved fragments were chiseled roughly out of the walls and mixed with mud to build houses. By the end of 20th century the tombs of South Asasif were generally assumed to have been entirely annihilated. They were forgotten by scholars and visitors alike.

They were rediscovered by South Asasif Conservation Project in the summer 2006. Partially collapsed, blackened by smoke, damaged by people and centuries of misuse, they are still standing. Even in their ruined condition they have proved capable of offering incredible surprises. Their painted ceilings, stunning relief, and elegant architecture are not obliterated, merely hidden beneath layers of soot, veiled by dust and cobwebs, and blocked by piles of debris.

The tom of the Mayor of Thebes, Fourth Priest of Amun, Karabasken (TT391) consists of a large court, vestibule, pillared hall, and unfinished cult camber with six side niches. The detailed elegant carving of the architectural elements and inscriptions are almost concealed by extensive damages and a layer of smoke grease on the walls.

The tomb of first ek priest Karakhamun  (TT223) is the largest in the necropolis with its two spacious pillared halls and five-room burial chamber. This tomb had not been accessible for long time since the collapse of the ceiling. At first glance it appeared the tomb was no longer in existence. The only trace of its location the mission could discern was a blackened crack in the sand filled with various refuse. However, some days of tedious digging soon yielded much more than the mission could have hoped for – a wall of carving, almost completely intact, with a life-size figure of Karakhamun in front of an offering table.

The latest tomb (TT390) built in this part of the necropolis dated to the reign of Psamtik I and belong to Irtieru, Chief Attendant to the Divine Consort of Amun, Nitocris. The best preserved out of this group of three tombs, Irtieru retains a great deal of its original beauty: two elegant doorframes, a painted on the pillars of the pillared hall and the ceiling of the vestibule. The tomb needs immediate conservation attention.

The final goal of the project is to fully clear, restore, and reconstruct all three tombs and open them to public. The earliest late period tombs on the Theban West Bank, they will alter the face of the Theban necropolis and Late Period scholarship. The Project works under the auspices of the Ministry of State for Antiquities.  The Egyptian-American team, which is becoming more and more international every year, has been working on the clearing, conservation and reconstruction of these tombs for eight years, including the 2013 season completed in September.

In May 2014 South Asasif Conservation Project has opened for its 2014 season. Their conservators opened the protective gate to the tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223), which we installed last year. 

Week 1 Opening (10 May 2014)

Week 2 (16 May 2014)

Week 3 (23 May 2014)

Week 4 and 5 (5 June 2014)

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