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Excavations in the Court of the 9th Pylon at Karnak

26 August 2007

Mr. Charles Van Siclen currently manages the research library at the American Research Center in Egypt in Cairo and is editor of the Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. He resides most of the year in Cairo. Mr. Van Siclen has worked in Egypt since 1971.

Mr. Van Siclen opened his lecture by screening a picture of the Edifice of Amenhotep II east of the Temple of Khonsu within the Karnak Temple enclosure and facing into the court between the 9th and 10th Pylons. He noted that it is, in fact, a ďpious fraudĒ, for it was not built by Amenhotep II, but by Horemheb who is believed to have reconstructed it where it stands today with stone from the original building moved from itís original location in the area before the 8th pylon. Itís decoration was finished by Seti I. Beginning in 1988 the inscriptions were recorded; those on the pillars are of 18th dynasty origin, having clearly visible erasures and restorations

The question raised by investigation of the Edifice, which is a ďnewĒ structure, is therefore, where was the building when it was originally built? This tantalizing question, as well as the relationship between the 9th Pylon and the development of Karnak Temple, is what Chuck Van Siclen hoped to answer when he began work in the court of the 9th Pylon in 1996.

The area which forms the court is 80 meters north-to-south, and 60 meters east-to-west. It originally had a stone roadway down the center. Prior to 1935 the court was covered with piles of ancient debris, which the Antiquities Department cleared away in that year.

When Mr. Van Siclenís work began, it was concentrated on the east side of the court where LOTS of mud brick quickly emerged, along with many holes. One of the first orders of business was, therefore to determine the relationship between the mud brick and the attendant pottery remains.

Mr. Van Siclen advised that the Middle Kingdom enclosure of Karnak Temple was much smaller than the temple enclosure we see today. A corner of that Middle Kingdom enclosure is, in fact, in the 9th Pylon court area. The original temple was built on a flood plain and was oriented east-to-west, not west to east as it is now. Thus the temple enclosure was entirely different in the Middle Kingdom than it is today.

Over time the relative ground level around the temple precinct rose due to the annual inundation.
By the mid-2nd Intermediate Period, the monument was being flooded every year. Evidence of significant flood damage is clearly visible on remains of the temple enclosure wall and on a bark shrine dating to that period. For example part of the great corner bastion of the enclosure wall was completely eroded away. A new bastion was built, perhaps during the reign of Kamose, last ruler of the 17th Dynasty, but it was tucked inside the corner of the enclosure. Walls were restored, and an elevated, pillared courtyard was added. There is also evidence for at least two stages of courts, the earlier with stairways to a surviving Middle Kingdom forecourt. A stela found fallen next to the 8th Pylon with a badly damaged inscription revealed the name of Kamose and mentions building columns of wood. Mr. Van Siclen suspects that these columns were the very ones put up by Kamose at the south entrance to Karnak at the end of the 17th Dynasty.

During the reign of Amenhotep I, first king of Dynasty 18, a new pylon was built and a gateway and harbor were filled in. It appears Amenhotep I was interested in the whole area for a lintel from above the door talks about the rebuilding of the temple enclosure. A large seated statue of Amenhotep I sat in front of the Amenhotep Iís new pylon.

Hatshepsut & Thutmosis III constructed the 8th Pylon to the north of Amenhotep Iís pylon and inside the then enclosure wall. They left a stub of the former court with its wooden columns next to the mud brick pylon. This was all replaced by a new court of Thutmosis III.

At the end of Thutmosis IIIís co-regency with his son, Amenhotep II, he shifted the mud brick wall erected by Amenhotep I and built a doorway to the outside of the enclosure, abutting the new enclosure wall to the face of the 8th Pylon.

Mr. Van Siclen noted that he had found bread furnaces outside the new enclosure wall, and that the remains of a small Middle Kingdom shrine still stood in the area. It was remodeled by Amenhotep II, and the court wall was extended to include the bark shrine.

The original structure that became the Edifice of Amenhotep II was originally located in the area before the 8th Pylon, and in fact, it was the then south entrance to Karnak. The dismantling took place in two stages. Most of the stone went to building the Edifice, but the Middle Kingdom shrine was reused in the building of the 9th Pylon. Horemheb finished the 9th Pylon and built the 10th Pylon. In this, Horemheb actually finished a plan started by Amenhotep III, but he only restored the faÁade of the Edifice of Amenhotep II.

Within the court of the 9th Pylon were found a series of stone robber trenches. Everywhere Mr. Van Siclen found evidence of Late Period removals of foundations that hadnít already been removed during the earlier remodelings. The looters were clearly looking for sandstone and limestone blocks. Many of the resulting holes were then filled in with early Ptolemaic pottery fragments. In the early Ptolemaic Period, after walls and walk ways were repaired, the whole was paved over with broken pottery and stone chippings, and an avenue of trees was planted along the axial road. At some point a hole 11 meters by 16 meters had been dug then filled with clean river sand but work then stopped and whatever was intended was never finished.

The final stages of the courtís history occurred some 600 years later when the temple was about to be abandoned. A large villa and an Roman Period tomb had been constructed in the space. In the court to the south was found the remains of structures where the lesser officerís had once been housed. These were the quarters of the crew who was responsible for the removal of obelisks from Karnak in AD 330.

During the very latest stage of the courtís life, a great Coptic monastery was built around the 8th Pylon, beyond which was located an open air granary and a mill. To the south of the 8th Pylon was found a single lintel for a door or window and to the north the remains of the excavation of the monastery that dated to the 1920s. Once the monastery had been abandoned, that part of Karnak Temple disappeared. Its walls had been built of talatat blocks, which were subsequently used to build structures in the city of Luxor.

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