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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
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
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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