The American Research Center in Eygpt

West Coast ARCE Chapter Tour - 4 Luxor Projects

West Coast ARCE Chapter Tour - 4 Luxor Projects

West Coast ARCE Chapter Tour - 4 Luxor Projects

Summary written by Nancy Corbin, long-time ARCE member and board member of the Northern California chapter.

Dr. Andrew Bednarski opened his lecture by providing a brief overview of and introduction to the ambitious program of work undertaken by ARCE at the Luxor and West Bank areas in Egypt which was begun in 2011 and concluded at the end of July in 2014.  This work included:

  • A site improvement project at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, the area of the Tombs of the Nobles, that included cleanup of the surface debris left after demolition of the houses that once stood there, and a survey of the entire site--a one square kilometer area.  Included in the project was the laying of non-invasive pathways and signage.  This is a World Heritage site and is just over the hill from the Valley of the Kings.
  • Excavation, conservation, and preparation of Theban Tomb 110 (TT 110), the Tomb of Djehuty, in preparation for visitors. TT 110 is one of the tombs over which Sheik Abd el-Qurna dwellings stood prior to demolition.
  • Conservation of the small Isis temple at Der el Shelwit.
  • Cleanup and restoration of the Sacred Lake at the 18th Dynasty Mut Temple, as well as installed pathways and visitor signage throughout the site.


Ariel view of el-Qurna

Dr. Bednarski began his discussion of the project by providing background on the history of the village of Sheikh Abd- el-Qurna and the decision by the government to demolish it to preserve the antiquities in the area.

In the 1800s, local people were living in the ancient tombs of the high officials located at the site from which the village of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna eventually emerged.  As European Egyptologists working on the west bank constructed buildings for their work, the local people began to mimic the European style for their own homes.  The result was a very complex architectural landscape, with many of the tombs involved to a greater or lesser degree.

In the 1980s the government tried to curb further construction with modern material. Due to this restriction, the Qurnawys held on to old building techniques much longer than many surrounding Egyptian villages, including using traditional materials and shapes. The landscape became a blending of the ancient tombs and modern buildings.

A wholesale eviction of the Qurnawys began in 2005.  The residents were eventually moved to a new village and the old houses were removed, leaving large areas of debris.  In 2011 ARCE, in cooperation with the Egyptian government, initiated a project to clean up and survey the site.  Upward to 70 percent of people living in Luxor and its environs are associated with the tourism industry as a means of earning money.  When the 2011 uprising occurred, many were out of work. Thus ARCE determined to address both the needs of the monuments and the economy with the goals of:

  • Putting Egyptians back to work;
  • Training inspectors and conservators;
  • Studying and improving the appearance and accessibility of the site of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna;
  • Opening or re-opening monuments at the site.

Workmen employed during site improvement project

The Qurna Site Improvement Project employed more than six hundred workmen for two years, while  ARCE’S overall program of work in Luxor employed about 1,000 workmen over three years. The debris at Qurna was removed by hand.  This debris, and the ground immediately under it, comprise the latest stratigraphic layers of the site -- those related to modern habitation. Recording work was done by an all-Egyptian team who made a full photographic record, registered all objects found, made a topographic plan, developed comprehensive maps of the entire site, and amassed ethnographic data. This comprehensive level of information about the site had not existed prior to the project.  Many of the project’s workmen had lived at Qurna or had friends who had lived there, so were able to provide rich ethnographic information.

After completion of the clean-up, the site is now much safer and more comprehensible.  Over three thousand archaeological features, and over a thousand objects – both ancient and modern - were recorded, many of which were reused as building material.  A series of interesting finds took the form of modern magical spells. One in particular was written on paper and was meant to make a man impotent!  Also found among the debris were many photographs of former residents. The cooking and storage jars left by the Qurnawys now form the largest ceramic corpus for any modern village in Upper Egypt.

The surveying aspect of the project established around 80 survey points and incorporated survey points from foreign missions.  Over a hundred structures were mapped, and the structures themselves were archaeologically documented and photographed.  Building footprints were incorporated into the finished maps, making it the most current and accurate map of Qurna.  And last but not least, a plan was developed to make the site publically accessible. The fieldwork for this project is complete; the paperwork is in progress. The Qurna site will soon have a comprehensive data set available for use by scholars and other interested parties.

Read more about the Qurna Site Improvement Project >>

THEBAN TOMB 110 (TT 110)

TT110 is the tomb of Djehuty, a New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty official, who lived during the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III.  The owner was a cup-bearer to both rulers. The tomb was found to be badly damaged, but still has historical value. The goal of the TT 110 project was to excavate, conserve and open the tomb for visitors.

Pillared hall in TT 110 tomb

Excavation focused on the tomb’s pillared hall, its forecourt and its burial shaft.  Conservation focused on the tomb’s corridor and its transverse hall.  The pillared hall was so badly clogged with debris that the archaeologists had to create a baseline, from which to measure and record their work on the room’s ceiling!

Excavation of the pillared hall revealed clear evidence of reuse as late as the Ptolemaic period, and produced hundreds of finds including human remains from as many as 45 individuals.  The hall, once cleared, appeared to have been a virtual “mummy processing station”!

Excavation of the tomb shaft produced mummies as well as clear evidence of reuse and of pillaging.  The burial chamber revealed a late New Kingdom burial with grave goods as well as reuse for Late Period burials.  Almost directly outside of the area of the tomb’s forecourt excavation, two wooden coffins (complete with mummies), eight pots, a wooden chest, and a basket, all dating to the Late Period, were found.  The project's ceramicist theorized that the pots buried with the deceased were symbolic phalluses.

Inside the tomb, the walls were badly burned.  After clearing and cleaning, lovely reliefs emerged and the transverse hall’s inscriptions were fully readable.

The initial excavations in the forecourt were done by an all-Egyptian archaeological field school for MSA inspectors. The work was then continued by an exclusively Egyptian team, all of whom had completed international field schools.  The language of the work day was Arabic, but all documentation was done in English.  The forecourt revealed hundreds of objects, including an ostraca containing part of a Middle Kingdom wisdom text.  At the three meter level, a line of finished limestone blocks proved to be the top of a retaining wall.   A niche within the tomb’s façade probably contains the remains of a statue of Djhuty kneeling and holding a stela.  And, perhaps of greatest importance, was the actual excavation of the previously-unknown forecourt of the tomb.  After clearing most of the forecourt, the team constructed ramps and staircases to lead visitors into the tomb.

The burial chamber and the forecourt still await completion of the work which will be undertaken during the next excavation season.

Read more about TT 110 archaeology >>

Read more about TT 110 field school >>


Conservator cleaning wall relief inside Deir el Shelwit

This structure at Deir el-Shelwit is made up of a small temple with a naos dedicated to the goddess Isis.  It contained a well within the temple’s temenos wall, which was punctuated by a still-standing proplyon.  All the walls of the naos were cleaned completely.  Unexpected painted reliefs were exposed once the cleaning was complete.

Like the conservation work in TT 110, the conservation project at Deir el-Shelwit was used as a training opportunity for Egyptian conservators.


The Mut temple was constructed during the 18th Dynasty and remained in use into the Roman period.  The embankment around the horseshoe shaped sacred lake at the back of the temple was once lined with hundreds of statues of the goddess Sekhmet.   The objective of work at this temple was to clean and open the site to visitors.  This ARCE project included cleaning the sacred lake and installing walking pathways.  Again, an all-Egyptian team was used to accomplish all work.

Mut temple complex


The projects discussed herein employed approximately 1,000 workers, with training included, for over three years.  More than one hundred inspectors were trained and graduated from conservation, archaeology, and photography programs.  Sheikh Abd el-Qurna is now safe and accessible.  The Theban Tomb of Djhuty is now open, the Mut Temple and its environs are now open and the small Roman temple is also open to visitors.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided the funding to accomplish this work and has provided extended funding through the end of 2014. 

US Office: 909 North Washington St. Suite 320, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314 p: (703) 721-3479
ARCE Cairo Center: 2 Midan Simón Bolívar Garden City Cairo 11461 Egypt p: 20 2 2794 8239 

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