The American Research Center in Eygpt

Khonsu Temple Initiatives

Khonsu Temple Initiatives

Khonsu Temple Initiatives
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A column at Khonsu Temple undergoing conservation. Photo: Kathleen Scott

One of ARCE's largest conservation initiatives is the collection of projects taking place in the Karnak Temple, Mut Temple, and Luxor Temple complexes as part of the Luxor East Bank Groundwater Lowering Response Project.

Now, a comprehensive and varied effort is concentrated in the area of the Khonsu Temple. Located in the southwest corner of the Karnak Temple Complex, Khonsu Temple is a beautiful example of an almost complete New Kingdom temple and is well worth exploring. But, due to its location—somewhat off the beaten track at Karnak—it is rarely visited by tourists.

The MSA has asked ARCE to assist in preparing the Khonsu Temple for easier and safer access to tour groups. Overseeing work within the Khonsu temple is British archaeologist Pamela Rose and a team of stonemasons, epigraphers, and conservators.


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Field School students working in the classroom at the ARCE conservation lab. Photo: Owen Murray

Much of the cleaning and conservation work is being carried out by SCA conservators as part of the on-going ARCE program to train Egyptian conservators in techniques such as stone masonry construction, salt damage treatment, and object conservation. A modern conservation laboratory that includes office and classroom space was built by ARCE near Khonsu Temple.

During the 2010-2011 season, ARCE introduced an advanced training program for former graduates of ARCE’s Conservation Field School which ran from 2007-2010. The Egyptian technicians learned more advanced conservation methods and had the opportunity to use some new materials for certain treatments. The conservators then put their new skills into practice through a number of different conservation projects in Luxor and Karnak, each led by an ARCE conservation supervisor.


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Chapel wall reliefs after cleaning
Photo:Owen Murray

Some of the most well-preserved and vivid relief carvings anywhere at Karnak are hidden within Khonsu Temple under centuries of smoke and grime. Italian conservators, led by Cristina Vazio, arrived in Luxor in late 2008. Their task involved the stabilization, cleaning, and conservation of these painted reliefs within several side chapels. Efforts were largely focused on Chapel 12 during the 2008-2009 season, which has served as a prototype for conserving other chapels within Khonsu Temple.

Chapel 12 has now been finished with the addition of future-visitor-friendly sandstone flooring; a unique solar lighting device which filters and diffuses sunlight and eliminates the need for traditional lighting fixtures; a portable wall guard clear paneling structure which can be easily removed for cleaning, maintenance, or to expose the walls completely; a small solar powered venting system that will exchange the air in the chapel during the day to help reduce any moisture caused by visitor respiration. With these systems approved by the SCA, the products will be used in other chapels.


A section of wall was selected inside Khonsu Temple's Chapel 2 to serve as a conservation prototype and to guide future work in additional chapels. This chapel dates to the Ramesside Period (1292-1069 BCE). This chapel poses several challenges in terms of cleaning and conservation treatment. The entire chapel is black with soot, a result from occupancy during a later period when fires were built to provide light and to cook. Early tests look promising. Voids between detached plaster and stone have been injected with a liquid mortar. Stone toward the bottom of the wall has been stabilized with silicate to prevent further loss of the sandstone. Old cement fills were also remoed and replaced with lime mortar tinted with earth pigments.


ARCE Euergetes Cropped New Copy

Cleaned portion of the gate

The gate in front of Khonsu Temple was erected by Ptolemy III Euergetes who ruled Egypt from 246 to 222 BCE. After an initial cleaning during the 2009-2010 season, work resumed on the ceiling and jambs of the Euergetes Gate in Karnak. From mid-October to mid- December 2010, ARCE conservators Claire D’Izarny and Christie Pohl worked with teams of six technicians each to complete additional conservation treatments.

During a period of cleaning tests, a method was discovered to remove unsightly stains within the plastered surface of the walls. This method proved to be very successful and the jambs are now much more visually homogenous. The paint remains on the Gate are extensive, yet fragile in many areas. These vulnerable sections of paint were consolidated to ensure long-term stability and preservation.


Following the death of the pharaoh Akhenaten (c. 1352-1336 BC), thousands of small sandstone blocks, known as talatat, were taken from his dismantled temples and used as stabilizing fill inside later Karnak pylons. The word talatat probably comes from the Arabic word for three,since the dimension of each block was approximately the width of three hands.


Talatat blocks with original pigments. Photo: Owen Murray

These well preserved blocks were removed from the pylons by archaeologists more than two decades ago and put in the storage building that now abuts the Khonsu Temple. The storage building had deteriorated and was putting the talatat at risk as well as causing damage to the Khonsu Temple, so ARCE was asked by the MSA to clean, stabilize, and photograph each block prior to their being moved into soon-to-be constructed storage facilities. Most of the 16,000 talatat were beautifully carved and much original pigment still remains on many blocks.

Since the completion of the documentation of the Akhenaten talatat in the ‘Pennsylvania’ magazine at Karnak in April 2010, work has been continuing in Cairo on the talatat database. Director of the project Jocelyn Gohary, and assistant director Rawya Ismail, have spent the past season entering more detailed information into the database, to make it a more comprehensive research tool for scholars in the future. This data includes the crowns and regalia worn by Akhenaten and Nefertiti, measurements of the angles and dimensions of the sunrays radiating from the Aten disk, the content of inscriptions, types of objects, tools, and ritual items, parts of buildings, and many other details.

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