Archive Series

  • November 2, 2022 3 Episodes

The Story Behind the Akhenaten Talatat Blocks

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In this episode

Part of the American Research Center in Egypt greater project umbrella of Khonsu Temple Conservation in the Karnak Temple complex, at Luxor, the Talatat Project had documented approximately 16,000 sandstone blocks from buildings constructed at Karnak by Akhenaten in the early years of his reign. The blocks are stored in a magazine adjacent to the west wall of the Khonsu Temple, which is known as the “Pennsylvania” magazine. The project started in 2008 and completed in 2012.



About Dr. Rawya Ismail

Ismail has worked for more than 35 years in Egyptology related fields. For several years she has guided tours on a regular basis for international travel companies including Bales Worldwide, Swan Hellenic, and Ancient World Tours. She regularly guides academic groups for scholarly institutions such as the American Research Center in Egypt, Amarna Trust, Thames Valley of Ancient Egypt Society, Friends of the Manila Palace Museum, Archaeological Paths, and the Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt.

She served as Assistant Director of the Talatat Project at Karnak Temple, a USAID-funded ARCE conservation project.

Ismail’s breadth of experience includes serving as an academic consultant to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, currently partly open, and directing the Cairo office of the British Egypt Exploration Society (EES) for 10 years during which she finished her PhD program on (Aspects of Household cults in New Kingdom sites compared with practices in Modern Western Thebes).

Conservation and Presentation at Carter House

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In this Episode

We are joined by the dream team, led by Dr. Nicholas Warner, ARCE’s Director of Cultural Heritage Projects, that conserved and curated Howard Carter’s historic home in Luxor for its reopening on November 4, 2022 – 100 years to the day that Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun. 

In addition to Dr. Warner, we also have Tom Hardwick, the project’s Egyptology consultant, Sally El Sabbahy, ARCE’s Heritage Outreach and Planning Manager, and Mena Melad, founder of the Luxor Times and the project’s historic and archival expert. This team worked around the clock starting in February 2022 to have the project complete for its November 4 relaunch. This episode will take a behind the scenes look into the conservation and curation of this historic house-turned museum in Luxor’s West Bank.


To coincide with the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun on November 4, 2022, the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) undertook a nearly year-long restoration and renovation of Howard Carter’s house in the Luxor west bank. The project was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Adina Lei Savin Family Trust, with additional support from the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and support in kind from The Griffith Institute, the Luxor Times, the British Embassy in Cairo, Chicago House, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the Worcester Art Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Located on the North/South Qurna road just north of the turn off to the Valley of the Kings, is the historic house built and inhabited by Howard Carter, the British Egyptologist who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Construction of the house began in 1910 and Carter resided in it – likely only during the colder seasons – until his death in 1939, after which ownership of the property was passed to the Egyptian Antiquities Department. The house was used as living quarters for Antiquities Inspectors until 2008, when work to convert it into a tourist attraction began. The ‘house-museum’ and its garden café opened in November 2009 and were soon joined by a facsimile of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was produced and installed on-site by Factum Arte in 2014.

Unfortunately, the house quickly fell into disrepair because of maintenance and management deficiencies. The most pressing concerns were: no regular cleaning, improper ad hoc repairs, damage to objects and furniture due to inappropriate visitor behavior, the operating failure of a popular hologram of Carter (portrayed by an actor), the closure of the garden café, structural damage to the original mudbrick walls of the building due to overwatering of the garden, lack of water drainage infrastructure around the house, and a white emulsion paint that had been painted on the house’s exterior and prevented the escape of absorbed water. The cumulative result of these was that the house was dirty and unkempt in appearance, had significant structural damage, and was considerably underperforming as an attraction – drawing an average of only 9,000 visitors a year.

In 2021, ARCE’s Cultural Heritage Projects Department submitted a proposal to the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) to conserve Carter House, restage its interior, and develop new on-site and digital visitor information in time for the centenary of Carter’s discovery. Approval was received and work at Carter House began in February 2022. This consisted of a two-pronged approach: preliminary structural work and hard and soft landscaping was paired with the research and development of new visitor information and a renewed, historically accurate, presentation of the house’s interior. With respect to the former, the focus was on repairing the damage caused by water and making alterations to the landscaping that would prevent similar damage occurring in the future. Old, broken subsurface waste pipes from the house were replaced, hedges and trees that were planted too close to the walls were removed, and a ‘water-free’ buffer zone was introduced. A new drip-feed pipe and sprinkler system was installed in the remaining garden area to avoid previous overwatering problems caused by running hoses.

Most critically, modern, inappropriate repairs and alterations made to the exterior of the building were removed. This included the existing plaster over which the emulsion paint had been applied. Interestingly, it is this paint that had given Carter House its ‘signature’ white appearance, a quality that while aesthetically appealing was not in line with the house’s historically unpainted mud brick appearance. After removal, a new plaster made from crushed mud bricks (sourced from the dumps of archaeological work in the area) and sand was applied to the exterior of the building, returning it to its original brown color. Around the house, new areas of sandstone paving, benches, and steel and timber shade structures were installed to improve facilities for both staff and visitors.

Targeted preliminary work inside the house included the installation of new LED lighting (wired to antique dolly switches mounted on copper plates) and object vitrines. Considerable conservation work was undertaken in Carter’s study to return it to its original appearance based on archival photographs. Given the historic events that Carter House has witnessed, considerable effort has been made by ARCE’s Cultural Heritage Projects Department to develop an engaging and representative visitor experience at the house. Visitors to Carter House will now benefit from bilingual Arabic and English information panels that contextualize the social and political circumstances that surrounded the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun and the many individuals, Egyptian and foreign, that were involved in the management of the discovery. Additional information about al-Qurna and the local workforce, foreign excavators, and the functions of the house and its various specialized rooms, such as the photographic darkroom, is also provided. The new on-site information is complemented by a digital Matterport tour of the house for self-guided or ‘armchair’ visitors, which will soon be added to Google Street View for wider accessibility and viewership.

Carter House was officially relaunched on November 4, 2022, under the auspices of the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Ahmed Issa, in addition to previous ministers, Dr. Khaled El-Anany, Dr. Mamdouh El-Damaty, and Dr. Zahi Hawass. Also in attendance were Luxor Governor Mostafa Alham, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Dr. Mostafa Waziri, USAID Mission Director Leslie Reed, a number of foreign ambassadors in Egypt, descendants of Morcos Pasha Hanna, the Minister for Public Works who denied Carter access to the tomb in 1924, a descendant of Salah Bey Hamdi, who unwrapped Tutankhamun’s mummy, and Ahmed Grigar, a descendant of Carter’s rayyis Ahmed Grigar. British Ambassador Gareth Bayley and American Chargé d’Affaires, Daniel Rubinstein, both delivered speeches, and tours of the property were provided by ARCE’s Cultural Heritage Projects Department. The nearly 300 attendees also enjoyed a live rababa performance.


About Nicholas Warner

Dr. Nicholas Warner is an architect and architectural historian trained at Cambridge University, UK, and the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. He has lived in Egypt since 1993, where he has participated in and directed numerous projects related to the documentation, preservation, and presentation of heritage sites from all periods. Amongst these are: the Quseir Fort Visitors’ Center; the Saqqara New Kingdom Necropolis Project; the tombs of Anen (TT120) and Menna (TT69) in Luxor; the North Kharga Oasis Survey; New York University’s excavations at Amheida, Dakhla Oasis; the Red and White Monasteries in Sohag. His work in Cairo includes the Cairo Mapping Project (a new map of Historic Cairo showing the plans of approximately 550 buildings in the mediaeval city); open air museums in the South Roman Tower of the fortress of Babylon and Matariyya; and the restoration of the Gayer-Anderson Museum. Outside Egypt, Nicholas has also worked as a consultant on heritage projects in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. He joined ARCE as its Cultural Heritage Projects Director in 2020 and is currently responsible for conservation work at the temple of Khonsu in Karnak, the Red Monastery in Sohag, the shrine of Ikhwat Yusuf in Cairo, and the house of Howard Carter on the West Bank at Luxor.

About Sally El Sabbahy

Sally El Sabbahy works in ARCE’s Cultural Heritage Projects Department. Prior to this she was part of ARCE’s communications team and served as the Editor-in-Chief of ARCE’s membership magazine, Scribe. She completed her MSc in Sustainable Heritage from University College London (UCL), where her thesis focused on the relationship between the community of Nazlet El Samman and the Giza Plateau and its implications for the site’s management. She is a primary author of the Pyramids of Giza Strategic Management Plan that was commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in 2018. Before joining ARCE, Sally worked as a private consultant on heritage development projects and management policies in the United Kingdom, Malta, and Egypt.

About Tom Hardwick

Tom Hardwick is an Egyptologist and curator who specializes in the history of Egyptology and the study of Pharaonic sculpture.”

About Mena Melad

Founder and Editor of Luxor Times Magazine

Melad founded the magazine as the first and only magazine specialized in Egyptian history and culture based in Egypt. Luxor Times aim is to deliver historically accurate facts to the general public directly from the first-hand history makers known as archaeologists/Egyptologists in a visually rich and educational way. Recently Luxor Times became a partner of Google Arts and Culture.

Melad spent years putting together his own archival collection and researching Egyptian resources often overlooked to get a complete picture with a different perspective on historical topics. Melad has been working on the story of King Tut’s discovery from the Egyptian side since 2010. He curated an exhibit of a selection of Egyptian newspapers and magazines describing the discovery details at the opening of King Tut’s facsimile created by Factum Arte in 2014 at Carter’s House.