• EraPharaonic
  • Project DirectorDr. Nicholas Warner
  • LocationLuxor and Abydos
  • AffiliationAmerican Research Center in Egypt
  • Project SponsorUSAID
  • Project Dates: 2023-2024

CHTII Grant to support continued conservation at Khonsu Temple and new efforts in Abydos

Written by: Sally El Sabbahy and Nicholas Warner 

In February 2023, ARCE was awarded a grant by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), that builds on the Agency’s past investments at Khonsu Temple and the Pennsylvania Talatat Magazine in Karnak Temple in Luxor. This grant will also introduce some new and much-needed investment at the site of Abydos in Upper Egypt.

The grant, known as the Cultural Heritage Tourism II (CHT II) project, will run until September 2024 and will result in the construction of a new storage magazine for the ‘Pennsylvania’ Talatat blocks, and the development of visitor infrastructure in and around the Osireion monument in Abydos.

Talatat blocks currently stored in the Pennsylvania Magazine at Karnak. Photo: ARCE staff

Between 2008 and 2018, with pauses between different phases of work during this decade, ARCE carried out conservation, training, and documentation work in Khonsu Temple with funding from USAID. In the later stages of the project, regular conservation field schools for training local conservators from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) were incorporated into the project’s program of work.

Beginning in 2021, ARCE began self-funding the conservation work at the temple and is continuing to do so in parallel with the separate funding stream provided by CHT II. Within this ‘cost-share’ approach, CHT II will specifically enable the conservation of the west exterior wall of the temple, which covers a surface area of some 320 square meters and will also support ARCE in providing on-the-job training for MoTA conservation supervisors, utilizing digital tools such as the Procreate program on iPads.  

However, before the conservation of Khonsu Temple’s West wall can commence, the Pennsylvania Magazine that houses some 16,000 Talatat blocks and which is directly built up against the wall of the temple must first be removed. This monumental task requires the construction of a new facility for the blocks and their complete transfer before the Pennsylvania Magazine can then be carefully demolished. Upon award of the CHT II grant in February 2023, ARCE laid the groundwork for the construction of a new talatat storage facility by beginning to restore the inner two meters of the undulating mud brick enclosure wall attributed to Nectanebo I, located directly west of Khonsu Temple.

Partially consolidated wall of Nectanebo I showing undulating brickwork. Photo: ARCE staff

When completed to its full anticipated height of six meters, the wall will essentially camouflage the new two-story storage magazine that will replace the Pennsylvania Talatat Magazine, as it will be built within the thickness of the hollowed core of the restored enclosure wall. The estimated 70,000 mud bricks needed for the reconstruction of the wall are being made on-site at Karnak from recycled earth taken from the enclosure wall’s core and other dumped archaeological fill.  

The new Talatat storage magazine will not only provide vastly improved storage conditions for the Talatat blocks but will also support the wider goals of MoTA at Karnak. At the northern end of the new magazine, administrative offices will be built to provide much-needed offices for the inspectors and conservators responsible for the many archaeological storage magazines at Karnak. A small, dedicated space for emergency conservation will also support the inspectors in their care and maintenance of the blocks. The completion of the new storage magazine and the transfer of the blocks from the Pennsylvania Talatat Magazine is anticipated to take place in the spring of 2024. 

Preliminary 3D rendering of the proposed new talat storage facility and administrative building. Courtesy MADA Architects

To reinforce the process of the Talatat transfer, ARCE has also been providing targeted technical support to the MoTA inspectors tasked with managing the Pennsylvania Magazine and its replacement. This has included the handover of all data from ARCE’s previous documentation (2008-2010) of the Talatat blocks, and the introduction of a new, open-access, database program to assist the inspectors in their efforts to re-document and re-catalogue each of the 16,000 blocks prior to their move to the new storage magazine.  

Although much smaller in its scope, the work planned at Abydos will introduce critical improvements for visitor access to the subterranean Osireion and its adjacent Merenptah Tunnel. Two steel and timber bridges have already been installed across the water channels encircling the main hall of the Osireion so that they can be traversed safely, and a new access stair will also be introduced to assist visitors in their descent into the monument during tours.

One of the two new access bridges in the Osireion. Photo: ARCE staff

All this work has been strategically coordinated to complement parallel work that ARCE is carrying out at the site under a separate grant award from the World Monuments Fund (WMF).

To learn more about this other exciting project, click here.

This webpage is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the American Research Center in Egypt and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.