Face to face with ancient history
University researchers perform rare on-site restoration in Egypt After being faceless for at least 1,500 years, a statue of the ancient Egyptian goddess Mut will be restored this month, thanks to a discovery by University researchers. The face of the statue will be put back in place at the Colonnade Hall of Luxor Temple in Egypt.
"This is a very unusual restoration," said Peter Dorman, Field Director of the Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House, the Oriental Institute's headquarters in Luxor, a modern city about 400 miles south of Cairo, and one of ancient Egypt's great capitals. "Usually when statues are repaired, they are already in museums. It is rare that a statue gets restored in situ, where it has been standing since antiquity.
In addition to the Mut face, Oriental Institute scholars have identified three missing pieces from other statues -- a head and torso of Mut and a smaller Mut head -- all of which are in the Egyptian Museum's collection. The fragments, which were stored in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, had not been properly identified until Oriental Institute researchers examined them earlier this year.
The face on the Mut statue had actually been reinstalled once before. In antiquity the face somehow slipped off the 12-foot-high statue and was reinstalled with metal dowels that were drilled at either side of its head. The modern reinstallation will also be made with metal rods. Its nose, also removed and reinstalled in antiquity, apparently fell out a second time and has not been not found.
"By installing this face and by pursuing the other restorations, we will be able to better understand how the statues were revered and rededicated during ancient times. In antiquity they were restored with great care because they were held as objects of worship," Dorman said.
The Mut statue being repaired this month, as well as the two other statues, was probably restored for the first time during the Ptolemaic period, about 100 to 200 B.C. The statues were carved about 1350 B.C.
The larger statue of Mut, who was the wife of Amun, the chief god of Luxor, was erected in the Colonnade Hall of Luxor Temple and was part of a group of sculptures located next to its northern portal. The faceless figure is part of a dyad statue that also portrays Amun, whose figure has been damaged to a lesser extent.
"After we install the face of Mut, we will be able to complete the couple and appreciate the impact they had on the people who entered the temple," Dorman said.
W. Raymond Johnson, Assistant Director at Chicago House, identified the fragments in the Egyptian Museum after looking at photographs a German researcher had taken of stone fragments in the museum's study collection. The German researcher knew of the Oriental Institute's work and turned to institute researchers to help identify the fragments, Dorman said.
University researchers then examined the fragments in person earlier this year. A cast was made of the back of the face and placed on the statue in Luxor. "To our great pleasure, it fit like a glove," Dorman said.
The smaller Mut head and torso were apparently Ptolemaic restorations of an earlier sculpture that sits opposite the larger Mut.
The additional Mut fragment is part of a three-member statue group in the Khonsu Temple, in Karnak, north of Luxor. "This much-damaged statue group depicts a seated Amun flanked by life-size, standing figures of Mut on the left and their son Khonsu on the right, and was made at the same time as the Colonnade Hall statues," Johnson said.
The stone fragments, which had fallen off the statues during a period of neglect, were discovered by early excavators who did not realize where the pieces belonged. The fragments were deposited in the Egyptian Museum at the turn of the century, where they, as well as their origins, were forgotten.
"They were just waiting for us, knowing we would find them eventually," Johnson joked.
-- William Harms