"Why don't you just take a photograph?"
--Hundreds of Tourists
Many a tourist asked this question while watching an epigraphist engaged in the exacting
process of making a perfectly faithful drawing of the inscription on the wall in front
Photography is the simplest and most direct means of recording well preserved inscriptions
and it revolutionized the recording of Egypt's monumental legacy when it first appeared
in the early Nineteenth Century. Unfortunately, its not the most scientifically reliable
method of recording.
The Limitations of Photography for Recording Inscriptions
Photography has severe limitations as an accurate method of recording Egyptian monuments.
The strong light and dark shadows created by the intense sunlight of Egypt conspire
to hide much information the photographer seeks to record.
In the bright afternoon sunshine, even the most pronounced sunk relief carvings are
"washed out" by the strong light. Deep shadow does much the same thing. Only when
the sun shines perpendicular to the wall, creating a raking light which brings out
the details of the carvings, is photography most effective as a recording medium.
Even then, there are limits.
|Shadows and visual distractions like damage to the wall surface obscure details in
the photo of a palimpsest relief on the left. It is much easier to see the two different
versions of the relief in the drawing on the right.
If the reliefs are severely damaged, altered or eroded, light and shadow conspire
to hide many details of the carved relief. The solution is to produce precise archival
drawings which can reveal every detail including those that the best photograph cannot.
By closely scrutinizing the reliefs, often "nose to wall," the epigraphist can find
the subtlest traces of faded or erased inscriptions, traces of carving in a badly
damaged or eroded patch of stone, or even remnants of paint. Sometimes, one can quite
literally feel very faint traces of carved lines that can no longer be seen with the
|Project director Peter Brand examining a relief of Ramesses II
As a long-time Chicago House alumnus, the Hypostyle Hall Project's founding director
Dr. William Murnane endeavored to produce a record of the Hypostyle Hall reliefs approaching
the highest standards of the Epigraphic Survey. With resources much smaller than Chicago
House it was obvious that a somewhat scaled down process would be necessary.
Initially, the Project used a slightly modified version of the Chicago House method.
The scenes were traced in pencil on 16 x 20" photographic enlargements by epigraphists.
Next, the photographic emulsion was chemically bleached out leaving only the pencil
drawing on the whitened emulsion on the surface of the photographic paper. Copies
of each drawing are next checked at the wall-- a process called collation.
|A blank collation Sheet ready to use.
First, blue prints of the drawings are made. These, in turn, are used to make "collation
sheets" by cutting them up into smaller sections and mounting each one on 8.5 x 11"sheets
of paper leaving most of the page free to make comments and sketches. From these collation
sheets teams of epigraphists carefully check the drawings against the wall, making
adjustments to the drawings, detailed notations of the necessary changes and often
sketches of individual hieroglyphs and other detailed elements of the reliefs.
This process usually involves independent collations by at least two Egyptologists,
who correct and add details that were improperly drawn or missed in the initial drawing.
Disagreements are resolved in conference "at the wall," sometimes in consultation
with another Egyptologist on the team.
|A finished collation sheet.
When all corrections are agreed upon, the artist transfers them from the collation
sheets to the original drawings. After the drawing has been checked yet again (and
any lingering questions resolved at the wall, if necessary) it is traced in ink on
sheets of mylar. This medium enhances the drawing's clarity and permits the use of
different weighted lines— thicker and thinner ones— to show readers the type of relief
used in the original, traces of erased figures and painted lines.
After a final check for accuracy and neatness, the drawing is ready for publication.
Obviously, this is a laborious and elaborate process, but the objective was not merely
to record the basic information of the scenes and inscriptions, but to capture even
the most subtle epigraphic details of the carvings and to reproduce faithfully the
paleography and artistic style of the reliefs.
|A final inked drawing of a relief from the Second Pylon.
After the 1997 season, we decided on a further modification of our working method.
The size of the photographic enlargements on which the drawings were based was increased
to 20 x 24". Henceforth, instead of tracing directly on the enlargements, the initial
drawings by tracing them in pencil on mylar laid over the photo.
This was advantageous for a number of reasons: (1) it eliminated the need for the
costly bleaching out of the enlargements and for an extra set of these to be made.
(2) All of the original drawings could be made by an artist. (3)
By working at home, the expense of supporting a staff in the field to complete the
initial drawings was eliminated allowing more field time for the crucial process of
|Ramesses II offering a tray of food. The names in the cartouches were originally Seti
I. Preliminary drawing made in 2001 as part of the salvage epigraphy program.
Following a successful trial of this process in 1999, the newly modified process was
used to great advantage in collating drawings of reliefs on the south-east corner
of the Hypostyle Hall. The result was to save months of field time and to produce
more accurate drawings. A further advantage of this process arose from the fact that
the original photos were never bleached away. It was possible to check the preliminary
drawing on the mylar by removing it from the photo or by inserting a sheet of paper
between the mylar and the photo.
|Ramesses II leading Syrian prisoners. Scene from the south-east gate collated in 2000.
This allowed the artist to more easily refine his work and to inspect the drawing
for any stray elements which had accidentally been omitted. Such details are easy
to miss when drawings in pencil are made on a black and white photograph. After the
first collation, the proportional accuracy of the artist's corrections to the drawings
could be checked by overlaying the drawings on the photograph. This prevented many
subtle inaccuracies from creeping in during the correction process. Finally, during
the inking process, overlaying the drawing on the enlargement makes it easier for
the artist to render various types of damage— hacking, erosion and incidental damage—more
accurately and distinctly.
|Lyla Brock drawing a relief on mylar.
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The aim of salvage epigraphy is to record the most seriously endangered reliefs first.
This has already proved to be a timely intervention as some inscriptions recorded
in 2000 are now severely damaged or destroyed.
In 1999 and 2000, we focused on the battle scenes along the bottom of the south exterior
wall which showed rapid deterioration from salt damage despite conservation treatments
by the Centre Franco-Égyptien in 1998 and 1999.
|The problem. White patches are salts that have appeared on the surface of the stone,
causing it to decay. The salts are carried to the surface by water and crystallize
after the moisture evaporates
Provisional drawings of the wall reliefs inside the Hall were made in the 1940s by
Harold Nelson, then director of the Epigraphic Survey. Published in 1981 by William
J. Murnane, Nelson's drawings were never meant to stand as a permanent record of these
important reliefs and inscriptions
Until recently, no further work has been done on the wall reliefs. Since Nelson's
day, damage to the wall reliefs has accelerated rapidly. The Hypostyle Hall Project
recognized the urgent need for "salvage epigraphy" to record reliefs and inscriptions
that are most in danger from groundwater and salt damage. A new program of salvage
epigraphy was begun by the project in 2000 and continued in 2001-2002.
|Rows of deities on the west wall from a scene of Ramesses II. The feet of the gods
above are in good condition. The lower row of deities at the base of the wall display
advanced decay from salts.
In 2001, our salvage epigraphy team began to record damaged reliefs along the bottom
of the west interior wall in the southern part of the Hypostyle Hall, which is the
same as the east wall of the south tower of the Second Pylon. These reliefs had begun
to decay rapidly in the late 1990s and most of them were recorded in 2001.
During the 2002 season, our artist Lyla Pinch Brock continued the process of recording
these endangered scenes on the west wall and also others that are beginning to decay
on the south wall and another scene near the north-east gateway of the Hypostyle Hall.
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|Ramesses II offering cloth to Amun-Kamutef. Preliminary drawing of a relief from the
south half of the west wall recorded in 2001.