One of the projects during the conservation project was to join together fragments of the fallen wall plaster from the tomb of Horemkhawef, and re-attach them to the walls of the tomb.
The fragments of wall plaster were collected when the tomb was painstakingly cleared during the 1998 excavation season. The fragments were then cleaned and consolidated so that they would be stable enough to handle and join together. The photographs of the walls as they appeared in 1893 when Somers Clarke originally cleared the tomb show its condition at that time, so for this jigsaw puzzle we at least had the picture on the box to go by. We know from other archival photographs that plaster was already falling off the wall in the 1920 and 1930s. Plaster that was already lost by that time would be unlikely to be among the fragments collected in 1998 as the tomb had been cleared of debris on previous occasions. From photographs taken during the 1985 season, before the tomb was intensively damaged, it was possible to see which areas had fallen down in recent years, and what fragments were most likely to be found. By studying these drawings we completed several groups of figures and sections of inscription. We took these to the tomb to match them to the remaining decoration.
The expedition’s conservators then reattached many pieces in their original places. In many cases this involved rebuilding the mud plaster backing and other grouting, before positioning the pieces and rigging up some support while the consolidant dried. All of the materials used are reversible, should we have gotten it wrong. Ultimately over 100 fragments were reattached to the wall. One of the great successes was the reattachment of the fragments bearing the figure and name of the artist, Sedjemnetru, to the mutilated remains of the east wall, as well as the feet of Horemkhawef to his commanding figure on the west wall, and a the missing piece to complete (almost) the inscription that runs along the center of the still rather stunning ceiling.
The archival photographs of the important tomb make for rather heartbreaking viewing. Once almost completely preserved, neglect and vandalism have reduced it to a shell. Its restoration may seem like a hopeless case, but the remarkable amount of details we uncovered in the process, ranging from the details of the artists brush to the visitor inscriptions and other overlooked or unphotographed details (like the dog named Khem ‘stupid!), made it worth the effort. More can and should be done in this tomb and with the support of the Friends of Nekhen we hope to return to it soon.
For more information see: Nekhen News 12. (Another look at the Lower Tombs)