The southern expedition house

The dig house at Amarna has a complicated history of its own! Barry Kemp explains:

Early European travellers who spent time at Amarna must have based themselves upon travelling house-boats (dahabiyas) or, in the case of Norman Davies and his co-workers whilst copying the rock tombs, in one of the actual tombs. The first to build a house was Flinders Petrie in 1891. From his comments one suspects that his house survived for many years, as the antiquities store (magazine) beside the subsequent German and then British expedition house, just under 1 km from the village of El-Hagg Qandil. This larger house was erected from mud bricks, by Ludwig Borchardt of the Deutsche Orient-gesellschaft in 1906, over the foundations of one of the large Amarna houses which he excavated that year during a reconnaissance visit. It was his base for his three seasons which ended in the spring of 1914. The painted bust of Nefertiti, found in 1912, will have been temporarily stored in the magazine behind the house (probably Petrie’s old house).

1. EES neg 24-4
A 1924 photograph, looking east from the roof of the house. The low building in the foreground is the antiquities magazine which had probably been converted from the house built in 1891 by Flinders Petrie. Copyright EES, Lucy Gura archive, 24/4.
2. Timme photo
The southern expedition house, as first built in 1906 by the Borchardt expedition.

The Egypt Exploration Society took over the house when it began work at Amarna in 1921. In late 1923, as the excavation of the North Palace began, a second house was started towards the northern end of Amarna and quickly developed into the principal base for future work until the Society’s last season, in 1936–7. The southern house continued to be used as a shelter by antiquities guards until, probably from a combination of termite damage and re-use of timbers, it became roofless.

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The same house front in 1923–4. W.B. Emery stands on the veranda.
4. EES neg 22-174
The main living room in 1922. The painted designs will have been the work of Francis Newton, artist and surveyor to the expedition. The hieroglyphic designs around the book alcove must have been done by Battiscombe Gunn, whose name ends the right-hand column. Copyright EES, Lucy Gura archive 22/17.

I found the walls standing to much of their original height in 1977, the first season of renewed work at Amarna (whilst using upstairs rooms of the village clinic at el-Amariya, the neighbouring village to el-Hagg Qandil, as a base). Repairs began the following year to make it habitable again. Over the ensuing decades it has been enlarged and improved. Two milestones, both in the 1980s, were connection to the local supplies of electricity and water and the building of two large antiquities stores (magazines) to replace one which was attached to the side of the house. Looked after by Mohammed Omar and his sons, a family from el-Hagg Qandil, the house continues to provide members of the Amarna Project with a temporary home and place of work.

5. Newneg <1979-1-24
Gunn’s painted record survived until the house repairs of 1978.
6. Newneg <1979-02-14 small
The house in 1977.
7. Newneg <1979-2-17
The first day of repairing the house in Spring 1978.
8. P1080073
Bedrooms and courtyards to the west of the original house, 2010.
9. P1030039
Shower-block, and caretaker Mohammed Omar.

You can read more about the Amarna dig house in this piece by Gwil Owen, originally published as part of the Festschrift for Barry Kemp.

Barry Kemp, CBE, FBA, is Director of the Amarna Project, Senior Research Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University.

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