1. Osirian chapels in the northern part of Karnak.

INRAP in Egypt

The Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) is not only involved in exploratory excavations on French soil. A team from the Institute is taking part in the programme of excavation, documentation and epigraphic study of the Osirian chapels (right) and necropolis of the northern part of the ancient city of Karnak in Egypt.

The programme was initiated by the French-Egyptian Centre for the Study of the Temples of Karnak (CFEETK) and is carried out jointly with the French Institute for Eastern Archaeology, among others. The current missions are co-directed by Cyril Giorgi of INRAP, the aim being to better understand the various aspects and evolution of the worship of Osiris during the 1st millennium BC. But, as can be expected in this kind of Egyptian site, the excavation work keeps revealing both much older and more recent elements.

There are some 20 Osirian chapels on the site of Karnak, all representing the god Osiris and the Theban Triad (Amon-Ra, Mut and Khonsu), and each expressing a different aspect of Osiris. The three chapels being studied are located along the way leading from Karnak's Great Hypostyle Hall to the temple of Ptah. Dating back to the 25th and 26th dynasties (7th-6th cent. BC), they are respectively dedicated to Osiris Ounnefer Neb-Djefaou (Master of Food), Neb-ânkh/pah oucheb iabd (Master of Life/He who rescues the wretched), and Neb neheh (Master of Eternity). The Osiris Ounnefer chapel was built during the reign of the pharaoh Amasis II (26th dynasty) and the pontificate of the Divine Adoratrice Ankhnesneferibre, who is represented in a cartouche, standing facing Amon-Ra and Hathor (Ra's daughter). She was the most important person after the pharaoh.

Architecturally, the chapels are built on the model of the large temples: an access ramp, a hypostyle hall, doors and a naos (the shrine housing the divine image). The walls are of mudbrick and the doorways of granite. The stone elements, doors and naos are covered with inscriptions. Traces of an older chapel were discovered under the foundations of the Osiris Ounnefer chapel, as well as those of an ancient rampart of the Karnak temple (21st dynasty), and vestiges of constructions of the Saito-Persian period (6th century BC) Under the Ptolemaic dynasty, the three chapels were renovated and restructured into a single place of worship, which was still dedicated to Osiris. The area was backfilled in the 2nd and 1st century BC.

Many interesting artefacts have been found on site, the reason being that when a chapel was built or re-built, there was a ritual of inserting objects, that were meant to protect the building, into the masonry. They include bronze figurines of Osiris and other gods, clay seals, ceramic fragments, terracotta figurines and further finds.

The research work is being carried out in successive month-long campaigns. The huge amount of data collected will take the pluri-disciplinary team several years to process and analyse.

Nicole Benazeth