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Shoulder from a quartzite statue of Akhenaten inscribed with the cartouches of the Aten.


Barry Kemp

Originally some of the royal buildings at Amarna were provided with statues of the royal family, often in hard stones. The largest group seems to have been in the Great Palace but others are known to have stood in the temples. One source for the appearance of the latter are pictures carved in several of the rock tombs at Amarna. These show statues of Akhenaten and of other members of his family usually placed between columns.

It is now very hard to form a picture of how much statuary was originally present, the materials used, the types that were represented and their scale. The obstacles are both ancient and modern. After the end of the Amarna Period, not only were the stone buildings systematically demolished and the stone blocks removed elsewhere to serve as ready-made building material, the statues were smashed with some thoroughness, the aim often being to reduce them to roughly fist-sized pieces, although sometimes larger pieces were left.

Hundreds of pieces were found by previous expeditions, particularly in the seasons of the EES work in the Central City directed by John Pendlebury. A sizable selection was catalogued at the time and recorded by sketches and photographs. Where some of the original surface of the statue remains it often has a complicated three-dimensional shape – for instance, a piece of knee with the edge of a pleated garment – which is very hard to record adequately even by photography. In the main excavation report (City of Akhenaten III) the material is published by means of a brief catalogue entry and, in a small number of cases, by a photograph. Hardly any secondary study of the statue fragments has been possible.

Some pieces were judged at the time of finding to be of ‘museum quality’ and were removed by the excavator from the site and eventually were presented to museums, but the majority were left behind on site, usually after reburial and usually without a marking to indicate where they were found.

The first people in modern times to find them in any quantity were Flinders Petrie and Howard Carter (the latter working on behalf of Lord Amherst of Hackney), who together shared the Amarna concession in 1892. The rough division of the ground was that Carter took the Great Aten Temple and Petrie took the rest. Neither kept a detailed record of where most of their finds came from nor do they seem generally to have marked them. A rough division into the two zones is nonetheless possible on the basis of the subsequent fate of the collections. Carter’s material passed to Lord Amherst of Hackney. The Amherst collection was broken up by sale in the 1920s. A few pieces were acquired by the Louvre; the largest single piece, a torso of Akhenaten, eventually went to the Brooklyn Museum; a substantial portion of the Amarna sculpture fragments was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1957. It is reasonable to conclude that these piece come from the Great Aten Temple (and especially from dump of broken pieces just outside the southern enclosure wall).

A portion of Petrie’s finds became part of what is now the Petrie Museum of University College London. Petrie characteristically tried the ground in a great many places. One of them was the Great Palace. An aerial photograph taken before the later work of the EES when combined with Petrie’s own plan shows that he extensively trenched the area of stonework, the ‘State Apartments,’ and this is the most likely source for Petrie’s sculpture fragments.

During the years leading up to 1914 Ludwig Borchardt directed excavations at Amarna on behalf of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft. The greater part of his work was carried out in four seasons between 1911 and 1914, wholly within the area of private housing on the east side of the city and to the south of the Central City. He discovered several sculptor’s workshops, including that belonging to Thutmose, which contained the famous head of Nefertiti. This and many other pieces of sculpture passed to the Berlin Museums through the divisions procedure with the Egyptian Museum Cairo. Borchardt had previously, in 1907, carried out a series of trial excavations in various parts of the site. The only one likely to have produced sculpture was Maru-Aten, where his workmen spent a single day.

A further major collection of sculpture pieces came from Pendlebury's excavations in the Central City, where most of the stone buildings were located, including those already tackled by Petrie and Carter. Again the Great Palace was examined but this time through a methodical clearance to the foundations from one end to the other. Pendlebury also cleared both the Great and the Small Aten Temples. His published reports in City of Akhenaten III can be supplemented by sketches on a loose-leaf set of paper slips and usually by a photograph as well. The slips and the photographic negatives are part of the EES archive. Many (but not all) are also given a museum destination. The total number is around 150 (including some from the Small Aten Temple). One key entry in the catalogue, however, reads simply ‘many thousands of fragments’ from red granite colossal statues found in the Great Palace.

The EES for a while had the use of two expedition houses. One lay in the south and was inherited from the German expedition who probably built it beside the site of Petrie's even earlier camp, part of which became their antiquities storeoom or magazine. The other they constructed in the North City in 1923 as a more convenient base for the excavation of the North Palace. The northern house, which became Pendlebury's house, is now a ruin. During the season of 1981 it was noticed that pieces of broken statue as well as other objects were lying close to the surface over a patch of desert behind the house. The expedition made a first collection at that time. In subsequent seasons more pieces have been collected to the point where it looks as though all have been gathered. The dominant material is red granite and some are from pieces of colossus. There is a strong case for thinking that most of these pieces come from Pendlebury’s excavation of the Great Palace. Some of it seems to have been put into a shallow pit but other pieces were spread over the adjacent desert and probably covered shallowly with sand at the conclusion of one of the excavation seasons. Despite the number of pieces, they still fall well short of the ‘many thousands’ that Pendlebury mentions in his report and which must be buried elsewhere.

The same burying of unwanted finds also happened at the south expedition house which is now the base of the current expedition. During the first seasons of occupation of the house from 1979 onwards a number of fragments of carved stone were picked up around the back of the house and stored under the heading 'surface finds'. They were subsequently joined by a few potsherds bearing excavators' numbers from the early EES seasons at Amarna. The source gradually became better defined, as a flat patch of desert north and east of the north-east corner of the house. This was an area then crossed daily by farmers riding donkeys to and from the fields, the donkeys' hooves evidently kicking shallowly buried objects to the surface. It was then realised that a photograph of the area existed, taken in 1923 as part of a panorama from the expedition house roof. It shows this area being used as a place for sorting pieces of carved stone, which were laid out in a north-south line along the eastern boundary wall of the enclosure which lies beside the house. It also shows how at that time a long low building stood behind the expedition house. This was largely in ruins in 1977. It was evidently the expedition’s magazine and, from its appearance, could well have been Petrie’s original hut on the site, pre-dating the building of the main house by the German expedition.

Towards the end of the 1992 season a group of workmen were put to clearing along the line where, in 1923, the pieces of sculpture had been laid out. They quickly began to recover pieces of carved stone, sometimes marked with 1922 catalogue numbers and evidently from Maru-Aten. As they progressed they discovered a circular brick-lined base for a granary sunk some 50 cm into the desert. This had been partially filled with carved stone and a wide variety of other artefacts. As more were retrieved it was discovered that some bore numbers in Borchardt's house-number sequence. More monumental blocks of stone appeared, amongst them pieces of column decorated with pendant ducks carved in high relief, a column design known to have been used at Maru-Aten. Subsequently some of the blocks were identified in a photograph now in the Berlin Museum and from Borchardt's excavations. The conclusion is inescapable that they must have come from the short period – claimed to have been of only a single day – when Borchardt carried out a trial excavation at Maru-Aten in 1907.

In March 2002 a more thorough investigation of the area was begun. Over the eastern part more pieces of carved stone were recovered. The granary base cleared in 1992 was outlined and emptied again of sand. It proved to be one of a line of three built against the east wall of the enclosure. The middle granary base, when excavated, was also found to contain many artefacts mixed with the fill of sand. Again those few which bore identifying marks were a mixture of Borchardt and EES 1922–24 items. When excavation moved to the third granary base, the one nearest to the expedition house, however, it was established that probably only the northern half had been previously opened; the southern half was still partially choked with fallen bricks, perhaps from the collapse of the granary itself or from that combined with the collapse of the enclosure wall. Only a few fragmentary items were found near the surface, leading to the conclusion that this granary base had not served as dump.

A further source of carved stone had by this time also been identified, towards the south-west corner of the target area and to the west of the north-south wall which defines the court containing the granaries. Here it could just be seen that a limited excavation had been made in the past into a line of small storerooms built against the buttressed wall which formed the southern side of the court. Evidently more unwanted excavation items had been piled into one of these and covered with sand. They included more fragments of stone (amongst them more pieces from Ranefer's doorway excavated in 1921), but what distinguished this area particularly was that against the rear wall of the chamber a good part of the numbered pottery corpus of the early EES seasons had been dumped.

If the small brick magazine that used to stand behind the expedition house not far from this area had been built by Petrie then, in theory, some of the pieces could have been his. Yet there is nothing in the material itself to suggest a Petrie origin. Petrie must have terminated his work already clear in his mind that he would not return, so it is less likely that he would have left material in or around his magazine. Borchardt, by contrast, expected to return to continue his work after his season in early 1914. The Borchardt component of the finds, including probably some of the larger pieces of stonework from Maru-Aten, would have been found by the EES expedition when they opened up the house in October 1921. Between 1921 and 1924 the EES accumulated a large number of finds, most of which were shipped to London following a division with staff from the Cairo Museum, a division which was done at the expedition house itself. Nonetheless, probably each time a certain number of pieces were left behind, mostly carved stone fragments which were either too fragmentary to be attractive to supporting museums or too heavy or too similar to other pieces already selected for export. It is plausible to conclude that when the expedition moved from the south house to the north house in 1924 everything that remained in the small magazine was taken out and buried in the open circular granaries which had been excavated not long before.

Since 2000, the task of cataloguing and studying the statuary pieces has been undertaken by Kristin Thompson.

Fragments of a statue

Fragments of a statue of Akhenaten in greywacke, from the South House Dump. They are from the king’s torso, and show a pleated garment over his hips.

Website first posted September 2000; last updated October 2017 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk