The Amarna Royal Statuary Project

Date: 
Monday, September 17, 2012

The current British expedition at Tell el-Amarna began in 1977. Since then, many hundreds of statuary fragments from royal buildings in Akhenaten and Nefertiti's ancient city have been recovered. Most of these were pieces discovered by the German expedition of the pre-World War I era and the Egypt Exploration Society’s team in the 1920s and 1930s. The fragments were not deemed museum-worthy and were reburied.
A deposit of such pieces discovered immediately behind the current expedition house at the southern end of the ancient city was dubbed the “South House Dump.” It contained unfinished fragments from the sculptors’ workshop district of the city, including the famous establishment of the sculptor Thutmose, where the painted bust of Nefertiti, now in Berlin, was discovered. Other pieces in the dump probably originated in the mysterious Maru-Aten temple, now lost under the modern cultivation.
A second cache of reburied material was discovered near the expedition house used by the English team in the 1920s and 1930s. This was called the “North House Dump.” Hundreds of fragments of statuary, as well as reliefs and balustrades, were recovered. Most originated in the Great Palace, including several colossal statues of the royal couple in granite, quartzite, and granodiorite.
Since 2001, Kristin Thompson has been registering, reassembling, and studying these fragments. In addition, she has visited dozens of museums, examining pieces from the site in storage and on display. Along with collaborator Marsha Hill, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thompson is at work on a major volume on the royal statuary program in the ancient city, placing the pieces in their original contexts in the temples and palaces of Akhetaten.

Kristin Thompson

Kristin Thompson is a film historian by profession, having received her Ph.D. in cinema studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1977. In 1992, she took a tour of Egypt and became fascinated by the Amarna period and particularly its art. Reading intensively in the subject and eventually presenting papers at the annual conferences of the American Research Center in Egypt, she eventually began to publish scholarly articles on Amarna reliefs. In 2000, Barry Kemp invited Thompson to join the British expedition at Amarna to register stone fragments. She has spent ten seasons at Amarna, not only registering pieces but also making hundreds of matches among the fragments. One pair statue of Nefertiti and Akhenaten that she has reconstructed matches onto a well-known head from the Thutmose workshop now in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin.
Thompson has lectured at the British Museum, the Bolton Museum, the University of Auckland, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where in 2011 she was a Sylvan C. and Pamela C. Coleman Memorial Fellow. She has published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Ancient Egypt, Egyptian Archaeology, and the Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. She has also contributed to the festschrift for Barry Kemp and has an essay on composite statuary in the catalogue of the upcoming exhibition in Berlin, “Nefertiti at 100,” celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the bust of Nefertiti and the Thutmose workshop.