Photographs of Egypt have long fascinated the West. We talked with Mary McKercher, photographer and archaeologist for the Brooklyn Museum’s Mut Expedition, about the most recent season of work. Her new photographs are on Flickr in the Mut 2009: Sights at the Site and Beyond set and at the museum’s Dig Diary.
Mary, what is your involvement with the Brooklyn Museum and the Mut Expedition?
Based on work I had done for another expedition, Richard Fazzini, Curator of Egyptian art at the museum and Director of the Mut Expedition, hired me as expedition photographer in 1979. We first met face-to-face at the site and were married later that year. I am still the expedition photographer but I get involved in the digging as well since I am trained in archaeology and speak reasonable Arabic. Back in Brooklyn I handle the post-season photo work and have lately become interested in studying the pottery we have found.
Going back to the Mut Precinct year after year is the best part of the job. Luxor is a beautiful place and there is always the curiosity about what we will find this year. We also have many Egyptian, European and American friends and colleagues whom we only see in Egypt. Not only is it fun to catch up with the news, but the chance to work with people we like and respect and to talk to colleagues about what we are doing while we are doing it can be very useful.
Mut & Amun
What is the Mut Expedition?
The 20+ acre Mut Precinct, part of the Karnak temple complex, lies about 100 yards south of the Amun Precinct to which it is linked by an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes. It contains the Mut Temple (surrounded on 3 sides by a sacred lake called the Isheru), two other large temples, a number of smaller chapels, and remains of domestic buildings of various periods.
Mut, the consort of Amun and mother of the moon-god Khonsu, had 2 forms, like many Egyptian goddesses: beneficent Mut, and fierce Sakhmet, who protected Egypt but could destroy it if angered. This dual nature is the reason for the many large statues of lioness-headed Sakhmet at the site. Rituals to keep Mut/Sakhmet happy often involved singing, dancing, eating and drinking.
The earliest official dig took place in 1895-97 and was led by two Englishwomen, Margaret Benson and Janet Gourlay, the first women to lead an archaeological expedition in Egypt Although additional work was carried out by others during the intervening years, the Brooklyn Museum expedition, begun in 1976, was the first to undertake a systematic exploration of the site as a whole. Since 2001, we have shared the site with an expedition from the Johns Hopkins University. All work at the site is carried out under the supervision of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, which is responsible for the exploration, preservation, and restoration of Egypt’s rich cultural heritage.