Tracing Architecture & Epigraphy at the Ramesseum

Dr. Christian Leblanc (CNRS) leads the archaeological team at the Ramesseum, the Mansion of Thousands of Years of Ramses II in Western Thebes, Egypt.  Since 2000, INSIGHT has contributed to the ongoing scientific exploration of the Ramesseum.

3D orthophoto detail: Thoth and Seshat write the king’s name on the fruit of the Persea tree before the enthroned Ramses II

Despite significant dismantling and reuse in antiquity, the Ramesseum is a remarkably complete example of a Ramesside temple.  Though smaller and less complete than the neighboring Temple of Ramses II, Medinet Habu, the Ramesseum is unique for its intact mudbrick vaults outlying the central stone temple. In the photo at right, the Sanctuary footprint is seen in the foreground, with the portal to the Hypostyle Hall beyond.

3D Reconstruction of a chapel at the perimeter of the stone temple showing its Hathoric columnade and adjoining mudbrick storerooms.

MAFTO/INSIGHT has built an architectural model of the entire Ramesseum complex drawing on many seasons of data collection via laser scanning, image-based modeling, photometric stereo, and our own approach to digital panoramas. This model includes the current state of the temple complex, along with conjectural reconstructions. This data archive is useful for the MAFTO archaeological team in charge of studying the site, as well as our colleagues from the SCA responsible for the management of the monument.  It also has proven useful to a wider audience through documentary filmsIn practice, epigraphers in the lab use the 3D data set gathered as a virtual scaffold to help ensure the metric validation of each photographic mosaic for publication as shown above and at right for a scene showing the Coronation of Ramses II. Such orthomosaics are useful not only as digital texture maps but also as a precise and neutral photographic archive documenting the state of the decorated surfaces of the Ramesseum.

3D orthophoto detail: the king kneels on the sign heb (festival) before the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu; Ramses II wears the atef crown and nemes headdress worn by the acting king

To avoid having to build gigantic and impractical scaffolding, INSIGHT devised a tall tripod made out of aluminum supporting a photographic gantry with a reach of nearly 15 meters in height while remaining highly compact in its footprint. As shown at right, the ‘uberpod’ base is indeed small enough to easily negotiate the cramped spaces of the hypostyles and porticos and light enough to be moved somewhat easily by a limited crew. 

It is our hope that our data can be shared freely by a growing community who choose to support the archaeological exploration of the site as well as its continuing documentation. Though significant progress has been achieved, the remaining part of the task at hand is both exciting and humbling.

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