The Courtyard of the Cachette in the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Luxor (Ancient Thebes), Egypt

The Courtyard of the Cachette in the Temple of Amun at Karnak
Part I

Head of a Sphinx of Senusret I made of gray granite from the Courtyard of teh Cachette in the Temple of Amun at Karnak

The Great Temple of Amun at Karnak in Luxor (ancient Thebes) is built on two axis. The main axis is usually referred to as being oriented east-west, though the temple is not really aligned on these precise coordinates at all. Rather, it is aligned to the Nile River, that in general runs north south and the main axis is perpendicular to it. The north-south axis of the temple is the secondary axis which branches off from the main axis between the 3rd and 4th Pylons of the main axis. Traditionally, Egyptologists think of the entrance to the main axis of the temple as the first pylon at Karnak and working in through that to successively numbered pylons, the numbering of the pylons in the north-south axis works outward with the 7th as the innermost pylon and the last pylon at Karnak being the 10th on this axis. Between each of these pylons is a court, with the first located closest to the main east-west axis. This first court is frequently referred to as the court of the Cachette because of the 20,000 or so statues and stelae that were discovered there at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Colossus statues on the North face of the Seventh Pylon in the Courtyard of the Cachette in the Temple of Amun at Karnak

Famous as it might be, this court does not offer a great deal to see these days, though from there it offers a nice overall view of the Sacred Lake and the Southern Pylons, with the Temple of Khonsu and the Gate of Euergretes in the background. Actually, within the court there are in fact several artifacts, including the remains of an alabaster stela of Seti I, pillars built by Senusret I and a few others. On the north facade of the Seventh Pylon there are also several statues. Of note are the colossus fronting the east wing. The westernmost of these is a striding statue with the cartouche of Tuthmosis III on its belt. On the left shoulder is the name of Ramesses, while on the right is that of Heqamaatre (Ramesses IV). To the east is an Osirian colossus which bears the same cartouches on its shoulders and the name of Usermaatre Setepenamun (Ramesses IV) on the vertical band. Both statues were the white crown.

On the east wing of the north facade of the seventh pylon is a list of 119 Palestinian towns that appear to have been conquered during the first campaigns of Tuthmosis III, while the following 240 names refer to sites between Labanon and the Euphrates that he overran in year 33 of his reign during his eighth campaign, in which he overthrew Mitanni and Naharin.

Ground Plan for the North-South Axis in the Temple of Amun at Karnak

Many of the statues and stela discovered. These artifacts were discovered between 1903 and 1905 by Georges Legrain working under the supervision of Gaston Maspero, and represent the largest find of statuary ever made in Egypt and perhaps anywhere in the world. The extraction was messy, due to the Nile flood, which resulted in a high water table, but the work progressed anyway in the oozing mud. Beneath the floor of this courtyard, Legrain's workmen uncover on December 26, 1903, a large alabaster slab that proved to be a stela of Seti I. Some centimeters below this, he found three magnificent statues of considerable size, including a figure of Amenemhet, carved from an intensely greet stone, and below them even more statues were revealed. By the end of December in 1903 some forty intact statues and another twenty that were incomplete had been fished out of the mud, along with numerous corroded bronze figures and ritual fittings. Very soon, these totals had risen to 751 statues and fragments in stone, including a funerary figurine of Amenhotep III, some 17,000 bronzes, "numerous wood statuettes, though impossible to preserve, a range of stale, obelisks and offering tables, quantities of ram bones, the animal sacred to Amun, some vessels in metal and stone, and a range of architectural elements.

Statue of Osorkon IV of Limestone found in the Courtyard of the Cachette at Karnak

This huge cache appears to have been deposited on a single occasion, probably during or immediately after the Ptolemaic period. Most were clearly votive objects deposited at Karnak by pious individuals who had visited the Karnak shrines As sacred objects, they could not be destroyed, so the only option available to the priests, who must by that time have been drowning in a sea of such objects, was burial within the precinct. However, it must be noted that Egyptologists speculate other reasons for the burial of these artifacts.

Legrain had to take serious measures to avoid being overwhelmed by the continuous stream of objects that emerged each day from his work. Almost immediately after word of the miraculous find spread, questionable characters began to crowd in from all directions, just waiting for the moment they might move in to snatch some valuable tidbit. As soon as objects were dug from the muck, they were speedily put under guard in storehouses. Nevertheless, Legrain could not prevent thieves from carrying off from the Antiquities Service House two of the beautiful statues discovered during the beginning of his excavations. Luckily, and investigation pursued and the statues were soon recovered. The guards themselves were found guilty and four of them were promptly sentenced to three years' forced labor.

Fragmentary Pillar of Senusret I found in the Courtyard of the Cachette in the Temple of Amun at Karnak

Apparently, at the end of his efforts, the statues were sent to the Cairo Museum. Hence, in 1905, ten railway carriages left Luxor station at five o'clock in the afternoon that would reach Cairo the next morning, In addition, two boats belonging to the Antiquities Service were also employed, each making two or three trips.

Yet, all of the caution could not prevent some of the finds from turning up missing. With certainty, some of the statues, particularly those of medium size, mysteriously disappeared, either while work was still underway, during transportation, and even after their arrival at the Egyptian Museum. In fact, it has been said that practically no Egyptian collection of any importance in either Europe or the United States does not possess some object from the cachette. Certainly theft was the major cause for this dispersal, though in fact some of the objects may have been disposed of in the Sales Hall of the Museum. At that time, the museum would offer to sell objects that it already had in sufficient numbers. Some objects were also probably mishandled and newly registered under another inventory number.

Regrettably, only the most important of the sculptures were ever published, and very few of the excavator's notes have survived, even though Legrain wrote that, "I have studied each single one of them, I have copied and translated the inscriptions covering it, prepared its file, its genealogy, and photographed it as soon as it was discovered." If he really did complete this documentation, then its loss could be considered one of the greatest calamities to have befallen Egyptology. However, he did publish some objects, between 1906 and 1925, in three volumes of the Catalogue General du Musee du Caire, which lists about two hundred and fifty statues, mostly from the cachette, and arranged in Chronological order up to the end of the 25th Dynasty. Since then, about fifty statues have been published by Egyptologists in specialized journals. Yet, even now, only about half of the statues have been fully published, leaving much work to be done.

Interestingly, the cache of objects was never exhausted. Legrain ceased work in mid-July, 1905 because of the dangers posed by the water-table, not because all of the objects had been found. Hence, those walking in this area tread over what may still be buried treasures.

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See also:


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number

Ancient Egypt The Great Discoveries (A Year-by-Year Chronicle)

Reeves, Nicholas


Thmes & Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05105-4

Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul


Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

ISBN 0-8109-3225-3

Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Tiradritti, Francesco, Editor


Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

ISBN 0-8109-3276-8

Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, The

Redford, Donald B. (Editor)


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 581 4

Temples of Karnak, The

de :Lubicz, R. A. Schwaller


Inner Tradition

ISBN 0-89281-712-7