B 350 - The Monument of Taharqo on the Jebel Barkal Pinnacle
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II. New Examinations of the Pinnacle (1982-86)

I made my first visit to Jebel Barkal in December, 1982. Up to that time no further investigations either of the inscribed panel or of the imagined colossi had been undertaken, but the latter were still being mentioned as possible realities even by up-to-date sources.[6] When I first visited the site, it was for no more than one afternoon and a morning.  During those few hours, I was so preoccupied examining the temples that I did not really have a chance to convince myself one way or the other whether the “statues” were real, although common sense seemed to insist that they were not.  Even if they had been “real”, it seemed quite clear that they could never have been more than “roughed out” and left unfinished.   One observation I made before leaving the mountain, however, so intrigued me that I determined to investigate further if I ever returned.  This was that the cliff edge on the summit, directly opposite the pinnacle peak, had been extensively worked in antiquity by men using chisels. Here, between one and two meters from the cliff rim, there were three round holes cut in a line, each about a meter apart. This line, I could see, was perpendicular to another that, if drawn from the middle hole, would pass directly over the center-top of the pinnacle.  It was obvious that these features related to the manner in which the carvers of the inscription – and perhaps even of the “statue” - had spanned the gorge and had reached the top of the pinnacle from the cliff edge.

Just over three years later, in 1986, I was fortunate to be able to return to Jebel Barkal, accompanied by Cynthia Shartzer, as the vanguard of the renewed Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, expedition – sixty-six years after Reisner had ceased his work there. While our primary goal that year was to record the fragments of relief and inscriptions surviving in B 500, the mystery of the “colossi” and the inscribed panel still intrigued me, so I packed with our luggage a small but powerful reflecting telescope of 40x power (fig. 4).  With this I hoped, first, to settle once and for all the question of the statues, and, second, to view the inscribed panel in greater detail than it had ever been seen before.

Fig. 4: The author with small reflecting telescope used to observe the pinnacle inscription during the first season, 1986.  The telescope was generously donated by the Bausch and Lomb Corp., Rochester, NY.

On our first full day at the site, we carefully explored the base of the cliff, examining every fallen boulder, crag and mark on the rock wall, as well as the entire shaft of the pinnacle.  Even with the telescope, we could discern no obviously manmade features on the mountain other than the inscribed panel.  Since no traces of carving appeared on the pinnacle shaft and since very clear traces of the inscribed panel remained on its peak, Arkell’s idea that the “statues” might have lost their forms due to weathering seemed mere wishful thinking.  Disappointing as it was for us to admit it, it was plain that the huge projections on the mountain had never been carved and were nothing more than suggestive natural formations, as Cailliaud had decisively stated 165 years before.

At this point we turned our full attention to studying the inscription.  Once one knew it was there and where to look, the smoothed panel with its vertical register lines became obvious from the ground.  With our telescope aimed at it, we could clearly discern the cartouches and fragments of hieroglyphic text, and, for the first time, we could even see tiny incised figures in the stone.  We could see that the panel had been cut into six sections of equal width separated by vertical grooves.  Sadly, we could also see that most of the inscribed surface had fallen away through weathering.

Directly below the inscribed panel, we could see that there was a shallow manmade alcove with a narrow shelf in front of it. It appeared to have been made to offer the sculptors a place to stand while carving the inscription, or to offer them a place to sit and rest from their labors. I even wondered if it might have given access to a small chamber.  From the ground it was impossible to tell.  The whole thing seemed a mystery.  The only other data we could gather that season related to the ancient masons’ marks and holes I had observed four years previously on the cliff top.

For visitors to the site, the climb to the top of Jebel Barkal presents no great difficulty. It is only the mountain’s southeast face, directly behind the temples, that is sheer.  The regular path to the summit is on the northeast side, where one ascends a steep slope of tumbled, wind-worn boulders and rubble to meet a vertical rock ledge, about 2 to 3 m. high, girding the summit. It is over this that the climber must lift himself to the top of the mountain. Once there, he finds himself upon a broad, gently undulating surface of black rocks and pebbles approximately 4 hectares in area.

As one walks the cliff perimeter, he is drawn to the southern corner by the sight of the pinnacle rising from below.  The “colossus” is no less impressive from this vantage than it is from the ground.  As we later determined by survey, the pinnacle peak is 5.25 m lower in height than the cliff itself.  The inscribed panel, of course, cannot be seen, for it faces away from the cliff.

If one stands on the cliff edge opposite the pinnacle and looks down at his feet, he sees that the rock in antiquity was extensively modified by man.  Immediately to the left (east), he can see that a rock rise has been partly cut away and cut down some 70 to 90 cm so as to be level with the summit plain.  The obvious purpose of this was to eliminate an obstruction between the summit plain and the pinnacle and to provide a flatter work space for a gang of men on the cliff edge. On the surviving top of the rise, not cut away, one can see an ancient incised “x” mark.  This mark seems to have indicated the end of a plotted string line along which the three round artificial holes, described above, were cut (figs. 5a, b).  These holes, spaced about a meter apart, range between one and two meters from the cliff edge and form a line that, as stated above, is perpendicular to another that would pass over the top of the pinnacle, about 11 m away.   The two outer holes are each about 45 cm in diameter and 60 cm deep, while the middle hole is about 30 cm in diameter and 30 cm deep.  A difference of 85 cm in height separates the two outer holes.

Fig. 5a: Cynthia Shartzer stands beside a line of three ancient holes cut on the cliff edge directly opposite the apex of the pinnacle.  The third hole, not visible in the photo, is cut at the level of Ms. Shartzer’s feet.

Fig. 5b: Plan showing the line of three holes cut on the cliff edge in relation to the top of the pinnacle and the inscribed panel.  Line “A-B” indicates the line of the cross-section, drawn below.  Point  “C” indicates a partially cut hole, abandoned in favor of hole “B”.  Point “D” indicates the place where a rock rise has been cut down about 70-90 cm with chisels to the level of “A”.   Point “X” locates the incised ancient mark, enlarged at left.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

Although the large upper (eastern) hole was empty, dust and sand completely filled the lower (western) hole.  When we excavated this, we discovered to our surprise that the hole, to a depth of 30 cm, was filled with ancient mortar, which still bore the clear imprint of a square cut wooden post that had been set upright in it (fig. 6).  About 80 cm in front of this hole, the shallow depression of another unfinished hole, also 45 cm in diameter, can still be seen.  This suggests that the lower hole - and perhaps the entire line of holes - had at first been planned to be 80 cm closer to the cliff edge.  This plan had obviously been abandoned at an early stage in favor of the less risky final position.

Fig. 6: View into the excavated interior of the right (western) hole on the cliff edge, revealing that it had been partially filled with mortar.  The mortar still bears the imprint of a square-cut post that had been set upright in it.

Given the arrangement and placement of the three holes on the cliff edge, it appeared to me initially that they must have served as supports for posts of a suspension bridge (Kendall 1986, 5-7). I imagined that ropes had somehow been thrown over the pinnacle peak and secured to the posts on the cliff, and that it was by such means that the ancient sculptors had been able to reach the summit of the pinnacle to carve the inscription.  At the time this seemed the only possible explanation, but the following season I would be proven completely wrong. The reality was something far more surprising and complex.

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