Virtual Phenomenology and Viewshed Analysis of the Colossi of Memnon during the reign of Amenhotep III in VR and GIS based environment

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia

Abstract: The Colossi of Memnon are a prominent feature of the constructed landscape at ancient Thebes (modern day Luxor, Egypt). They were built on the West Bank during the later years of Amenhotep III reign and they stood in front of his royal cult temple, Mansion of Millions of Years, known today colloquially as Kôm el-Hetan. There is no consensus on the purpose of the statues and it is plausible that they were meant to represent multiple things. However, what all the theories surrounding their purpose have in common is that they are all reliant on the visibility of the statues. The Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey led by Angus Graham (Uppsala University) discovered that the royal cult temple and colossi statues was built on top of an elevated area of what is believed to be have been a pre-existing wadi fan (Toonen et al.2018; 2019). To the east of the temple, a minor channel of the Nile river was also discovered. The aim of this thesis was to analyse the visibility and visual experience of the Colossi of Memnon during the 18thDynasty. By analysing the boreholes from the Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey, I have (re)constructed the geological features of the surrounding landscape in a game engine (Unity). The visual analysis was done by a combined GIS spatial analysis and a VR based phenomenological approach. I concluded that the levees of the minor channel of the Nile were not elevated high enough to create any substantial blocking of the view from the floodplain or from inside of the channel during the low season. It was only when you got up close to the levees and kneeled on the ground that you would lose sight of parts of the colossi. As the surface level of the Nile rose during its annual cyclethe, it would be easier to observe the statues from any part of the minor channel. As for the visual experience of observing the Colossi of Memnon from different parts of the model, the experience only changed slightly from viewing the statues from the view of the floodplain or the channel. What changed the experience drastically was if you approached the statues from the front of from the side. As you approached the statues from the front you had the statues standing symmetrically in front of the temple and they are in turn facing you. Being in front of the Colossi statues creates a feeling of being part of the statues’ experience. Not only where the humans meant to see the statues, I believe that the statues were meant to see us. This as the most ideal location to observe and visually experience the statues, is where we are in the view of both the Colossi of Memnon. The experience of the statues fades as you approach them from their side where you become the observer rather than the observed. The visual experience from the side also results in that you do not get to fully take part in the experience that both statues provide. This is because one of them becomes slightly blocked by the other. 

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