Unearthing Egypt’s Greatest Temple

Discovering the grandeur of the monument built 3,400 years ago

(Cheryl Carlin)
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This is the first of five 25-foot-high statues of Amenhotep III that the team intends to re-erect. The statues once stood between the columns. On the north side of the peristyle hall, the statues are made from quartzite from near today's Cairo and they wear the chair-shaped crown of lower Egypt (that is, northern Egypt, which lies downstream along the Nile). On the south side, the images are made from Aswan's red granite and wear the white conical headpiece of upper Egypt. In addition to the statues of the pharaoh, which were in fragments, an alabaster hippopotamus surfaced, minus head and tail, along with six standing statues of Sekhmet, beautifully preserved, each holding a papyrus bundle in one hand and an ankh—the symbol of life—in the other.

The excavation is only in its initial phases and could take two decades or more. To the west of the peristyle hall was a hypostyle hall, a vast interior space that once had a roof supported by massive columns. It no doubt holds more statues and artifacts. "You would need years and millions of dollars to excavate," says Sourouzian, looking with a touch of longing over the bare ground. "What's more urgent is to save the statues, preserve the last remains of the temple and present it with dignity."

Andrew Lawler has written about Alexandria, Petra and a newfound tomb in the Valley of the Kings for Smithsonian.

About Andrew Lawler

Andrew Lawler is a contributing writer for Science magazine and author of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and other publications. View Andrew Lawler's website.

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