A farmer in northeastern Egypt was preparing his land for crop planting when he discovered an intricately carved sandstone slab that appears to have been installed by the pharaoh Apries 2,600 years ago.
The standing stone—also known as a stele, or stela—measures 91 inches long and 41 inches wide. It features a carving of a winged sun disk and a cartouche, or oval enclosing Egyptian hieroglyphs, representing Apries, reports Owen Jarus for Live Science. Per Encyclopedia Britannica, stelae were used across the ancient world as tombstones or symbols of “dedication, commemoration and demarcation.”
After the farmer who found the slab reported it to government authorities, the director of the Ismailia Antiquities District and other archaeological experts confirmed its authenticity.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, says in a statement that the artifact appears to be connected to a military campaign the pharaoh was waging east of Egypt. The slab includes 15 lines of hieroglyphs that experts are now working to translate.
As the Jerusalem Post’s Aaron Reich writes, Apries was also known as Wahibre Haaibre, or, in Hebrew, Hophra. He was the fourth ruler of the 26th dynasty, reigning from about 589 to 570 B.C. Apries unsuccessfully tried to help King Zedekiah of Judah ward off an invasion by Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the pharaoh welcomed Jewish refugees into Egypt after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians.
The campaign mentioned may refer to the fighting in Jerusalem or separate a civil war in Egypt. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus described a coup against Apries in which a general named Amasis was declared pharaoh and Apries made a failed attempt to regain power.
Apries’ rule took place during what’s known as Egypt’s Late Period (roughly 664 to 332 B.C.), around 2,000 years after the construction of the Pyramids of Giza and more than 200 years before Alexander the Great’s arrival in the region.
As Mustafa Marie reports for Egypt Today, much of what historians know about Apries comes from Herodotus and the Torah, as only a few artifacts from his rule have been found in Lower Egypt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art notes that images of 26th dynasty kings are rare, but one known fragment of a statue probably depicts the enigmatic pharoah. Archaeologists also attribute a structure in the ancient capital city of Memphis, where a gateway was decorated with scenes depicting the Festival of the White Hippopotamus, to Apries.
Thanks to the recent discovery of hundreds of coffins at the ancient site of Saqqara, researchers are now learning more about Late Period Egypt. As Jo Marchant reports in Smithsonian magazine’s July/August cover story, many of the sarcophagi bear signs of animal cults that thrived during the Late Period, perhaps because they were seen as a symbol of national identity in the face of foreign threats.
Saqqara—the subject of “Tomb Hunters,” a new documentary series from the Smithsonian Channel—was not just a local cemetery, but a pilgrimage site that drew visitors from across the eastern Mediterranean.
“Saqqara would have been the place to be seen dead in,” Campbell Price, a curator at the Manchester Museum in England, tells Smithsonian. “It had this numinous, divine energy that would help you get into the afterlife.”