Ancient Stone Ram Heads Unearthed on Egypt’s ‘Avenue of the Sphinxes’

The newly restored road, once lined with around 700 towering sculptures, is set to open to the public in the coming weeks

stone rams head with avenue in background
Authorites plan to reattach the heads to statues along the famed Avenue of Sphinxes. Mustafa al-Waziri via Facebook

Archaeologists excavating the so-called Avenue of the Sphinxes in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor have discovered three ancient stone ram heads. Authorities plan to place the heads back where they stood in ancient times, on statues that line the road in what was once the city of Thebes, reports Ibrahim Ayyad for Al-Monitor.

The find is part of an effort to restore the 1.7-mile road as an open-air museum between the Luxor and Karnak temples, two of the largest and most significant religious centers in ancient Egypt.

“The discovery ... is another advertisement for one of Egypt’s largest projects in Luxor,” Abdel Rahim Rihan, an archaeologist at Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, tells Al-Monitor.

Headless statue with lion's body
Some of the statues along the avenue showed the god Amun-Ra with a lion's body and the head of a ram. Mustafa al-Waziri via Facebook

Rihan says the ram was a symbol of the god Amun-Ra. “Some of the statues along the road show Amun-Ra crouched on a high base, with the body of a lion and the head of a ram,” he adds.

Researchers found the statues south of Karnak Temple, which was built between 4,000 and 2,000 years ago and is largely dedicated to Amun-Ra, reports Owen Jarus for Live Science. The ram heads were located near a gateway built by the Ptolemies, pharaohs descended from one of Alexander the Great’s generals. The dynasty ruled Egypt from 305 to 30 B.C.E.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes, also known as el-Kebash Road, was once lined with around 700 statues. Most surviving sphinxes date to the reign of 30th dynasty king Nectanebo (380 to 362 B.C.E.), but the avenue itself may trace its origins as far back as the 18th dynasty, which spanned roughly 1550 to 1295 B.C.E. According to Magdy Samaan and David Rose of the London Times, the sphinxes acted as “spiritual guardians” for the ceremonial road, which hosted rituals marking the annual flooding of the Nile River.

Mustafa al-Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, tells Al-Monitor that one of the heads belongs to a statue dedicated to Amenhotep III, who reigned from 1390 to 1353 B.C.E., a time of major building projects in Egypt. Amenhotep was the father of Akhenaten—who briefly moved Egypt toward the monotheistic worship of the sun god Aten and relocated the capital from Thebes to a new city also known as Akhenaten—and grandfather of King Tutankhamun.

View of one of the stone ram heads
One of the stone ram heads Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities via Facebook

In addition to the ram heads, the archaeologists found remnants of a cobra statue that would have been placed atop one of the heads, reports Callum Hoare for Express

Waziri tells Al-Monitor that 98 percent of the road restoration work is finished. The avenue is expected to open to the public in the coming weeks.

“The cleaning and restoration of the temples on the site are currently being carried out,” he says. “So far, the colors that were first used after the construction of the temples by ancient Egyptians have been restored.”

Officials have not yet officially announced a date for the road’s opening, but local newspaper Akhbar el-Yom reports that an opening ceremony will take place on November 4. Videos showing rehearsals for the event have also circulated on social media.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.