Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed the remains of two large sphinxes at an ancient temple in Luxor, reports Tessa Solomon for ARTnews. The statues, each measuring 26 feet long, were found half-submerged in water at a shrine for Amenhotep III, the grandfather of King Tutankhamun and a pharaoh who ruled Egypt from 1390 B.C.E. to 1353 B.C.E.
A team of Egyptian and German researchers discovered the artifacts while restoring the ancient ruler’s funerary site, known as the “Temple of Millions of Years,” per a statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The team also found three black granite busts of Sekhmet, a goddess of war who took the form of a lioness, and remnants of columns and walls with engravings of ceremonial scenes.
Lead archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian tells Muhammed Magdy of Al-Monitor that the artifacts were located near an important processional road used at ceremonies and celebrations during the pharaoh’s lifetime. The wall reliefs featured images of Heb-Sed, a major festival held by Amenhotep at the 30-year mark of his reign and every three years thereafter to honor his long rule, which spanned nearly 40 years.
“This is one of the most important feasts for ancient Egyptians that celebrates the end of the 30th year of the king’s ascension to the throne,” Abdel Rahim Rihan, research director at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, tells Al-Monitor. “The depictions of this festival show the king on his throne in full strength, with the crowds around him happy and excited, waiting for his speech promising them another 30-year reign full of prosperity and opulence. On this occasion, the king would also make offerings to the gods.”
Researchers say the two limestone sphinxes depicted Amenhotep in a mongoose headdress, sporting a beard and broad necklace, per the statement. During the restoration process, Sourouzian and her team also found an inscription on the chest of one the sphinxes that reads, “the beloved of the god Amun-Ra,” the royal name of Amenhotep.
During his peaceful and prosperous reign, Amenhotep III built his mortuary temple in the ancient city of Thebes along the Nile River, now modern-day Luxor. The massive funerary complex stretches seven football fields in length, covering an area nearly the size of Vatican City, as Andrew Lawler reported for the Smithsonian in 2007. In its time, it was one of the largest, most ornate religious structures in the world, Lawler adds, filled with numerous statues, stone reliefs and other artifacts.
Due to its close proximity to the Nile, the pharaoh’s temple has been flooded several times over history, and further destruction was caused by an earthquake around 1200 B.C.E., according to Al-Monitor.
The dig was part of the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project, a joint effort between the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and the German Archaeological Institute to excavate and conserve the site since 1998. Archaeologists have made efforts over the past two decades to dry more areas of the massive complex, but the process is lengthy. Researchers say they will continue to work to restore the temple as well as the Colossi of Memnon, two gigantic stone statues of Amenhotep III that mark the entrance to the funerary complex and resemble the recently found sphinxes.
“Our main task of this project is to gradually document, reassemble and restore the last remains of this temple, then display these monumental remains in their original places,” Sourouzian tells Al-Monitor.