Egyptian workers prepare to lift parts of the statue from the mud. Photograph: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA
German and Egyptian archaeologists have discovered an eight-meter quartzite statue submerged in the bottom of a pit in a neighborhood of Cairo that is likely to represent Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled over Ancient Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
The discovery, described by the Ministry of Antiquities of Egypt as one of the most important in history, was made near the ruins of the temple of Ramses II in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of what is the current Capital of Egypt.
Archaeologists say that the sun temple from Heliopolis was founded by Ramses II, which means that it is very likely that the newly found colossus is his representation.
According to experts, it was one of the largest temples in Egypt, almost double the size of Luxor’s Karnak, but was destroyed in Greco-Roman times.
Pharaoh Ramses II, considered by many scholars as the most powerful and celebrated ruler of ancient Egypt, also known as Ramses the Great, was the third ruler of the nineteenth Dynasty and ruled over ancient Egypt between 1279 and 1213 BC. He initiated several military campaigns and extended the ancient Egyptian empire from Syria in the east to Nubia (now Sudan) in the south.
He was referred to by his successors as the “Great Ancestor“.
Egyptian workers with the head of the statue. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
“We found the bust of the statue and the lower part of the head and now we removed the head and we found the crown and the right ear and a fragment of the right eye,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said.
“Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, the head of the Egyptian team, indicated that they are going now to complete the research and excavation work of the remaining sections of the statue to confirm the identity of its owner. On the discovered portions there is no inscription found that would make it possible to determine which king it is. But its discovery in front of the gate of the temple of Pharaoh Ramses II suggests that it is likely him.”
A mechanical digger is employed to clear mud away and allow access to the statue. Photograph: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA
The next step is to attempt and extract the remaining pieces of the statue before restoring it. If experts are successful in their process, and the colossus is in fact proven to depict Ramses II, it will be moved to the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, set to open in 2018.
In an interview with Reuters Dietrich Raue, head of the expedition’s German team, the ancient Egyptians believed Heliopolis was the place where the sun god lives, meaning it was off-limits for any royal residences.
“The sun god created the world in Heliopolis, in Matariya. That’s what I always tell the people here when they say is there anything important. According to the pharaonic belief, the world was created in Matariya,” Raue said.
“That means everything had to be built here. Statues, temples, obelisks, everything. But … the king never lived in Matariya, because it was the sun god living here.”