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Luxor's latest bequest
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 12 - 2010

A cachette of red granite statues that once stood at the forefront of Pharaoh Amenhotep III's mortuary temple was uncovered on Luxor's west bank, Nevine El-Aref reports
On the northwestern side of Pharaoh Amenhotep III's mortuary temple on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, a dozen excavators and workers have been digging deep into the sand in an effort to lift two large statuary fragments, parts of statues of Amenhotep (1410-1372 BC) and the god Hapi, one of the four sons of Horus.
The pieces of statuary are carved in red granite. The first is a 2.73m-tall head of Hapi depicted with a baboon face. The second is a fragment of a larger statue of Pharaoh Amenhotep which features two legs that measure 30cm tall.
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni says that the objects were found during a routine excavation carried out by an Egyptian team in an attempt to uncover more of the ruins of Amenhotep III's funerary complex, which was once the largest temple in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately the temple was destroyed by a strong earthquake that hit the country during the Late Ancient Egyptian Period. Some of the scattered blocks were reused in the construction of other temples, while the others remain buried until the 1970s when the German-Egyptian teams working there began to unearth a great many objects and architectural elements. These have been cleaned and restored and placed on concrete pedestals in what is rapidly developing into an open-air museum.
In early 2000 a European Egyptian mission led by Egyptologist Hourig Sourouzian began to excavate in the Kom Al-Hittan area northeast of the temple. There the mission unearthed several statues of Amenhotep III and his wife Queen Tiye, as well as statues of the lion-shaped war goddess, Sekhmet.
Six years later an Egyptian mission led by Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, started excavating on the northern side of the temple and unearthed a large number of statues featuring Amenhotep III accompanied by various ancient Egyptian deities such as Re- Horakhti, Khepri, Horus, Thoth and Hapi.
The team is ultimately aiming to produce a virtual reconstruction of the temple using the latest in computer technology. This reconstruction will show the original position of every surviving piece within the original temple.
Eventually an open-air museum will be established in the area and the statues of Sekhmet, Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye will be placed on permanent display.
"Due to the large number of statuary found in this area I believe that the north side of the temple may have served as a burial spot for broken and damaged statues," Hawass suggests. He adds that because the statuary was ritually significant it could not be destroyed, and instead the ancient Egyptians gathered the fallen statues and buried them in a cachette beside the temple.
Abdel-Ghaffar Wagdi, the supervisor of the excavation team, said archaeologists were now focussing on unearthing any remaining pieces of statuary, and are also working on uncovering more statues from the agricultural land surrounding Amenhotep III's mortuary temple.
When constructed, the Amenhotep III mortuary temple covered an area of 350,000 square metres and was the largest mortuary temple in the Theban necropolis. Today it has almost totally disappeared except for those two massive stone statues known as the Colossi of Memnon, which each represents the seated Amenhotep and stands at 18 metres high. Both statues once stood at the gateway of the temple, which was constructed closer to the river than any of the other mortuary temples, and hence decayed more quickly in the soft mud. Its proximity to habitation meant that not only were its stones plundered for local building, but the surrounding land was worked hard for agriculture. A granite stelae of Amenhotep III is visible in the temple of Merenptah, which is located about 100 metres to the north.
In 1998 the temple was listed by the World Monuments Watch as one of the world's 100 most endangered monuments.


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