The discovery of a red granite head of a king with Nubian features in the precinct of Amenhotep III's temple on Luxor's West Bank has puzzled Egyptologists, writes Nevine El-Aref
"This really is a very surprising discovery," Hourig Sourouzian, director of the German conservation project for the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III's temple, told Al-Ahram Weekly. She explained that since excavation of the site began in 1998 the mission had consistently stumbled upon homogenous New Kingdom statuaries until last week, when a well-preserved red granite royal head with Kushite features -- full cheeks and bulging lips -- was unearthed.
The 50-cm-tall head was found among several decaying granite block on a sandstone slab at the north end of the temple. Its top and right side were damaged, the nose was lightly chipped and the chin was broken. "It is a very beautiful head wearing a nemes (regal headdress)," says Sourouzian, who asserts that it does not belong to the area where it lay buried.
"If this head belongs to the Kushite period of the 25th dynasty, which is seven dynasties later than the reign of Amenhotep III, why is it deposited here?" Sourouzian asks. She says this leads one to suggest that it was deliberately moved from its original location and hidden for later retrieval. "It may possibly have been deposited here at the beginning of the 19th century by the agent of the British Council, [Henry] Salt, who recovered and sent abroad several statues from this temple," she says. "Or maybe it is a much younger deposit, in the first half of the 20th century, when antiquities dealers made illegal diggings and deals in the Theban region before the inspectorate of the Antiquities Service was established on the West Bank."
While digging trenches for a project to remove water from the western part of the temple precinct the team unearthed two 3,400-year-old statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. One is a black granite legless statue featuring the goddess of war standing and holding a papyrus in her hand. The other is a diorite bust of a colossal statue crowned with a diadem encircled by a uraeus headdress. The face of this statue is well preserved and only the back pillar is damaged. Both statues were brought immediately to the temporary site laboratory for primary cleaning and conservation.
"These are not the only Sekhmet statues found," says Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA. Hawass says numerous Sekhmet statues have been found over the centuries at the Amenhotep III temple site, with the German mission unearthing 20 of them, but the latest one is the largest of all.
Next day while digging the southern part of the peristyle court of the temple, workers uncovered a red granite head of a colossal statue of Amenhotep III. It is a very well preserved head featuring the king's entire face but the crown and the beard are yet missing.
"Although a crack traverses its right side, the head is considered the most complete, well preserved and most beautiful portrait of king Amenhotep III," said Sourouzian.
Other colossal heads had been previously discovered in Kom el Hettan by previous excavators, like the one in the Luxor Museum, but they are all partially damaged.
The head belongs to one of a series of colossal statues of the king, which surrounded the peristyle court of the great mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. They have all been destroyed over centuries, the last remains lie under the road which covers half of the southern portico of the court.
With the help of some 80 workmen the team succeeded in pulling from under the water level the monumental foot of a quartzite colossus of Amenhotep III, which was found in 2002 at the second pylon of his temple at Kom Al-Hittan. In 2003, the German team discovered the queen behind the right leg of the royal colossus, and last season they lifted the torso of the colossal statue 3.12m above the level where he had fallen, bringing it above the water. However the block with the foot, which was detached from the torso in antiquity, remained at a lower level. The base of the statue is inscribed with the names of Amenhotep III, and decorated with representations of people from the south. It is now out of the reach of ground water and placed on a higher level in preparation for reassembly with other blocks of the statue base. The method for pulling is exactly as in Pharaonic times, with rolls sliding on wooden beams and with the help of 80 workmen and two foremen. The block is about two metres high, and weighs approximately five tons.