Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

New discoveries in Luxor

New discoveries in the Temple of Amenhotep III and an exhibition of other important finds are marking the anniversary of the Luxor Museum, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

At Wadi Al-Hittan on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, the two lonely Colossi of Memnon are seated, greeting visitors to the Theban Necropolis and safeguarding the Temple of Amenhotep III from oblivion since its collapse 3,200 years ago after a massive earthquake.

In the temple’s hypostyle hall and near its third pylon a new discovery has been made, revealing another group of goddess Sekhmet colossi.

“As the daughter of the sun god Re who defended the sun god against his enemies, Sekhmet served as the protector of the ruler from evil, and she could also cure disease,” Hourig Sourouzian, director of the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project (CMATCP), told Al-Ahram Weekly, explaining that the newly discovered statues were of great importance in the interior design of the temple.

The statues were found in four parts, including three busts and one headless chest, she said.

At the temple’s third pylon, large pieces of colossal sphinxes carved in limestone were also uncovered, as well as a small torso of a deity in black granite. The sphinxes are in a bad state of conservation and will need to be treated before being put on display.

Sourouzian said the statues of Sekhmet were well preserved and matched pieces found in the temple during past excavation seasons. Several other statues of Sekhmet have been discovered in the past by the same team at this site.

All the statues of the goddess are now being stored in an official storehouse of the Ministry of Antiquities. When the site has been properly protected, these statues will be placed back in their original setting.

The originally awe-inspiring temple of the pharaoh Amenhotep III now appears as simply slight elevations and depressions in the packed earth, with blocks, statues and fragments scattered across the surface. However, three of the temple’s original pylons can now be discerned, along with the statues and stelae that once decorated its different courts.

The efforts exerted by the CMATCP and the Ministry of Antiquities under the supervision of Sourouzian have make the dream of the reconstruction of the lost temple almost come true.

The temple was built throughout the 38 years of the pharaoh’s reign in the first half of the 14th century BCE. Some 150 years later, it was toppled after a destructive earthquake hit the country around 1,200 BCE.

The site was then used as a quarry, and most of the blocks and decorative elements from the temple were re-used in the construction of surrounding temples and structures. Later, the remains of the temple were regularly subjected to floods, and it was covered with the alluvial layers of the Nile.

In the 19th century, collectors scoured the site, taking away several royal statues, smaller divine effigies and statues of the goddess Sekhmet. These are now in the hands of private collectors or exhibited at museums abroad.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Egyptian Antiquities Service of the time inspected the site, and more recently work was carried out there in collaboration with the Swiss Institute in 1964 and 1970, the results being published in 1981.

Since then, the site has been abandoned, and the visible remains of the temple have been in a poor state of conservation, submerged by water, invaded by vegetation or threatened by encroachment or vandalism.

In 1998, the CMATCP started a salvage operation at the temple in order to conserve the last remains of the ruined site and to mount the monuments in their original locations within the temple’s walls.

Over the different archaeological seasons since, excavation and conservation work has been carried out and the architecture of this magnificent temple finally revealed.

Meanwhile, on the east bank of the Nile at Luxor, a temporary exhibition has been organised at the Luxor Museum to mark its 41st anniversary. The exhibition will last for two months and shows a collection of 40 ancient Egyptian artefacts found in the Amenhotep III Temple.

Among its highlights is a seated double life-sized statue of Amenhotep III that was discovered during the excavation work of the CMATCP in 2009 at the entrance of the temple’s peristyle court. A red granite fragment depicting a scene showing a Nubian prisoner is another important object on display.

A selection of smaller objects including amulets, ostraca, Graeco-Roman coins, limestone and black and red granite royal heads, the remains of clay pots and religious stelae are also on display.

The exhibition also includes three panels which present the discovery and the erection of fragments of the statuary discovered at the site. “As this is an inseparable activity at the site and as it is impossible to transport these to the exhibition, the team found it necessary to include these activities in panels and videos. These are running on a special screen in the exhibition” Sourouzian said.

The Luxor Museum was originally opened to the public in 1976, and in 1989 and 2003 the museum was enlarged and an extension added. It is an air-conditioned building on two levels, with objects effectively illuminated against near-black walls. It contains some wonderful artefacts, and is designed to create individual vistas at strategic positions to encourage an uninterrupted flow of visitors.

Two of the first objects that catch the visitor’s eye are an enormous, red-granite head of Amenhotep III and a cow-goddess head from the tomb of Tutankhamun. At a key position on the ground floor is a masterpiece of sculpture in the form of a calcite double-statue of the crocodile god Sobek with the pharaoh Amenhotep III, which was discovered at the bottom of a water-filled shaft in Luxor in 1967.

In 1989, a new wing of the museum was opened especially designed to display the fine collection of stone sculptures found in the courtyard of Amenhotep III in the Luxor Temple (in what is known as the “Luxor cachette”). These objects were found in near-perfect condition when the court was being excavated in order to consolidate the columns surrounding it.

They were clearly carefully hidden in antiquity, perhaps by priests, to prevent their destruction when the temple was transformed into a Roman camp in the third century CE. They included a standing statue of Amenhotep III wearing the double crown and represented as a cult statue on a sledge, a pair statue of the gods Mut and Amun, three diorite statues of Haremhab, one kneeling before a seated statue of Amun, Tutankhamun in the form of a sphinx, and a seated-pair statue of the goddesses Hathor and Iunet.

In 2003, the museum was expanded to allow for the exhibition of a number of swords, shields, arrows, military chariots and the mummies of the military leaders Thutmosis III and Ahmose I, as well as objects found in the military encampment east of Luxor Temple.

The design of the extension is in conformity with the original design of architect Mahmoud Al-Hakim, which was lauded on its official opening in 1976. The new wing is devoted to the military aspect of the New Kingdom and includes reliefs featuring important wars such as Ramses II’s famous Battle of Kadesh. It also displays medical implements and medicaments used for the treatment of soldiers.

Two colossal statues of Akhenaten along with some talatat, (distinctive painted sandstone blocks from his temples) which were found at the site of the excavations, are also on show.

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