Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Discovering the statue of Psamtik I

The recent discovery of a colossal statue of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Psamtik I in Heliopolis has entered the hearts of people across the world, writes Zahi Hawass

Psamtik I
Psamtik I

The head and eight-and-a-half ton torso of a colossal statue were found in Heliopolis last month. This discovery allowed the whole world to see a huge statue coming out of the sands of Egypt.

The statue was found by a German-Egyptian expedition that has been working at this site for the last few years. The German team is under the supervision of Dietrich Raue and Simon Connor, while the Egyptian team is under the supervision of Ayman Al-Ashmawi. The two pieces of the statue and other archaeological remains were found in underground water and mud layers two metres deep.

The expedition worked under very difficult conditions because it was doing “salvage archaeology”. Archaeologists can make mistakes because of a rising water table and mud. When the statue was raised in this case, the expedition used a loader to raise it up to ground level from the pit where it was located, and Khaled El-Enany, the minister of antiquities, supervised the work.

When the head of the statue was placed on the ground, some photographers took photographs of the statue showing children playing around and on top of the head. The “friends of the god Seth” (the ancient Egyptian god of evil) then began to attack the excavations, and people who had never excavated anything in their lives began to put forth nonsense. These friends of Seth do not want to see anything good happen in our country. They only see the dark side, and they never see anything positive.  

I heard one lady, who had suddenly come on the scene after the 25 January Revolution, saying that the expedition had “destroyed” the stratigraphy of the find. She does not know anything about the site. I called Dietrich Raue and asked if anything had happened to the head of the statue, but he confirmed that nothing had happened to it at all. El-Enany also explained to me that the head was safe, and he said the archaeologists at the site would protect the head and cover it for its protection. He had given directions to start the process, he said.

He knew that the removal of the body of the statue could only be carried out by engineers and not by archaeologists, so he contacted Mohsen Salah, head of the contracting company Arab Contractors, who sent engineers to lift the colossal body of the statue and remove it from direct sunlight.

This was the most important discovery to be made in Egypt over the last seven years, and it has entered into the hearts of people all over the world. It will definitely help to bring tourists back to Egypt. The Ministry of tTourism would have needed to pay a great deal of money to create the kind of good publicity that this discovery created, and it also showed the security and political stability that Egypt currently enjoys.

The statue was found in a three-metre pit north of a rectangular pedestal surrounded by quartzite slabs. This was where the statue had once stood, and the pedestal itself once stood before a pylon. Other fragments made of pink granite and dating to the Middle Kingdom were found in the area. The two pieces of the colossal statue are not sufficient to show whether the statue was a standing or seated one. If it had been standing, it would have been nine metres high, while if it had been seated it would have been a little over seven metres high.

The history of the site may explain how difficult it was for the expedition to extract the statue from the mud and water and how much effort it took to do so. The site was once the most important and oldest religious capital of Egypt. It was called “On” by the ancient Egyptians and “Heliopolis” by the ancient Greeks, meaning “city of the sun”. The name came about because the site was the main cult centre for the worship of the sun god Re. The city also once had the oldest university in the world where many ancient Greek philosophers once studied. Great knowledge and science emerged from this university from the Pre-Dynastic Period onwards, and many ancient Egyptian pharaohs built temples dedicated to Re in the city of Heliopolis.

According to scripture, the Prophet Joseph was married to the daughter of the high priest of On and had two children by her. Professor Abdel-Aziz Saleh, my own former supervisor and a great historian of ancient Egypt, excavated in this area and discovered many temples of the Ramesside dynasties. He also discovered a New Kingdom settlement that may have contained the houses of the priests who maintained the cult of the sun god.

I have also previously worked at this site, and so when I found people making negative remarks about the discovery, I wrote to the press to explain the circumstances that faced the archaeologists. When I worked at the site, I excavated an intact tomb found under a modern villa. When I opened the tomb, I found that it had been robbed in the Roman Period. I also found a 26th Dynasty tomb that was completely underwater. We tried to drain the water from the tomb, but it kept coming back, making it difficult to take the canopic jars that the tomb contained out of the mud.

When the Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) planned to build a supermarket in that area, remains were found and I led an emergency expedition to excavate in the same area where the German expedition is now working. We found the remains of three temples, with the statues in them being either broken into many pieces or destroyed. We discovered a temple of Thutmose III and one of Ramses II containing shattered fragments of statues. A surprise find was a limestone block inscribed with the name of Aten, proving that the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten built a temple for Aten in Heliopolis.

I also moved a pillar from a temple built by Merenptah from this site to the citadel in Cairo for restoration. The site hosts the oldest known obelisk of Senwosret I, and there used to be some four other obelisks in the area that were removed from the site in antiquity.

Over 300 years ago, people began to build houses and villas above the temples and tombs in the area, and as a result a law was issued saying that anyone who wanted to demolish his house in the area should obtain permission from the local department of antiquities. When experts have checked the foundations of demolished houses, they have discovered many important remains, such as the two tombs I excavated under the previously mentioned demolished villa.

When I went back to visit the site recently, I thought that the large head and the massive body of the newly discovered statue belonged to Ramses II. Surprisingly, the pieces were found to belong to Psamtik I, the first king of the 26th Dynasty, Dietrich Raue having examined the statue stylistically and come to this conclusion.

I have to congratulate the expedition and especially my friend El-Enany who is doing his best to bring back to Egypt the glory of its ancient history. I told him that if people attack you, this means that you are successful. I do not know, on the other hand, how we can finally get rid of the enemies of success or the friends of the evil god Seth.

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