Egyptologist discusses ‘surprise’ hieroglyphic discovery

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Egypt has offered archaeologists a wealth of historical information over the years. While excavations had been taking place in and around Egypt for decades, the extent to which an advanced civilisation had once lived in the country only became known to the Western world in the late 19th century. This was when English Egyptologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie began his work, discovering fragments of a colossal statue of Ramses II, a great Egyptian pharaoh.

Over 100 years later, in March 2017, a team of researchers were carrying out a dig in a neighbourhood in northeast Cairo.

The territory was once inhabited by Ramses, with archaeologists nearing the end of their five-year dig.

An investigation had already turned up a 3,000-year-old temple built by Ramses, but at the far end of the site, just as the team was about to wrap things up, one of the diggers struck something solid in the ground.

What was eventually found was explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Secrets: The Pharaoh in the Suburbs’.

Here, Dr Dietrich Raue, Co-Director of the Heliopolis Project, explained: “Suddenly the workmen told us there was a big stone.”

As the team uncleared the mud, something remarkable began to emerge: a giant statue.

Peeling away the layers of earth, it was soon realised that the workmen were standing on top of a chest.

A large torso slowly revealed itself, and was found to be made of quartzite — one of the most prized materials in the ancient era.

Within minutes a giant head was unearthed that had been buried upside down in the mud.

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The documentary’s narrator noted: “The archaeologists realised they had just made the find of a lifetime — the giant statue of a pharaoh.”

But, the statue was not of Ramses as many had expected.

The size, quartzite stone and intricate detail of the carving all suggested it was a monument of huge importance.

Astonishingly, a series of hieroglyphs cut deep into the rock’s face were exposed after the statue was cleaned, and offered clues as to the identity of the figure.


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Dr Raue explained: “We found four hieroglyphs, the quality of the inscription is amazing, it looks like if you’d cut through a piece of butter.

“But you are dealing with one of the hardest materials Ancient Egypt has to offer.”

To Dr Raue and the team’s disbelief, the hieroglyphs revealed the statue to be of a pharaoh relatively unknown outside circles of Egyptology: Psamtik I.

Until the discovery, it was thought that Psamtik was nothing more than a small-time pharaoh.

However, the size of the statue suggests he was a king of far greater importance than history had led experts to believe.

The accounts of Psamtik by ancient historians are few and far between.

Experts know that he ruled Egypt for 54 years from 664 BC.

At this time, Egypt had lost its once superpower statues and had declined into relative poverty.

As such, Egyptologists believed that Psamtik had ruled over the country when it was on its knees.

Dr Chris Naunton, an Egyptologist, explained: “These were not the glory days anymore.

“Egypt wasn’t as wealthy as it had been, it didn’t control the same territory, it didn’t have the same empire.

“We had thought that up until now that the pharaoh didn’t really have the means to build statues on this scale.

“But this statue changes all of that.”

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