By Rossella Lorenzi, Live Science Contributor | March 9, 2017
Archaeologists have discovered a colossal statue, possibly depicting Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses the Great, in a muddy pit in a Cairo suburb, Egypt's antiquities ministry announced today (March 9).
Split in fragments, the quartzite statue was found by Egyptian and German archaeologists in the heavily populated Ain Shams and Matariya districts, where the ancient city of Heliopolis — the cult center for sun-god worship — once stood.
Indeed, the statue was found in a courtyard near the ruins of the sun temple founded by Ramses II, better known as Ramesses the Great.
"We found two big fragments so far, covering the head and the chest," said Dietrich Raue, head of the German archaeological team that discovered the statue. "As of yet, we do not have the base and the legs as well as the kilt," Raue told Live Science.
Raue, a curator at the Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig, estimates that the statue is about 26 feet (8 meters) tall. Although his team did not find any artifacts or engravings that could identify the subject of the colossal sculpture, its location in front of Ramesses II's temple suggests that it could have belonged to the pharaoh.
"It was indeed used by the pharaoh as a colossal statue, but we cannot yet be sure that it wasn't an older statue he reused," Raue said.
Ramesses II was the third king of Egypt's 19th dynasty. He ruled for 66 years (1279 to 1213 B.C.). During his long reign, he built more temples and monuments, took more wives and fathered more children (over 100) than any other Egyptian pharaoh, archaeologists have found.
A mighty warrior, Ramesses II created an empire that stretched from present-day Libya to Iraq in the east, to Turkey in the north and to Sudan in the south.
Nearby, the archaeologists uncovered part of a life-size statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramesses I's son. (Ramesses I was the grandfather of Ramesses II.) The statue measures nearly 3 feet (80 centimeters) tall and includes detailed facial features.
According to Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian archaeological team, the discovery of the colossal statue is very important because it shows that the sun temple was impressive, with "magnificent structures, distinguished engravings, soaring colossi and obelisks."
The temple suffered damages during the Greco-Roman period (about 332 B.C. to A.D. 395), and most of its obelisks and colossal statues were moved to Alexandria and Europe, Ashmawy said. The rest of the monument disappeared during the Islamic era (eighth to 13th century A.D.), and its blocks were used in the construction of historic Cairo.
Raue said his team will continue to excavate the area in search of other fragments. "We have not finished the excavation of the courtyard," he said. "It is possible we will find the missing fragments, and — who knows — maybe other statues."
If all of the fragments are found and the colossal statue is pieced together, it will be put on display at the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2018.