Archaeology is Fun

Zahi Hawass, Friday 31 Dec 2010

Archaeology is all about adventures and surprises as you dream of the thrill that comes from making a new and exciting discovery

zahi hawass

The reason I am writing this article is because in recent years we have been working on a new sewage system for the west bank at Luxor. You may wonder how this is linked to my work in archaeology, but the fact is that the high water table has been threatening heritage sites all over Egypt.

This is a dangerous problem because groundwater contains salts that penetrate the fabric of stone monuments and cause it to crack and crumble when the moisture evaporates. Sewage water is even more dangerous because it contains toxic waste and chemicals.

Thanks to financial help from USAID, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is working hard to lower the ground water level at important sites across the country. We have saved the temples of Luxor and Karnak, and are now continuing that good work on the monuments of the west bank of Luxor too.

Projects likes this involve what is called ‘salvage archaeology’ as we ensure that the site of any new sewage treatment plants does not contain any archaeological remains.

The fun aspect has been regularly coming to those who have been working at Kom el-Hittan, the funerary temple of Amenhotep III (c. 1390-1352 BC), which was once the largest temple on the west bank of Luxor. The site of the temple is famous for the two giant statues of Amenhotep III that used to flank the east entrance to the temple and which are known as the Colossi of Memnon because a whistling sound they used to make in the morning was identified by the ancient Greeks as the mythical Memnon singing to his mother, Eos, goddess of the dawn.

The remains of the temple have been excavated by Hourig Sourouzian, director of the Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project, a multi-national Egyptian-European team. Large quantities of pieces from red granite statues of Amenhotep III and his wife, Tiye, have been found in the southern part of the Great Court as well as over eighty statues of the lion-headed goddess, Sekhmet. The theory is that these statues were put up in the temple because the king was sick in his last years and Sekhmet was the goddess of healing.

Further surprises came to the SCA’s team working on the site when it was conducting routine work to reduce the groundwater level there. They found statues of Amenhotep III accompanied by different gods: Amun-Re, Re-Horakhty, Bastet, Sobek, Sekhmet and a unique standing statue of Thoth, the god of wisdom, with the face of a monkey and body of a human being. Abdel Ghaffar Wagdy, head of the mission and a talented young archaeologist, found pieces of a royal nemes headdress: one 59cm in height, and another 57cm.

The team also found a matching piece from the wig of a statue of a queen.

Excitingly, all of these fragments have been identified as missing from the huge, double seated statue of Amenhotep III, Queen Tiye and three of their daughters that is on display on the ground floor of the Egyptian Museum. The seven metres tall statue originally stood inside Amenhotep III’s funerary temple, but was found in pieces in Medinet Habu, the funerary temple of Ramesses III (c. 1184-1153 BC).

Isn’t archaeology fun?

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