The newly discovered statue believed to be for King Ramses II. Photo by Magdi Abdel Sayed.
In the wake of the discovery of a colossal statue assumed to be Ramses II in Cairo earlier this week, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass dismissed local media reports that charged the use of a winch to haul part of the monument out of the pit it was found in damaged the artefact.
Hawass, a former antiquities minister, told Ahram Online that using a winch was “the only efficient way” to remove the 7-ton piece of the statue from the two-metre ditch.
“Souq El-Khamis area in Matariya where the statue was discovered is a very important archaeological site which does not have any complete statues, tombs or temples,” Hawass said.
Initial reports by some Egyptian media outlets had suggested that the winch had damaged the statue, or had broken it into pieces.
However, according to ministry officials, the statue was discovered already in pieces.
Archaeologists from Egypt and Germany found the massive eight-metre statue submerged in ground water last week, which they say probably depicts revered Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
The discovery, hailed by the antiquities ministry as one of the most important ever, was made near the ruins of Ramses II's temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo in the working-class neighbourhood of Matariya.
The site was subjected to deterioration and damage during Egypt’s Christian period because the area was used as a quarry for constructing other buildings, Hawass said.
“It is impossible to find any complete full-sized statue,” Hawass said, adding that any statue that would be uncovered in the future will be found in pieces, like this one.
He argued that the Matariya area, a poor suburb of Cairo, suffers from three main problems. Its modern residential houses were built on top of the remains of ancient Egyptian temples and tombs which are submerged in subterranean water extended from two to four metres deep.
“This is a fact that made it too difficult to transport or remove any of the blocks [from these structures].”
Hawass told Ahram Online that he called the German excavation mission head, Dietrich Raue, who sent him a complete report on the excavations with photographs revealing the lifting process.
“The transportation and removal process of any heavy colossus like the one discovered is carried out in collaboration with the head of workmen from the upper Egyptian town of Qift who are skilled and very highly trained in such work,” Hawass said.
Hawass explained that similar workmen work in the Saqqara necropolis and belong to the El-Krity family, who have been able to transport and lift up a large number of huge sarcophagi and colossi that each could reach 20 tons.
Hawass also said that the newly discovered statue definitely belongs to the 19th dynasty king, Ramses II, because it was found at the entrance to his temple.
He noted that the area, in which he had carried out excavations, held the remains of temples belonging to pharaohs Akhenaton, Thutmose III and Ramses II.
“I am very happy to hear about such a discovery because it will not only reveal a part of ancient Egyptian history but it will also help promote tourism to Egypt,” Hawass said.