New discoveries on Luxor's west bank

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 31 May 2011

The finds include a rare colossal alabaster statue of Amenhotep III, an 18th Dynasty king

the colossal statue of Amenhoteop III

During a routine excavation at the funerary temple of the 18th Dynasty king, Amenhotep III (c. 1390-1352 BC), at Kom el-Hettan area on Luxor’s west bank, the mission of the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project unearthed an alabaster colossus of the great king. The team has also discovered the head of a deity, as well as restoring a stele and a statue head of the same king.

Zahi Hawass, Minister of State for Antiquities, has announced that the colossal statue shows Amenhotep III seated, and wearing the Nemes headdress, a pleated shendyt kilt and a royal beard. It was found in the passageway leading to the third pylon of the funerary temple, 200 metres behind the colossi of Memnon, which guarded the first pylon.

“The statue is the northern one of a pair of colossi that were once placed at the gate of the third pylon,” said Hawass. It is likely that both statues collapsed during an earthquake that took place in antiquity, but parts of them were still visible in a layer of Nile alluvium. The back of one of the two statues’ thrones had already been discovered in a previous excavation and its fragmentary text published. The other parts will be gradually uncovered for conservation and the statue restored in its original location in the near future.

Hawass has described the face of Amenhotep III on this colossus as a masterpiece of royal portraiture. It has almond shaped eyes outlined with cosmetic bands, a short nose and a large mouth with wide lips, delimited with a sharp ridge. It is very well preserved and measures 1.20 m in height. In spite of its large scale, the face is extremely well carved and well proportioned.

Hourig Sourouzian, the head of the mission, has also described the discovery as very important for the history of Egyptian art and sculpture, as well as for the story of the temple. The colossus is unique because it is exceptionally well-carved in alabaster, a stone hewn in the quarries of Hatnub in Middle Egypt. This material, she explained, is rarely used for colossal statuary, and the pair of statues from Kom el-Hettan are the only preserved examples of their size, an estimated c. 18 m in height.

During clearance and mapping work on the central part of the temple’s great court, where more parts of the original pavement were uncovered, Sourouzian’s mission has further discovered the head of a deity carved in granodiorite. The head is 28.5 cm high and represents a male god wearing a striated wig. Part of his plaited divine beard is preserved under the chin.

Also discovered in the great court was a red quartzite stele of Amenhotep III, which Mohamed Abdel Fatah, head of the Pharaonic Sector of the Ministry of State for Antiquities, reports as having been restored by the mission. Sourouzian described how the stone conservators and specialists of the team gradually reconstructed the stele from 27 large pieces and several smaller ones, up to a height of 7.40 m (4/5 of its original height).

The stele was originally 9m tall and its restoration will be completed next season when its round top will be put back in place. This part of the stele bears two scenes representing Amenhotep III and his queen consort, Tiye, bringing offerings to the gods, Amun-Re and Sokar. The rest of the stele is decorated with 25 lines of sunken hieroglyphic inscriptions, which list the temples Amenhotep III dedicated to the great gods of Thebes.

The mission also reattached the beard of a red granite head of this king, currently being exhibited at Luxor Museum on the east bank. According to documents and photos taken at the time of its discovery, the head and the beard were found together by Labib Habachi in 1957, but until now the head was exhibited beardless. After searching inside the storerooms of Luxor, Sourouzian found the missing piece, and a team of restorers reattached it to the head and put it back on display.

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