A fantastic discovery of two unique limestone statues in Luxor has been added to the recent flurry of archaeological findings in Egypt spearheaded by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
In a press release from Thursday, an Egyptian-German archaeological mission headed by Dr. Horig Sorosian announced its success in restoring the funerary temple of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (also known as the Temple of Millions of Years) in western Luxor and the Colossi of Memnon (two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III) in the Theban Necropolis. In the process the team made an accidental discovery of gigantic proportions!
Colossal Limestone Statues of Amenhotep III and the Beautiful Valley Festival
This was in the form of fragments of a colossal pair of limestone sphinxes unearthed at the ancient Egyptian temple of Amenhotep III, measuring about 26 feet (7.9 meters) in length, as part of ‘The Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project.’ The sphinxes likely depict the ancient ruler, who was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty and ruled during the 14th century, wearing the striped nemes headdress, royal beard, and a broad collar around his neck.
Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, adds that cleaning of the limestone statues revealed the inscription ‘the beloved of Amun-Re’ on one of the chest pieces. Both colossal sphinxes were found half submerged in water at the rear of the gateway of the third pylon. The heads of these sphinxes have been subject to meticulous cleaning and consolidation, which is how the inscription was revealed.
The two statues are particularly significant, according to Dr. Sorosian, because they confirm the celebration of the Beautiful Valley Festival – they are the beginning of the procession road which lies between the third edifice of the temple and a courtyard of columns. The Beautiful Valley Festival, held annually, was a celebration of the dead and its origins are traced back to the Middle Kingdom .
A grand procession that lasted several days marked the beginning of this festival, which was a joyous and vibrant occasion for the people of Thebes. The procession would proceed to the aforementioned ‘Temple of Millions of Years’, where food and drinks would be sacrificed by the townspeople to the gods. Flowers would also be left to float in the river and were later gathered to pay respect to the tombs of the ᴅᴇᴀᴅ.
The site also revealed three nearly intact statues of the goddess Sekhmet – she is the warrior goddess and also the goddess of healing, who is depicted as a lioness and was the daughter of Ra who protected the pharaohs in times of warfare. As per a report on ArtNews, Sekhmet was the ‘lion-like defender of the Sun god Ra’. The same report also mentions the remains of a great pillared hall being discovered, made of sandstone, which has images of the royal jubilee or ‘ heb-sed’ being depicted.
The Heb-Sed and Amenhotep III
The heb-sed, or the ‘Feast of the Tail’ (in acknowledgment of the animal-tail typically attached to the back of the pharaoh’s garment), was an ancient Egyptian festival during which the king’s right to rule was recognized, re-affirmed, and renewed. Though its origins and development remain shrouded in some mystery, over-time, sed festivals were celebrated if and when the pharaoh completed 30 years of rule, and every 3 years thereafter, in a bid to reinvigorate and celebrate the pharaoh’s success and stamina.
According to differing accounts, Amenhotep III ruled either for 47 or 38 years, well over the thirty year limit of the sed. By all accounts, his reign was one of splendor and unprecedented prosperity, with the Egyptian monarchy reaching international recognition, and great artistic and cultural success. He celebrated at least 3 sed festivals and was obsessed with the idea of them being more grandiose and spectacular than those in the past.
For this purpose, numerous temples were constructed along the Nile, and craftsmen and jewelers were recruited en-masse to create different items to commemorate the event. At one of the sed festivals, the pharaoh in question was honored twice as the undisputed ruler of both Upper and Lower Egypt, wearing different colored crowns for both coronations, and two different costumes and robes as well. It was clearly a celebration for the ages!