Heads-up: amazing Egyptian discoveries
A 26ft (8m) tall quartzite statue broken into several pieces was unearthed on 7 March 2017 in the working class Matariyyah neighbourhood of northeast Cairo by a German-Egyptian archæological team. Digging on waterlogged wasteland, they first discovered the chest before locating its jaw, right ear, part of its right eye, and then eventually its crown. The top of the crown, the height of a child, was so large it had to be packed in mud and lifted out of the ditch with an excavator before it could be cleaned. At first the statue was thought to depict Ramses the Great, the most powerful ruler of ancient Egypt and the inspiration for Shelley’s poem Ozymandias about the “colossal wreck” of a once-mighty king. Ramses in Greek transliterates as Ozymandias, and the arrival in London of a large statue of him is believed to have inspired Shelley’s 1818 sonnet and its most famous line: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
The upper part of a life-size statue of Seti II, Ramses’s grandson, was also discovered at the site. Although much smaller than the other statue, experts said the limestone work showed fine artistic detail. The neighbourhood was built over the site of the ancient city of Heliopolis, a religious centre dedicated to the worship of the sun god Ra. Ramses built a sun temple bearing his own name in the area, which is why the larger statue was thought to depict him.
“The sun god created the world in Heliopolis,” said Dietrich Raue, the head of the German team. “That’s what I always tell the people here when they ask if there is anything important. According to the pharaonic belief, the world was created in Matariyyah.” A few days after the discovery, antiquities minister Khaled el-Anani said the colossus almost certainly depicts Psamtek I, who ruled between 664 and 610 BC. He is credited with bringing stability to Egypt after years of turmoil. Guardian, 10 Mar; D.Telegraph, 11 Mar; D.Mail, 11+17 April 2017.