Archeologists have a tedious job, especially when they spend years without any discoveries. What makes the job well worth it, though, is when something does pop up. That's what happened when a crew in Cairo found an Egyptian artifact that would be deemed one of the most important discoveries ever. The massive statue would give a glimpse into one of the oldest towns in Egypt and its celebrated leader. Read on to see what a team of patient experts forklifted out of a muddy slum.
Excavating The Cairo Slums
Archeologists went to the Cairo slums in Egypt to dig into what used to be the town of Heliopolis. It was one of the country's most ancient cities, and thus bound to have a plethora of undiscovered findings.
The team was so dedicated that they wouldn't leave any ground unsearched. It was their mission to find whatever the land had to offer. As they would come to find out, it was well worth the hard work and determination.
Digging Through The Water
One of the challenges that archeologists discovered early into their venture was that they'd be dealing with water. The American Research Center in Egypt explained that the site was and continues to be impacted by a rapidly rising water table.
The spot where the archeologists were digging led them to water that they'd have to continue to search under. Spending days trying to find something you aren't sure is there is challenging enough, but doing so underwater is even more difficult.
Working Among Waste And Rubble
Water wasn't the only thing in the archeologists' way. To top it off, they also had to deal with the fact they were working in essentially a dumpsite. The slum had been subject to dumping for several years.
As a result, they would have to work around the eight meters of building rubble and waste, both domestic and industrial, that occupied the land. Still, they knew that they were in the right place because of the land's rich history.
The City Of The Sun
Located in what is today Eastern Cairo, Heliopolis was a major city in ancient Egypt. It's nicknamed "the City of the Sun" because it was the birthplace of the Sun God and the center of the ensuing cult.
Archeologist and professor Dr. Salima told NBC News that the city is "one of the most important religious places in ancient Egyptian history," noting its impact on Egyptian mythology and thereby its civilization. Whatever challenges came, archeologists were going to push through them for the sake of uncovering history.
New Construction Threatens The City
As though the water, waste, and rubble weren't troubling enough, there was also the threat of new construction. The site was in a working-class area and among mud roads and partially built structures.
Though the archeologists worked for more than a decade by the time they made their huge discovery, they still faced eager builders. Fortunately, they were able to prove why leaving ground undeveloped is so massively important for learning about the area's history.
A Destroyed Sun Temple
Since the Cairo slum, more specifically called Matariya, was located in the historically significant ancient town of Heliopolis, archeologists had something to look forward to. They were digging around what used to be the sun temple, one of the largest temples in Egypt.
Pharoah Ramses II founded the temple thousands of years ago. Ultimately, it was destroyed in Greco-Roman times. Still, the temple, which was twice the size of Luxor's Karnak, left behind plenty to be discovered.
International archeologists worked for years to find some remnant of what they knew was deep underground. Their efforts paid off at last when they struck something that would be one of the most important discoveries of all time.
The item they began to excavate was a quartzite colossus. Right away, it was clear that this was something of massive importance. Still, they would need to pull it out of the water and mud to give it a proper evaluation.
Forklifting Mysterious Find
News quickly spread that something massive was found, resulting in a crowd of onlookers eagerly awaiting as a giant forklift did what the archeologists could not. Officials, local residents, and news outlets watched as a mound of stone was pulled out of the water.
The piece was the head of a 26-foot statue that dates back 3,000 years. Though the archeologists could pinpoint what exactly the artifact was in terms of size and material, the more important question was its significance.
Possibly Pharaoh Ramses II
As mentioned earlier, the archeologists were digging near the former sun temple of Heliopolis, which Pharaoh Ramses II established thousands of years ago. It would make sense, then, that this new statue might be of the leader.
Archeologists surmised that the statue was, in fact, of the ancient Egyptian ruler. They would have to excavate all of the pieces of the statue first to be sure, but the idea made the discovery that much more groundbreaking.
The Most Celebrated Ruler Of Ancient Egypt
The possibility that this statue was of Pharaoh Ramses II was a massive deal considering the historical context. Sometimes called Ramses The Great, this ruler was the most celebrated and powerful of his time.
He was the third Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt and was referred to as Great Ancestor by younger generations. He ruled for more than 60 years, during which time he reasserted control of Canaan, led expeditions into Nubia, and built cities, temples, and monuments.
Not The First Discovered Statue Of Ramses II
Ramses II, who is also known as Ozymandias, was discovered in statue form long before this particular excavation. The British Museum contains a broken statue of the ruler that is believed to have inspired a sonnet by the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
In the poem, Shelley writes about a traveler who describes an Ozymandias statue. The sonnet was published in 1818 and has popularized the ancient leader. It was one of Shelley's most famous works.
Plans For The Monumental Statue
Now that the statue has been found, you may be wondering what will happen to it. The first thing archeologists will be tasked with is retrieving as many parts as they can. From there, they can verify the identity of the depicted individual.
Part of confirming the identity will be restoring the statue as much as possible. After all of these steps, the item will likely be placed at the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Another Incredible Discovery
As if the 26-foot statue of what's believed to be Ramses The Great wasn't enough, there was also another jaw-dropping item uncovered. Archeologists found a life-size statue made of limestone that depicts Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II's grandson!
The piece excavated was only the top portion of the statue, so it measured just 31-inches long. The fifth pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt famously faced the threat of his half-brother taking over the throne as he seized control of Thebes and Nubia.
One More Awe-Inspiring Piece
The smaller statue of Pharaoh Seti II seemed to further insinuate that the massive colossus was of Ramses II after all. Before anything was set in stone (pun intended), the archeologists continued searching for any other items or clues.
That's when they came upon another significant discovery. It was a piece of an obelisk that has hieroglyphics on it. It would take some restoration to see how these items might connect, or even give insights into one another.
A Joy For Locals And Tourists
The discoveries gave locals something to be in awe of. How amazing it would feel to see the connection between where you live and ancient history! Residents rushed to take pictures with the incredible ancient artifacts.
Another reason that the discovery was important is that it had the potential to bring in tourists. Visitors had declined in recent years, but such groundbreaking news could drive travelers to Cairo and help boost the town's economy.
Necropolis Of Saqqara Treasures
The necropolis of Saqqara is located south of Cairo and is regarded as the largest group of Egyptian tombs. These archeologists are dusting off newly-discovered artifacts that date back to the Late Period and the Ptolemaic period of ancient Egypt.
The items include small statues and funerary masks that were excavated from more than 40 feet underground in burial shafts. The necropolis is located west of the Nile River and stretches across eight kilometers.
An Ancient Scarab Statue
Archeologists also uncovered this statue of a scarab in the necropolis of Saqqara. Scarab comes from the scientific name Scarabaeus sacer, which is the dung beetle. These insects had significant meaning in ancient Egypt.
The religious significance of these beetles had to do with the sun god Ra, who was believed to transform souls as he rolled across the sky each day. Similarly, these insects roll dung into a ball for food and as an egg chamber, representing renewal and rebirth.
Wahtye was a high priest who served King Neferirkare during ancient Egypt's fifth dynasty. Archeologists recently discovered his elaborate tomb, which dates back 4,400 years!
The tomb is more than 30 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 10 feet tall. It features sculptures and inscriptions that are in impressive shape. There are also painted reliefs of Wahtye, his wife, and his mother, along with scenes of people doing things like hunting and manufacturing goods.
Small Statue Of Cleopatra
Archeologists searching for Cleopatra's tomb stumbled upon this small, alabaster statuette of her. It was discovered at the temple of Tasposiris Magna, which is west of Alexandria.
Cleopatra was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and the companion of Alexander The Great. The many pieces of art depicting Cleopatra have made her a subject for more recent artists over the centuries. She is one of the more popular figures from Ancient Egypt and a cultural icon.
A Mask Depicting Roman General Marc Antony
The same site where the aforementioned statue of Cleopatra was discovered also produced this piece of a mask. It is believed to depict Marcus Antonius, who is also known as Mark Antony.
The Roman general is popularly known for playing a key role in transforming the Roman Republic into the autocratic Roman Empire. As a general for Julius Caesar, Mark participating in the conquest of Gaul and Caesar's Civil War. He also shared three children with Cleopatra.