The statue is likely that of Pharaoh Ramses II, one of the most famous rulers of ancient Egypt. That mystery will not be solved until next week, when they hope to finish the excavation and can look for any inscriptions on the quartzite statue.
“This was a great surprise,” said Dietrich Raue, one of the directors of a team of German and Egyptian archaeologists who have been excavating a vast temple complex at the site since 2012. “We had to clear the area before any future construction work and because the monuments are below the level of the groundwater. The quality of the stone is fantastic, and it has an amazing art historical value.”
The first sign of the colossus came on Tuesday when excavation workers uncovered the lower part of the statue’s chin. On Thursday, archaeologists and residents watched as a hydraulic excavator lifted the statue’s broken crown, glistening with water and mud, from the ground.
Ramses II was a formidable figure, not only in Egypt but across much of the ancient world. During his reign, from 1279 to 1213 B.C., he expanded his empire east to present-day Syria and south into Sudan. He was also known for monumental building projects, including sprawling sun temples filled with statues of himself, one of which was discovered under a Cairo marketplace in 2006.
The team also found part of a life-size limestone statue of Seti II, another pharaoh and a grandson of Ramses II. Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry hailed that as an important find as well, although it was not the first in Matariya, which was built on land that was once Heliopolis, an ancient city near the Nile.
More than 150 people are working on the current dig — most of them Egyptian archaeologists and workers, along with a small number of German academics and European specialists. The archaeologists are rushing to uncover as much as they can of the temple complex before local construction projects resume.