Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unearthing Egypt's Greatest Temple

Smithsonian Magazine

"Heya hup!" Deep in a muddy pit, a dozen workers wrestle with Egypt's fearsome lion goddess, struggling to raise her into the sunlight for the first time in more than 3,000 years. She is Sekhmet—"the one who is powerful"—the embodiment of the fiery eye of the sun god Ra, but now she is caked in dirt and bound by thick rope. As the workers heave her out of the pit and onto a wooden track, the sand shifts and the six-foot-tall granite statue threatens to topple. A half-dozen men in ankle-length robes grab the taut ropes, again shout the Arabic equivalent of "heave, ho!" and steady her just in time.

Within the hour, the seated Sekhmet is once again imperious: her breath creates the desert wind, her anger feeds on disease and war, and her power protects mighty pharaohs. Or did. This long-buried statue is one of 730—one for every day and night of the year—that guarded a vast collection of gates, colonnades, courts and halls built by the great Egyptian king Amenhotep III, who reigned over Egypt for 38 years in the 14th century B.C., at the height of peace and prosperity. In its day, "The House of Millions of Years" was the largest and most impressive temple complex in the world. But it was no match for earthquakes, fires, floods or Amenhotep III's successors, who scavenged stone blocks and statues for their own temples. Much of the site, near the Valley of the Kings along the west bank of the Nile River, is covered with sugar cane.

Hourig Sourouzian, an Armenian archaeologist, is directing the effort to rescue the long-neglected site and its many statues.

See the above three-page article for the full story, accompanied by a photograph of a statue of Sekhmet being retrieved from the ground.

No comments: