Fragments of a colossal pair of limestone sphinxes were unearthed at the ancient Egyptian temple of Amenhotep III in western Luxor. A German-Egyptian team of researchers, led by archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian, discovered the artifacts half-submerged in water during their restoration of the funerary temple of the pharaoh and the Colossi of Memnon, two monumental statues in his likeness.
The sphinxes measure around 26 feet long and likely depict the ancient ruler outfitted wearing a mongoose-shaped headdress, a royal beard, and a broad necklace. A restoration of the limestone revealed “the beloved of Amun-Re” across the sphinx’s chest, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities.
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Also discovered at the site were three nearly intact statues of the goddess Sekhmet, the lion-like defender of the Sun god Ra, and the remains of a great pillared hall. Still legible on its sandstone walls are a series of images depicting the royal jubilee, or heb-sed, an ancient Egyptian festival which recognized—and renewed—the king’s right to rule.
The festival was traditionally celebrated on the thirtieth year of the pharaoh’s reign, though most died before the occasion. Amenhotep III, who ruled from 1390–1353 B.C.E. in the 18th Dynasty, was among the few who survived to stage the feast, and scholars believe his heb-sed was the most elaborate in history. In a statement, Sourouzian stressed the importance of the discovery, as the sphinxes confirm the location of the beginning of the procession road, a critical site for ceremonies and festivities.
Amenhotep III’s largely peaceful reign was marked by a prolific construction program in Thebes (modern-day Luxor), the capital of the ancient Egyptian empire. This included the Colossi of Memnon, a palace complex at Malkata, and an artificial harbor which linked the city to the Nile. He also ordered the construction of a major temple at Soleb in Nubia.