You probably saw the pictures of a huge statue being lifted out of the mud in Cairo earlier this week. It was all very exciting for the team of Egyptian-German archaeologists who found it. Not only did they get to use a crane, they also thought it was a massive statue of Ramses II (aka Ramses the Great).
To be fair, the odds were stacked in their assumptive favour. The discovery was made near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo. And the size of the statue – with an estimated height of some 9 meters (26 feet) and a weight of seven tons – is typical of the Ramses II era.
Plus, as anyone who has been on a dig will know, archaeologists are excitable creatures and that in the heat of the moment it’s very hard not to speculate about what you’ve just found, safe in the knowledge that later on, close and detailed study in the lab will reveal whether or not you were right.
In this case, it was only when the archaeologists got the statue clear of the muddy water that they found hieroglyphs on the statue’s back-pillar that showed that it was of Psamtek I – a little known pharaoh from the 26th dynasty who ruled Egypt for five decades about 2,500 years ago, between 664 and 610 BC.
He eliminated local rulers in Lower Egypt in his first seven years, and ended the authority of the Napatan kings at Thebes pretty much reunifying Egypt. To begin with, he seems to have governed on behalf of Assyrian kings, but as their power collapsed, Psamtek became the de facto independent ruler.
In short, he’s credited for bringing stability to Egypt after years of turmoil, some 600 years after Ramses II was on the throne. So yep, Psamtek is one pharoah we’re pleased to have been made more aware of.
Unsurprisingly, Khaled el-Anani (the man tasked with facing up to the press) remained cautious, saying “we will not be 100 percent certain that it is of Psamtek I, but give us days, weeks or months and we will be certain”.
In the meantime, Moamen Othman, chief of restoration at the museum in Giza where the statue will eventually be housed, said the challenge is now to prepare the statue for a new life in the limelight. The dry air and bright lights of a museum are a completely different environment to the mud and water it has been submerged in for the last three millennia. In order for it not to degrade, the statue must be stabilised, treated and conserved – the archaeological equivalent of first aid.
“It’s important that we study the process of environmental adjustment for the statue. It will take three months to do” he said. Now there’s an archaeologist with more patience than most.
DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!Subscribe