Archeologists working on a project to reduce groundwater at the Kom Ombo temple in Aswan, Egypt, uncovered a well-preserved sphinx statue, buried on the temple’s southeast side, near where other relics have recently been found.
Aswan is about 560 miles south of Cairo, on the banks of the Nile River.
Dr. Mostafa Waziri, general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, posted on the Ministry Facebook page that the sphinx was found near where two sandstone reliefs of King Ptolemy V had been uncovered about two months earlier.
Waziri believes that the statue dates to the Ptolemaic period, between 305 B.C. and 30 B.C., based on where it was discovered.
Dr. Abd Al-Moneim Al-Sayeed, general director of the Aswan Antiquities, said in the same post that further studies would be undertaken to learn about the origin of the newly uncovered statue.
Sphinx statues are usually found in or near royal tombs. The classic Egyptian sphinx depicts a lion’s body with a human head, generally the head of whichever Pharaoh ruled at the time. The face on this latest statue is extremely well preserved.
The best known sphinx statue, the Great Sphinx of Giza, has an uncertain history. Scholars assume that the current head represents the pharaoh Khafra.
Two Reliefs Also Uncovered
It seems likely that the statue found at Kom Ombo represents one of the Ptolemaic pharaohs.
Al-Sayeed pointed out in a Facebook post that that the two sandstone bas-reliefs (flat carvings) found in August seemed to depict Ptolemy XII. One of the reliefs shows Ptolemy, his first wife Cleopatra, and his mother and daughter.
The second relief also seems to depict Ptolemy XII. In that case the sphinx statue might bear the features of the same pharaoh.
Both reliefs have both demotic and hieroglyphic script on them, which, when translated, will likely shed light on the subjects of the carvings.
The two reliefs have been transported to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat for conservation. They will be placed on display there when they are ready.
The sphinx has appeared as a symbol in many cultures and with many interpretations. In some images, the sphinx is shown with wings.
Egyptian sphinxes seem to be universally male, and wingless. The Egyptian sphinx seems to have been a powerful but benevolent being, often seen guarding temples.
In Greek mythology, the sphinx was generally female, with wings, and usually an malevolent force. These creatures were also employed to guard sacred sites.
One of the oldest sphinx statues ever uncovered dates to around 9,500 B.C. It was found in Turkey at the Kortik Tepe excavation, associated with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B culture, center in Upper Mesopotamia, and represents some of the earliest European civilization.
Kortik Tepe is near the town of Batman, about 400 miles southeast of the capital, Ankara. There are several excavations there, including Nevalı Çori and Gobekli Tepe, which were developed as much as 12,000 years ago. These civilizations would have been several times older than the Classical Egyptian or Greek cultures whose sphinx images are currently known.