Smiley face and two dimples: Archaeologists unearth limestone sphinx statue in Egypt

The limestone artefact is believed to be a stylised representation of an ancient Roman emperor. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
The statue was unearthed at the eastern side of Dendera Temple in Qena governorate, Egypt. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CAIRO – Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed a sphinx statue “with a smiley face and two dimples” near Hathor Temple, one of the country’s best-preserved ancient sites, the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry announced on Monday.

It is the latest in a series of discoveries revealed over the past few months.

The limestone artefact, believed to be a stylised representation of an ancient Roman emperor, was found inside a two-level tomb near the temple in southern Egypt, the ministry said in a statement.

Next to the “beautifully and accurately carved” sphinx, researchers found “a Roman stele written in demotic and hieroglyphic” scripts, the statement said.

Once fully deciphered, the stele may shed light on the identity of the sculpted ruler, who the Egyptian research team said could be Emperor Claudius.

Hathor Temple, about 500km south of the capital Cairo, was home to the Dendera zodiac, a celestial map which has been displayed at the Louvre in Paris since 1922, more than a century after Frenchman Sebastien Louis Saulnier blasted it out of the temple.

Egypt wants it back.

The country has unveiled major archaeological discoveries in recent months, primarily in the Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo, but also in Giza, home of the only surviving structure of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World.

Last Thursday, the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry announced the discovery of a hidden 9m passage inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, which archaeologist Zahi Hawass said may lead to “the actual burial chamber” of Pharaoh Khufu, or Cheops.

The authorities announced in January that farther south, in Luxor, archaeologists had discovered an 1,800-year-old “complete residential city from the Roman era”.

Some experts see such announcements as having more political and economic than scientific weight, as Egypt is counting on reviving its vital tourism industry amid a severe economic crisis.

The government aims to draw 30 million tourists a year by 2028, up from 13 million before the coronavirus pandemic. AFP

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