The historic excavation of a 3,000-year-old statue in Egypt, believed to represent Ramses II, will continue on Monday, using “new and safe techniques,” after pictures of the process raised concerns on whether the excavation process is being carried the right way.
Hailed as one of the most important ever discoveries, sources at Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry quoted by Almasry Alyoum said the remainder of the excavation will resume on Monday “using newer and safer techniques.”
A joint team of Egyptian and German archaeologists started extracting the statue which was submerged in groundwater beneath the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Matariyyah, once the site of the ancient city of Heliopolis.
So far, the team “found the bust of the statue and the lower part of the head and now we removed the head and we found the crown and the right ear and a fragment of the right eye,” Egyptian antiquities minister Khaled al-Anani told Reuters Thursday.
A heavy construction excavator was used to extract the head of the statue, leading to the anger of some locals, who wrongfully thought it caused the statue to break into sections by the removal team. Antiquities officials immediately denied that, saying the head was lifted in this manner as it was the heaviest.
More criticism hurled at the ministry as photos emerging of the scene showed excavated parts of the statue wrapped in a blanket picturing a Spider Man cartoon was soon a hot topic to joke about on social media.
Also, children were spotted at the extradition site, allegedly surrounding the precious findings, without clear supervision.
Egypt’s former head of antiquities, Yousef Khalifa, believed the entire process of extracting the statue “was rushed” by the removal team.
“This site is very, very important and this discovery is one of a kind,” Khalifa told Al Arabiya English. “But I personally believe the team rushed into the procedure of removing the statue’s parts.”
Khalifa, who himself worked on excavations in the area for fifteen years, said finding the statue’s location is indeed a very important discovery, as many archeologists in the past studied the area to find the western entrance of ancient Heliopolis.
But he believed the water at the site should have been sucked and drifted away from the area, to complete the excavation, and to allow for clearer pictures to be taken as parts are being unearthed.
The process can take time, and security can help secure the site until the excavations are over, he added.
Earlier, Dietrich Raue, head of the expedition’s German team, told Reuters that ancient Egyptians believed Heliopolis was the place where the sun god lives, meaning it was off-limits for any royal residences.
“The sun god created the world in Heliopolis, in Matariya. That’s what I always tell the people here when they say is there anything important. According to the Pharaonic belief, the world was created in Matariya,” Raue said.
“That means everything had to be built here. Statues, temples, obelisks, everything. But ... the king never lived in Matariya, because it was the sun god living here.”
The find could be a boon for Egypt’s tourism industry, which has suffered many setbacks since the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but remains a vital source of foreign currency. The number of tourists visiting Egypt slumped to 9.8 million in 2011 from more than 14.7 million in 2010.
(This article includes information from Reuters)