A team of archaeologists in Egypt has discovered six rock cut statues inside two adjoining shrines, previously believed to be completely destroyed by an earthquake that shook the region centuries ago. The find occurred during a dig at Gebel el Silsila, an ancient major quarry site in Upper Egypt, by a group from Sweden’s Lund University. Led by Dr. Maria Nilsson and Associate Director John Ward, the archaeologists have been excavating the area since 2012. Although the shrines — numbered 30 and 31 — underwent fracturing, they are generally well-preserved with walls, floors, and ceilings largely intact, according to a preliminary report Nilsson shared with Hyperallergic.
The sandstone figurines inside both shrines include statues dedicated to the shrines’ owners, with all six dating to the New Kingdom, said Dr. Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the Antiquities Ministry. Shrine 30 housed in its back a sculpted male and female that Nilsson and Ward note are “far better preserved” than other statues found in nearby shrines, although the pair is unidentified — the inner walls, which are usually inscribed with the owner’s name, either always remained blank or underwent erosion over time.
The couple is seated side-by-side on a couch, with the woman embracing the male, placing one arm around his shoulders; her presumable husband and owner of the shrine places his arms over his chest like Osiris. Their facial features and carved adornments, too, have survived years of weathering: the male, shown with “enlarged and protruding ears, large nose and lips, and sunken eyes,” as per the report, wears a shoulder-length wig while the female, who has equally pronounced features, sports the traditional Egyptian tripartite wig.
Reflecting a standardization of style, the owner of shrine 31 and his wife have similar features and sit in similar positions. Inscriptions on walls identify her as Ruiuresti and him as Neferkehewe, “the overseer of the foreign lands” and “chief of the medjay” — an official who was active during the reign of pharaoh Thutmose III, according to Nilsson and Ward. Two additional seated statues, another male and a female, likely represent their children, with the daughter placing her hand upon Neferkehewe’s shoulder in a small gesture of familiarity. Although their names remain unknown for now, the team does not believe the son is Menkheperresonb, who is one known offspring of the couple.
Both shrines also boast well-preserved, raised reliefs. Inscribed on the doors of shrine 30 are religious scenes, with dedications to deities such as Sobek and Horus, as well as prenomens of monarchs from Thotmose III to the warrior queen Hatshepsut. The main focus of shrine 31’s wall reliefs honored its owner, showing Neferkehewe and his wife receiving offerings from their children.
The team will continue excavating that particular area of Gebel el Silsila along the west bank of the Nile, which features a total of 32 shrines. Translations of the inscribed hieroglyphics in shrines 30 and 31 are underway, and the archaeologists will also closely examine their relief scenes.
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