It never crossed the minds of any of the people digging under the scorching sun as part of the project to remove groundwater to salvage the West Bank temples in Luxor that a large, rose-colored statue of a monkey weighing around five tons that represented Thoth, the god of wisdom in ancient Egypt, would emerge from among the rubble.
Before highlighting the importance of this magnificent discovery, it ought to be highlighted that the project of controlling the groundwater on the West Bank of Luxor is considered the largest of its kind to be carried out by the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt and is completely funded by USAID. The objective of the project is to salvage the West Bank monuments, particularly the mortuary temples of ancient Egyptian kings and pharaohs from the era of the New Kingdom. At the top of the list is the temple of Ramesseum belonging to Ramesses II, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, the temple of Amenhoteb III and the temple of Seti I.
This project came following the success of controlling the groundwater on the East Bank of Luxor, which could have caused the collapse of the Luxor Temple. I still remember when I visited Luxor Temple back in 2000 and found that the groundwater had seeped through the foundations of the temple, therefore threatening the very existence of those inscriptions and spectacular views, not to mention the likelihood of those temple pillars collapsing. Immediately, we began to salvage the Luxor and Karnak temples. The project was also funded by USAID at a total cost of 50 million Egyptian Pounds.
Apart from salvaging great, timeless monuments, we were given the privilege of training archaeologists on excavation work. We taught archaeologists how to work under pressure and dig in the presence of heavy equipment and how to record earth levels and antiquities that were being discovered whilst working. That is why, before commencing with the West Bank project, a trained team of archaeologists was assigned the task of monitoring the excavation process as well as recording and taking pictures of unearthed antiquities before finally transferring them to the antiquity storehouses.
The new discovery was made to the west of the Temple of Pharaoh Amenhoteb III and it used to be located inside the temple. At present, a German team is conducting the excavation of the temple of Pharaoh Amenhoteb III. The team unearthed a number of basalt statues representing the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet sitting on a throne. Sekhmet is the ancient Egyptian goddess of both war and healing. Pharaoh Amenhoteb III sculpted hundreds of statues for her as he had suffered from countless health problems towards the end of his life, thereby seeking the aid of Sekhmet, the goddess of healing.
Before I went to look at the new discovery of a giant statue of a monkey worshipping the solar disk for myself I decided to take along the director of the German team to watch the Egyptian youngsters as they dug up one of the most colossal statues ever discovered. I realized she was not happy at all because the discovery was made by Egyptian archaeologists in an area close to the site where she was working and perhaps she was hoping to make that discovery one of her own.
Personally, I was so delighted to see these Egyptian youngsters working with determination under such difficult circumstances just to prove themselves. I was even more delighted because this discovery came at just the right time for the new museum, which is scheduled to be opened soon in the Minya governorate. It will be called the Akhenaten museum and will be dedicated to him and the antiquities of his time, as he was the first ever known Pharaoh to advocate monotheism in Egypt. Akhenaten embodied the power of one god in the solar disk which, according to the ancient Egyptian religion, was the prime source of life. The monkey’s role was to cheer and welcome the rising sun every morning!