If there was one emotion that archaeologists were feeling as they stared down into the watery hole in the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Matariya, it wasn’t despair.
The team of Egyptian and German archaeologists had uncovered what appears to be a 26-foot-tall statue of Pharaoh Ramses II, also known as Ozymandias or Ramses the Great.
The quartzite statue was found submerged in groundwater near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple, which sat in the ancient city of Heliopolis. The Antiquities Ministry in Egypt is hailing the discovery as significant and perhaps one of the most important ever.
Only fragments of the statue were found. Khaled al-Anani, the antiquities minister, spoke about the discovery. Here he being interviewed by Reuters:
“We 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,” Anani said of the new discovery.
Ramses the Great is one of the ancient world’s most famous leaders. He ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1213 B.C.E.—meaning his statue could be more than 3,000 years old. He led military expeditions that expanded Egypt’s reach as far east as modern Syria and as far south as modern Sudan. Another statue of the pharaoh, brought to London in the early 1800s, inspired romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to write his famous poem “Ozymandias,” in which he reflects on the decline of leaders and their empires.
A limestone statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II’s grandson, was also found at the site.
Experts will continue extracting the remaining pieces before restoring them. If they’re successful, and the statue is indeed Ramses II, it will be moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is set to open in Giza in 2018.