9th December 2023
Archaeologists were baffled after the ancient Egyptian sphinx was discovered in northern Israel
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Archaeologists were baffled after the ancient Egyptian sphinx was discovered in northern Israel

Archaeologists have been left scratching their heads after the unearthing of part of an ancient Egyptian sphinx in northern Israel. The find has prompted Egyptologists to speculate as to how the stone-carved mythical creature travelled so many miles from its original resting place.

Some speculate that it may have been looted from the Egyptians thousands of years ago, while others suggest it was likely to have been given by Egypt as a gift to its neighbours.

Baffling: Australian excavation volunteer Joshua Talbot displays the remains of a Sphinx with a hieroglyphic inscription between its paws dating circa 3rd century BC, found during excavation in the Northern Israeli archeological site of the ancient Tel Hazor

It has taken almost a year for the paws and forearms of the granite statue to be painstakingly restored, exposing hieroglyphic writing.

The writing reveals that the sphinx was dedicated to Egyptian ruler Mycerinus, who ruled circa 2500 BC and was the builder of the smaller of Giza’s three great pyramids.

It is the first statue ever to have been found that was created for the leader, and the first time an Egyptian statue has ever been found in the ancient Levant region – today’s Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

The writing also says: ‘Beloved by the divine souls of Heliopolis.’

Volunteers of the Hebrew University work during an excavation in the Northern Israeli archeological site of the ancient Tel Hazor, where they found the remains of a Sphinx with a hieroglyphic inscription
Archeologists have been left scratching their heads after finding the Egyptian sphinx with hieroglyphic inscription between its paws dating circa 3rd century BC at the Israeli dig

Egypt’s magnificent Pyramids – one of the engineering marvels of all time – are situated at Giza just outside Cairo. The pyramids are generally believed to be tombs for the Pharaohs and/or a resurrection machines for the rulers’ rebirth.

The remarkable and baffling find was stumbled upon by archaeologists working in the Tel Hazor dig site, in Israel’s Galilee in August 2012.

But only now having carefully removed the incrustation, are they able to clearly see the inscriptions.

Amnon Ben-Tor, an archaeology professor at the Hebrew University in charge of the Tel Hazor dig, told AFP that the sphinx would have originally been placed by the temple of Mycerinus.

His is the smallest of the three great pyramids at Giza, Cairo.

Tel Hazor was the capital of southern Canaan, founded circa 2,700 BC and at its peak covering approximately 200 acres and home to some 20,000 Canaanites. It was destroyed in the 13th century BC

So far, only parts of the feet and the face have been retrieved, but archaeologists hope to find more of the sphinx as they continue the dig.

Mr Ben-Tor believes the sphinx was brought to Tel Hazor 3,000 years ago, either as war booty or as a gift to the then-ruler of Hazor by an ancient Egyptian king.

He said: ‘That it arrived in the days of Mycerinus himself is unlikely, since there were absolutely no relations between Egypt and this part of the world then.

‘Egypt maintained relations with Lebanon, especially via the ancient port of Byblos, to import cedar wood via the Mediterranean, so they skipped’ today’s northern Israel, he said.

Another option is that the statue was part of the plunders of the Canaanites, who in the late 17th and early 16th century BC ruled lower Egypt, the expert said.

‘Egyptian records tell us that those foreign rulers… plundered and desecrated the local temples and did all kinds of terrible things, and it is possible that some of this looting included a statue like this one.’

But to Ben-Tor the most likely way the sphinx reached Tel Hazor is in the form of a gift sent by a later Egyptian ruler.

The small sphinx is believed to be the only one found in the pyramid of Myrcerinus – the smallest of Giza’s great pyramids
The most distinctive feature of Khafre’s Pyramid, in the background, is the topmost layer of smooth stones that are the only remaining casing stones on a Giza Pyramid
Giza’s three great pyramids, built for the fourth dynasty kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, also known as Mycerinus, who ruled from 2589-2504 BC

‘The third option is that it arrived in Hazor sometime after the New Kingdom started in 1,550 BC, during which Egypt ruled Canaan, and maintained close relations with the local rulers, who were left on their thrones,’ he said.

‘In such a case it’s possible the statue was sent by the Egyptian ruler to the king of Hazor, the most important ruler in this region.’

Ben-Dor said the statue was most likely deliberately broken by new occupiers at Tel Hazor in an act of defiance of the old rule.

Finding the sphinx was ‘unexpected,’ said Ben-Tor, ‘but fits’ archaeological facts and findings. ‘When you’re in a bank, you find money,’ he said.

Shlomit Blecher, who manages the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations, was the archaeologist who unearthed the finding in August 2012.

‘It was the last hour of the last day of the dig,’ she told AFP of the moment of the find. ‘We all leapt with joy and happiness, everyone was thrilled.’

‘We hope the other pieces are here and that we find them in the near days,’ she said.