Story highlightsAncient statue would have stood 26-ft tallIt depicted a 26th Dynasty pharaoh, Psamtik IArchaeologists pieced together 11,000 fragments to reconstruct the colossus
(CNN)When a huge statue of a pharaoh was uncovered last year in Matariya, a working-class suburb of Cairo that was once the ancient city of Heliopolis, the press eagerly greeted it as a depiction of the great Ramses II, one of ancient Egypt’s most famous rulers.
To many it came as a disappointment when a tiny inscription found on the back pillar of the statue suggested it in fact belonged to Psamtik I, a lesser-known pharaoh who ruled six centuries later, from 664-610 BC.But archaeologists suggest this identity makes the find much rarer and even more exciting. After piecing together 11,000 fragments, the Egyptian-German mission in charge of the excavations has been able to calculate the original size of the colossus and produce a 3D reconstruction.Ruins of Heliopolis They can now confidently say that the statue of Psamtik I was 26 ft tall, and that he was depicted with his left arm held out in front of his body.Read More”Now we have the complete monument,” Dietrich Raue, who leads the Heliopolis mission with Aiman Ashmawy, tells CNN. “We can be very sure that nothing has been reworked, and that it’s a genuine piece of art of the 26th Dynasty.” ‘Absolutely unique’ This comes as a surprise, he adds. The first royal colossi — larger-than-life sculptures — were produced in the 12th dynasty (1938-1756 BC), but the trend reached its height in the 19th, under Ramses II (1292-1190 BC). After Ramses, there was a steady decline in sculpture.That is what makes the quartzite colossus of Psamtik I so rare and so special. “As a creation of the period, such a huge statue is absolutely unique so far,” says Marsha Hill, a curator and Egyptologist from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.Read: Oldest ‘tattoo art’ discovered on Ancient Egyptian mummiesRead: FBI solves mystery of 4,000-year-old mummy’s headKing of cultureRaue, of the University of Leipzig, goes even further, calling Psamtik the founder of the renaissance movement in Egypt, a cultural revival during which religion, art and architecture were restored. The statue’s fragments were found at the site of a temple belonging to Ramses II, and it is thought to have stood just in front of a large pylon dedicated to him, suggesting Psamtik wanted to be associated with the great ruler.”It’s absolutely fascinating to see how he tries to make himself part of the greatest period of rule in Egypt,” he says. Plus, it stood in Heliopolis, the cultural and religious center of ancient Egypt, located on the northeast periphery of Cairo. “Every king had to be present there,” says Raue.Read: Ruins of ancient Roman city wash up on Turkish coast