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An Egyptian sphinx with a human head

Surprise Discovery of 4,000-Year-Old Egyptian Sphinx with Human Head and Lion Body


Local authorities in Egypt have announced the discovery of an ancient sphinx statue between two of the best known ancient temples in the country – Karnak and Luxor. The discovery was made by chance, during a restoration project, and stunned the construction workers who found it. There have been very few sphinxes discovered in modern times and the find will add to our knowledge of Egyptian sculpture and art. The sphinx will also raise questions as to what else may be found in the area and which Pharaoh the statue represents.

Sphinx Mythology

Sphinxes are common in many mythologies, including Ancient Greece. They are usually portrayed as having human heads, with the bodies of a lion and are sometimes depicted as winged. In Egyptian mythology, they are often portrayed as benevolent and strong and they are usually associated with royalty. The best-known Sphinx in Egypt is, of course, the colossal one at Giza, adjacent to the Great Pyramids.

The Sphinx in Giza. Source: BigStockPhoto

The Sphinx in Giza. Source: BigStockPhoto

The Temples of Karnak and Luxor

The temples of Karnak and Luxor are located within the ancient city of Thebes and date back to the second millennium BC. They are not just temples but large religious sites and today they are open-air museums, hugely popular with tourists. The Theban complexes are among the largest in the world and played an important role in the religion of Ancient Egypt.  It is believed that the recently discovered sphinx is the first unearthed in Thebes and one of the most significant finds in the city since the discovery of a tomb in 2014.

An avenue of sphinxes that stretched over 1.5 miles (3 km) once connected the temples of Karnak and Luxor. The famous path was used for the annual Opet festival, when the Egyptians paraded along it carrying statues of Amun and Mut in a symbolic re-enactment of their marriage.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes (Daniel & Kate / flickr)

The Avenue of the Sphinxes (Daniel & Kate / flickr)

The New Sphinx

There has been a long-running construction project, to excavate and restore the Al-Kabbash Road, that runs between the temples of Luxor and Karnak. Egypt Today announced that a team of archaeologists was working on conserving the site known as the alley of the rams when they made the stunning discovery. It was unearthed by some construction workers as they were digging, and the sphinx was located beneath the surface.   According to  Daily Mail, the supervisor of the Al-Kabbash road project ‘’stated that the statue has not been excavated completely yet’’ to ensure that the Sphinx is not damaged until it can be finally taken from the earth.

The Alley of the Rams. Source: BigStockPhoto

The Alley of the Rams. Source: BigStockPhoto

A preliminary examination of the statue indicates that it is similar to the famous sphinx on the plateau of Giza. It has the body of a lion and a human head. The statue, despite it is still not being fully excavated, is almost certainly that of the Egyptian mythical creature, which is slightly different from other cultures such as the Greek and the Mesopotamian.

It was very common for pharaohs, to have their likenesses carved into statues of the mythical creature. This was to underline their relationship with a sun-goddess, Sekhmet, who is often portrayed, according to the RT website as  ‘’a lioness’’. The sphinxes may also have been created to guard the tombs of a dead pharaoh. The newly discovered statue most probably was carved to represent a particular pharaoh. 

Sekhmet - Kom Ombo, Egypt ( Thomas Leplus / flickr )

Sekhmet - Kom Ombo, Egypt (  Thomas Leplus / flickr )

It is expected that at some future date the Sphinx will be removed and after conservation work will be put on display. This could take some time, but those who wish to see the statue can visit the site in the alley of the rams. No photos or videos have been released of the sphinx at this time.

The importance of the Sphinx

The latest Sphinx is one of the few that have been found, despite the fact that the mythical creature was very important as a symbol of royalty. Its discovery also indicated that there could be more archaeological discoveries to be made between the two great temple complexes in Thebes. Now investigators will begin to examine the Sphinx.

Top image: An Egyptian sphinx with a human head (representational only). Source: Public domain

By Ed Whelan

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My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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