Monday, December 19, 2016

Numerous Statues of Sekhmet, The Lioness Goddess of War, Unearthed in Egypt

Ancient Origins

A team of Egyptian archaeologists excavating the Mortuary Temple of King Amenhotep III in Luxor, a city in southern Egypt and the capital of Luxor Governorate, have brought to the surface an impressive number of statues of the goddess Sekhmet, daughter of the ancient Egyptian sun god Re.

 The Significance of the Goddess Sekhmet in Ancient Egyptian Religion
The lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, also known as Sakhmet or Sekhet, was a member of the Memphite Triad, thought to be the wife of Ptah and mother of Nefertem. Linked with war and retribution, she was believed to use arrows to kill her enemies with fire, her breath being the hot desert wind as her body took on the glare of the midday sun. She often represented the destructive force of the sun as well. According to the Egyptian legends, she came into being when Hathor was sent to earth by Ra to take vengeance on man. She was the one who slaughtered mankind and drank their blood, only being stopped by trickery. However, being mother of Nefertem, who himself was a healing god, gave her a more protective side that manifested itself in her aspect of goddess of healing and surgery. The priests of Sekhmet were specialists in the field of medicine, arts linked to ritual and magic. They were also trained surgeons of remarkable caliber. According to many historians, this is the main reason King Amenhotep III had so many statues of Sekhmet surrounding him, as he was suffering from many health problems and he hoped the goddess may cure him; a theory that is verified by Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, who claimed that the many statues of the goddess in the temple of Amenhotep III were possibly intended to protect the ruler from evil and disease.

Wall relief of Sekhmet, Kom Ombo Temple, Egypt (CC by SA 3.0)

The Statues Have a Great Historical and Artistic Value German Egyptologist and the project director Hourig Sourouzian, who also discovered fourteen statues made of black granite portraying the Lionhead goddess Sekhmet back in 2013, told Ahram Online, "They are of great artistic quality". The statues were discovered in four parts, including three busts and one headless torso, in the Kom El-Hettan archaeological area on Luxor's west bank. Sourouzian supervises the excavation of the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project, which aims to save the remains of the three millennia old temple and ultimately reinstall its scattered artefacts to the site, so they can be presented in their authentic design. Sourouzian stated that her team discovered the Sekhmet pieces in great condition, buried in the temple's hypostyle hall—a roofed structure supported by columns.

One of the recently discovered busts of Sekhmet (Ahram Online)

The Statues Are Currently Stored in Warehouses Supervised by the Ministry of Antiquities Mahmoud Afifi told Ahram Online that the Egyptian authorities will do anything it takes to keep the statues of the Goddess safe, “All statues of the goddess are now stored in warehouses supervised by the Ministry of Antiquities for security reasons,” also saying that when excavations at the site are finished and the temple is opened to guests and tourists, the statues will be placed back in their original position.

Adjacent statue of Sekhmet in profile Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (CC by SA 3.0)

In addition to the statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, Sourouzian's team of archeologists have discovered large pieces of sphinxes carved in limestone, as well as a small torso of a deity in black granite, which are in bad state at the moment and they will need to be treated for some time before they are exposed for public view. The exhibit that launches on December 12, will celebrate the 41st anniversary of the Luxor Museum, and will display a rich collection of 40 artifacts discovered by archaeologists on the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project. The artifacts will also include a collection of amulets and Greco-Roman coins among other objects of significant historical value.

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

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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