Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed a sphinx statue “with a smiley face and two dimples” near the Hathor Temple, one of the country’s best preserved ancient sites, the tourism and antiquities ministry has announced.
The artifacts were found in the temple of Dendera in Qena Province, 450 kilometers south of the capital of Cairo, the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Archaeologists believe the statue’s smiling features may belong to the Roman emperor Claudius, who extended Rome’s rule into North Africa between 41 and 54 AD, the ministry said.
It said archaeologists will conduct more studies on the markings on the stone slab, which could reveal more information to the statue’s identity and the area.
The statue is much smaller than the towering, well-known Sphinx in the Pyramids of Giza complex, which is 20 meters high.
The archaeologists also found a Roman-era stone slab with demotic and hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Hathor Temple, about 500 kilometres south of the capital Cairo, was home to the Dendera Zodiac, a celestial map, which has been displayed at the Louvre in Paris since 1922, more than a century after Frenchman Sebastien Louis Saulnier had blasted it out of the temple. Egypt wants it back.
The country has unveiled major archaeological discoveries in recent months, primarily in the Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo but also in Giza, home of the only surviving structure of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
On Thursday, the antiquities ministry announced the discovery of a hidden nine-metre passage inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, which archaeologist Zahi Hawass said may lead to “the actual burial chamber” of pharaoh Khufu, or Cheops.
Further south, in Luxor, archaeologists had discovered an 1,800-year-old “complete residential city from the Roman era”, authorities announced in January.
Some experts see such announcements as having more political and economic weight, than scientific, as Egypt is counting on tourism to revive its vital tourism industry amid a severe economic crisis.
The government aims to draw in 30 million tourists a year by 2028, up from 13 million before the pandemic.