The gritty working-class neighborhood of Matariya in northeast Cairo brims with noise and poverty, a place where motorized rickshaws vie with donkey carts on narrow, trash-strewn streets.
However, this week, archeologists began pulling from a patch of barren ground a glistening 7.9m statue they said might be a world-class find.
If the team of archeologists is especially lucky, the colossus will be determined to be a likeness of Pharaoh Ramses II, one of the most famous rulers of ancient Egypt.
That mystery will not be solved until next week, when they hope to finish the excavation and can look for any inscriptions on the quartzite statue.
Yet, they are excited by the discovery itself, saying the statue is at least 3,000 years old, just the type of artifact they hoped to recover before further building in the neighborhood makes such treasures impossible to find.
“This was a great surprise,” said Dietrich Raue, a director of a team of German and Egyptian archeologists who have been excavating a vast temple complex at the site since 2012. “We had to clear the area before any future construction work, and because the monuments are below the level of the groundwater. The quality of the stone is fantastic, and it has an amazing art historical value.”
Establishing the identity of the colossus is complicated, because it has been broken into pieces and only fragments of the face have been found.
It might have been destroyed by early Christians or by the Muslim rulers of Cairo in the 11th century, as they used limestone stonework from ancient temples to build the city’s fortifications, Raue said.
However, statues like the colossus were cast aside because they were made from quartzite.
Ramses II was a formidable figure. During his reign from 1279 BC to 1213 BC, he expanded his empire east to present-day Syria and south into Sudan.
Experts said that if the colossus is confirmed to be Ramses II, they will piece it together and move it to the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, under construction near the pyramids of Giza and set to open next year.
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