Excavation of recently discovered Matareya statue under investigation
Courtesy: Sabry Khaled

Prosecutors have begun investigations into the controversial excavation of the ancient Egyptian statue discovered in the Matareya district of Cairo in March.

The statue of Pharaoh Psamtik I, originally believed to depict Ramses II, was removed from the earth by Antiquities Ministry personnel using heavy construction equipment, and basic tools.

The methods use to extract the statue were met with widespread criticism, as social media users slammed the ministry for its handling of the site. They pointed out that the ministry’s team of workers was ill-equipped to excavate and re-locate the monument.

The excavation process was reportedly completed on March 13, and the fragments of the statue were moved to a nearby site for repair.

The discovery was made by a joint Egyptian-German team archaeologists on March 9 near a temple dedicated to King Ramses II by the archaeological site of Heliopolis, leading the Antiquities Ministry to claim that it may be of Pharaoh Ramses II (reigned 1279 – 1213 BC). during the 19th Dynasty of ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom.

However, the Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anany later issued a statement confirming that it depicts Pharaoh Psamatik I who reigned from 664 – 610 BC, during the 26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt’s Late Period.

The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported on Wednesday that the Administrative Prosecution has launched investigations into the ministry’s handling of the statue following the national and international outcry.

However, the Antiquities Ministry has defended its use of a mechanical excavator to winch fragments of the statue out of the groundwater. Former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass claimed the excavation was “a 100 percent sound operation. The winch is used in all archeological areas.”

In the statements, issued shortly after the statue was discovered, he said that the monument, which he insisted depicted Ramses II, had not been broken or damaged in any way during the excavation process.

He praised the ministry’s personnel and work crews, and claimed that all the statues unearthed in Matareya had been smashed during the early Christian eras.

The Antiquities Ministry further dismissed accusations of negligence in the handling of the statue in an interview with the Masrawy news website in March. Ghareeb Sonbol, director of the Department for the Restoration of Artifacts argued that ministry personnel at the site “followed the correct steps.”

According to Sonbol the heavy construction machinery was used as the artifacts were “submerged under groundwater. This is the most appropriate way to deal with this situation.”

He claimed that a harness was used to minimize any potential for damage, adding that “this technique is utilized worldwide, and is not a new means of excavating artifacts.”

In late 2015, the Antiquities Ministry similarly brushed off accusations of negligence after the golden funerary mask of King Tutankhamun (reigned Circa 1332 – 1323 BC) was damaged when his ceremonial beard piece fell off. In an attempt to repair the mask, which is over 3,000 years old, workers at the Egyptian Museum hastily glued the beard back on. After several weeks of restoration efforts, the antiquity was said to have been fully restored, and placed back on display.


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