Fragment of Ancient Egyptian Sphinx Discovered in Northern Israel

Fragment bears a hieroglyphic instruction mentioning King Mycerinus, who ruled Egypt some 3,400 years ago, and was one of the builders of the Giza Pyramids.

Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi

As Egypt's struggle for a new leader continues, Hebrew University researchers have discovered evidence of an ancient Egyptian leader in northern Israel, the university announced Tuesday.

The latest fascinating find to emerge from the excavations of Tel Hazor in northern Israel is a fragment of a sphinx from Egypt with a hieroglyphic instruction mentioning the name of the Egyptian King Mycerinus, who ruled Egypt about 3,400 years ago, and was one of the builders of the Giza Pyramids.

According to Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor, curator of Egyptian culture at the Israel Museum, “Nowhere else in the Levant has a royal, monumental Egyptian statue of this size been found. It is also the only surviving sphinx of King Mycerinus – none have been found even in Egypt.”

The fragment, made of granite, is 30 to 40 centimeters high, and weighs about 40 kilograms. It is believed that the original complete statue weighed about 500 kilograms. The fragment was discovered near the palace storerooms in destruction layer of Hazor dating to the 13th century BCE.

The king’s name appears between the two front legs of the statue, which were carved in the form of human hands, along with descriptions of him as “beloved by the divine manifestation…that gave him eternal life.” The inscription reveals that the sphinx was originally located in the city of Heliopolis, north of today’s Cairo.

The excavations are being carried out under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, headed by Professor Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman. A Hebrew University expedition began excavating Tel Hazor in 1955 under Professor Yigael Yadin. Those excavations continued until 1958. The dig was renewed from 1968 to 1970, and again in 1990.

The broken statue was found thrown into a pit, Ben-Tor explains. “I believe it was smashed during a conquest of the city. After all, that’s what’s done during a conquest. Not only in our time do people destroy the symbols of the government that has fallen and smash their statues, like in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein or in Romania after Ceausescu.”

As for the question of how and when the statue got to Hazor, the excavators, and Daphna Ben-Tor, believe that it probably did not arrive during the time of the Mycerinus himself, since there were no ties between Canaan and Egypt at the time.

One possibility is that it came here in the second millennium BCE during the time of the Hyksos dynasty, whose rulers originated in Canaan. It could also have been brought here specifically during the 15th to the 13th centuries BCE, when Canaan was under Egyptian rule, as a gift from the king of Egypt to the king of Hazor.

Hazor was the most important city in the southern Levant at that time, and which the biblical book of Joshua calls “the head of all those kingdoms.” The find joins others from last year’s dig that provide more evidence that the city was destroyed by a huge blaze.

“When we try to put the biblical story against archaeology, there are many disagreements. I say that the destruction was perpetrated by nomads or semi-nomads who would later be called Israelites.”

In contrast, Zuckerman has proposed the theory that the city was destroyed due to internal tensions between the ruling elite and their subjects.

The Sphinx fragment.Credit: Courtesy
The inscription ties the Sphinx to the Egyptian king and pyramid builder Mycerinus, ~2500 BCE.Credit: Courtesy of Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman
Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology. Credit: Courtesy

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