German and Egyptian archaeologists have uncovered a monumental Egyptian statue, over 3,000 years old, in an empty lot in the middle of Cairo, reports Agence France Presse, describing the site of the find as a “wasteland between crumbling apartment blocks.”
“It is one of the most important excavations in Egypt,” said archaeologist Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, speaking to Reuters, calling the discovery “spectacular” and characterizing the artifacts as “astonishing.”
An excited Antiquities Ministry revealed that the works, a 26-foot-tall colossus made of quartzite, likely depicted the pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled during the 19th dynasty (1314–1200 BC). Also known as Ramses the Great, he was the inspiration for Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous 1818 sonnet “Ozymandias.”
The news media joined archaeologists, government officials, and local residents as a German and Egyptian team used a forklift to raise the statue’s giant head out of a muddy puddle. The photos reveal a surprisingly casual scene, with men casually touching and even standing on the ancient artifacts.
The Mattarya district, where the dig is taking place, may be a working-class neighborhood today, but it was the Pharaonic city of Heliopolis in ancient times. Ikram described it as “one of the most important religious places in ancient Egyptian history,” and the birthplace of Egyptian mythology and civilization as we know it.