The discovery of the alabaster sphinx in Memphis

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The Great Sphinx; or the Great Mystery of our history. Yes, there are many speculations about her but nobody ever knows when and how it’s made and what the purpose of making this giant sculpture was.

Anyway, these two smaller ones are obviously manmade and perhaps more recognizable but in any case great fonds for the archaeology.

translated from French, by; Marie Grillot http://Marie Grillot with thanks 🙏💖

https://egyptophile.blogspot.com/

The Sphinx of Memphis – Egyptian alabaster (calcite) – New Kingdom
unearthed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in the early summer of 1912
exhibited today in the open air museum of Memphis – Mit Rahineh

After having excavated a large number of sites, such as Tanis, Naucratis, Hawara, Arsinoe, Illahun, Meïdoum, Amarna, Koptos, Nagada, Thebes, Denderah, or even Giza, William Matthew Flinders Petrie arrives on ancient Memphis – Mit Rahineh – in 1908.

With his assistant, Ernest John Henry MacKay, a British archaeologist – who has worked alongside him since 1907 – he will make, until 1913, beautiful discoveries in the enclosure of the temple of Ptah.

The discoverers of the alabaster sphinx:
William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest John Henri MacKay

Located south of Cairo, “Memphis was the city of the god Ptah with whom Sekhmet and Nefertoum were associated from the New Kingdom. The city, the ancient” White Wall “, was the capital of the country during the Old Kingdom and remained an essential seat of administration throughout the history of the Double Country. ” (Isabelle Franco).

If the site, even today, gives us so little of its past grandeur, we must imagine what Egyptologists then found: a palm grove, most often flooded, in which blocks or remains of stone emerge.

Excavations are hampered by the recurring problem of the presence of water: you have to constantly pump to lower the level and dry out the excavation field. Flinders Petrie recounts the organization put in place: “Such work below the water level was novel and required close organization. The ground was lowered about two feet, just above the water level. water: a drainage system was then put in place, from which the water was pumped with large rubber pumps day and night. “

The excavations will notably allow the discovery of two sphinxes.

“The other sphinx of Memphis” – pink granite from Asouan – New Kingdom
unearthed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in 1912
was donated in 1913 by the “British School of Archeology” (directed by M.W.F. Petrie) to the Penn Museum in Philadelphia

One, carved from a single block of pink granite from Aswan, measuring 3.62 in length and 1.45 m in height, was discovered in 1912. It bears inscriptions on the chest and around the base mentioning the names of Ramses II and his son Merenptah (although some believe that it was carved during a period prior to these two pharaohs). This sphinx, with a rather damaged face, will be offered in 1913 by the “British School of Archeology” (directed by M.W.F. Petrie) to the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

The Sphinx of Memphis – Egyptian alabaster (calcite) – New Kingdomunearthed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in the early summer of 1912here shortly after its discovery, it is now on display in the open-air museum in Memphis – Mit Rahineh

As for the other sphinx, Ernest Mackay had, in 1911, noticed its tail protruding above the surface, but it will not be actually uncovered until the beginning of the summer of 1912. From a height of nearly 8 meters, 4.25 m wide, its weight is estimated at over 80 tonnes.

Curiously, Petrie will remain very discreet about this discovery and will be little talkative in his publications. “There are a variety of reasons for Petrie’s reluctance about the alabaster sphinx. One of the main reasons is that it is completely lacking in inscriptions and therefore Egyptologists could not, period, date it with certainty at the time. “

The Sphinx of Memphis – Egyptian alabaster (calcite) – New Kingdomunearthed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in the early summer of 1912exhibited in the open-air museum of Memphis – Mit Rahineh

It will be attributed to Hatschepsout (because of the style of the face), or even Sethi I (by ‘association’ with the fact that his sarcophagus was in alabaster). Finally, “despite the absence of any inscription on the sphinx, Egyptologists estimate the period in which it was carved in the New Kingdom because of the style of the sculpture”.

Different stages of the “recovery” of the Memphis sphinx – Egyptian alabaster (calcite) – New Kingdomunearthed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in the early summer of 1912it is now exhibited in the open-air museum in Memphis – Mit Rahineh

The colossal statue lay on a side, and in 1913 it was straightened and placed on blocks of stone.

The sphinx is a “hybrid” statue which is most often made up of a lion’s body on which a human-head rests. “The Egyptian sphinx was a protective and positive entity,” and it generally represented the “portrait” of the pharaoh to whom he was dedicated, or allied.

The Sphinx of Memphis – Egyptian alabaster (calcite) – New Kingdomunearthed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in the early summer of 1912exhibited in the open-air museum of Memphis – Mit Rahineh

The alabaster sphinx takes on the attributes of a pharaoh, the uraeus, the false beard, and the nemes whose mat rests on his back. He has a very noble look, the face is beautiful, and the enigmatic smile retains all its mystery … The front legs are extended while the rear legs are folded under the body. The statue and its base are carved from the same block of alabaster.

In the chapter he devotes to minerals in his General Overview on Egypt, Clot Bey indicates: “Egyptian alabaster has always enjoyed a great reputation. The ancients exploited a quarry located between the Red Sea and the Nor, at the height of Minieh, 40 leagues from the river and 15 from the sea. They had founded near her a city to which they gave the name of Alabastropolis. “

The Sphinx of Memphis – Egyptian alabaster (calcite) – New Kingdomunearthed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in the early summer of 1912exhibited in the open-air museum of Memphis – Mit Rahineh

This sphinx, the second in size after that of Giza, was then moved a few meters to be placed on a concrete base. It remained in Mit-Rahineh where it constitutes one of the most beautiful pieces of the open-air museum.

Marie Grillot http://Marie Grillot

Sources:

Seventy Years in Archaeology, William William Matthew Flinders Petrie, 1931.

Ancient Egypt”, William Matthew Flinders Petrie, 1930

The Sphinx That Traveled to Philadelphia – The Story of the Colossal Sphinx in the Penn Museum, Josef Wegner,Jennifer Houser Wegner, 2015

Dictionnaire de mythologie égyptienne, Isabelle Franco, 2013

Apercu général sur l’Égypte, A.-B. Clot-Bey “De Memphis à Philadelphie… le voyage d’un sphinx de Ramsès II” “The Journey From Egypt to Philadelphia of the Penn Museum’s Sphinx“, Jeanne Leong

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