Ever think about the people who lived in your neighborhood thousands of years ago? Their culture was vastly different from ours, yet humans through the ages have been remarkably the same in many ways. They worked hard to feed and clothe their families. They looked to their leaders for protection from potentially hostile forces. They prayed for peace and prosperity. They engaged with their neighbors in communal events and sometimes in heated disputes. They toiled under the same sun and slept under the same moon as we do. They did all of this without the technological innovations we take for granted, with different belief systems, and with no idea how our world would evolve into what is has become today.
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A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists recently uncovered a 26-foot-tall statue of an ancient Egyptian ruler beneath the streets of Cairo. The find was made in a congested working-class area that was built over the ancient city of Heliopolis, the center of worship for the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra. Heliopolis is currently located about 49–66 feet below the streets of Cairo suburbs. During the Middle Ages, the ruins of Heliopolis were massively scavenged for building materials, and the city was eventually buried under sprawling new developments.
They first thought it was Pharaoh Ramses II, also known in Greek as Ozymandias or Ramses the Great, who ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1213 B.C.E. He is believed by many to be the pharaoh who had that little run-in with Moses involving some plagues and a mass exodus from Egypt. In 2006, archaeologists digging under a Cairo marketplace discovered one of the largest sun temples ever found that contained statues of Ramses II weighing as much as five tons. One of them showed the pharaoh seated and wearing a leopard’s skin, leading researchers to believe that he might have been a high priest of Ra.
As more pieces of the colossal statue were recovered, closer examination revealed more clues. Egyptian antiquities officials believe it may be Psamtik I, who ruled Egypt from 664 to 610 BC. Psamtik is notable for uniting all of Egypt and freeing it from Assyrian control within the first ten years of his reign. An inscription and other characteristics indicate that the artifact comes from Egypt’s Late Period and may be the largest statue from that era ever discovered.
The quartzite statue was submerged in groundwater in a dig that had begun in 2012 and was about to be concluded. The area had been almost completely investigated and archaeologists were quite surprised when it was found. Pulling the pieces of the statue from the pit where it was mired in mud wasn’t easy. The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry asked for assistance from the army and used a forklift truck to extract it. The significant discovery is being hailed as one of the most important ever. The statue’s pieces were moved to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir for restoration and exhibition.
So think about the monuments we are building. In a few thousand years, after civilizations more advanced than ours have come and gone, someone might dig up remnants of what we leave behind. I wonder how perplexed they’ll be, trying to figure us out.