for National Geographic News
Archaeologists working in Luxor, Egypt, have unearthed 17 statues of an ancient Egyptian goddess with the head of a lion and the body of a woman.
The Egyptian-German team made the discovery while doing restoration work at the temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep III on the Nile's west bank in southern Egypt. (map)
Six additional statues of the goddess, called Sekhmet, had been found at the same site shortly before this latest discovery.
In ancient Egypt, Sekhmet was considered the goddess of both war and healing.
Why there are so many similar statues at the site remains a matter of speculation.
"The reason for this large number of Sekhmet statues may be that Amenhotep III was sick and put statues in the temple to heal him," said Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
"Or possibly it was wartime, and [the statues were meant to] help the soldiers win and be healed."
Key of Life
Amenhotep III ruled from around 1390 to 1350 B.C.
He built extensively at the temple of Karnak, north of modern-day Luxor. Later in his reign he built another temple on the Nile's west bank in Luxor. (Read Geographic magazine's "Pharaohs of the Sun.")
This second complex is now in ruins with only two large statues representing Amenhotep remaining.
The current excavation first unearthed six black granite statues of Sekhmet near the courtyard of what was once the temple. The statues depict Sekhmet seated on a throne holding an ankhthe symbolic key of lifein her left hand.