for National Geographic News
Archaeologists have uncovered a pristinely preserved statue of a powerful Egyptian queen at the sprawling mortuary temple of Amenhotep III on Luxor's West Bank.
A joint European-Egyptian team found the 12-foot-tall (3.6-meter-tall) quartzite figure attached to the broken-off leg of a much larger colossus of Amenhotep III, who ruled from about 1390 to 1350 B.C.
Experts say the newfound statue is of Queen Tiye—Amenhotep III's favorite wife and the most influential woman of his 38-year reign—bolstering theories that female royalty were gaining in prominence and influence during the time period. (See photos of the discovery.)
The temple complex, which measures 2,300 feet (700 meters) in length, is ancient Egypt's largest. Its most famous attractions are the great Colossi of Memnon—twin 59-foot (21-meter) statues of Amenhotep III that flank the temple's entrance.
(See a picture of the colossal statues.)
But the site was devastated by massive earthquakes in pharonic times and in the first century A.D., so the discovery of an undamaged statue there is extremely rare, experts said.
"The surprise was that she was not crushed," said Hourig Sourouzian, who led the excavation and has been digging at the site since 2000. "The leg [of the larger colossus] was very badly damaged, so the surprise was that the queen lying behind it was intact—she is very beautiful."
Archaeologists also unearthed two sphinxes representing Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye and ten granite statues of the lioness goddess Sekhmet.
The queen's statue was found as part of an effort to recover fragments of destroyed colossi that had once towered over the temple complex.
The temple originally contained six colossi of Amenhotep III in a seated position, which stood in pairs at three pylons arranged about 330 feet (100 meters) apart. Of the pylons and statues, only the Colossi of Memnon, near the first pylon, remain intact.
Sourouzian, who is director of the Colossi of Memnon and the Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project, said her team was digging around the northern colossus at the second pylon to identify a piece of unformed quartzite.
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