Ancient Pharaoh Temple Discovered Inside Egypt Mosque

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"We didn't know we would find the reliefs and the inscriptions in such good condition," said Mansour Boraik, general supervisor of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Luxor.

"The people who built the mosque for Haggag … actually saved the inscriptions and reliefs."

More images and inscriptions will likely be discovered as the restoration continues, he said.

The reliefs are thought to depict the temple's dedication. (Read related story: "Giant Ancient Egyptian Sun Temple Discovered in Cairo" [March 1, 2006].)

Among the most important scenes are those that feature Ramses II offering the sun god Amun Re two obelisks to be installed at the temple's front facade. One of those obelisks still stands at the temple, and the other is now at the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Another relief shows three statues of Ramses II wearing his traditional white crown.

Experts say the carved inscriptions provide some of best examples of cryptographic or enigmatic writing, an unusual form of hieroglyphic text in which each glyph could stand for an entire word, phrase, or concept.

"Moral Quandary"

Now that the depictions have been uncovered, archaeologists will likely have to negotiate with local religious leaders who see the exposed renderings in their mosque as a violation of Islamic law.

"There is no damage to the mosque whatsoever, but its a moral quandary because you have these two places of worship, one still alive and one from the past," said Johnson, of the Oriental Institute.

"It's a living sacred space."

Boraik said that his team is in talks with mosque leaders about how to proceed.

"I think all of them understand the importance of these things," he said.

The researchers expect to reach a compromise, they said, which might include retractable coverings or screens over the inscriptions. Removing the ancient features entirely would likely cause damage to the mosque.

"One has to be very sensitive about the restoration work and make sure the people know you are doing something good," said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University of Cairo.

She added that such issues are common in a country with such a rich religious heritage.

"In a way the mosque is part of the history of the temple—both are significant monuments of antiquity."

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