Israeli archeologists are nearly bald from puzzled head-scratching. First was the discovery of a sunken mound of rubble beneath the Sea of Galilee, now comes the mysterious unearthing of an ancient Egyptian sphinx in northern Israel. Make that “parts” of an ancient Sphinx: so far, only segments of its face and feet have been recovered, but archaeologists expect to find more as the dig continues.
The remarkable and mysterious find happened last August at the Tel Hazor dig site in Galilee, kicking off speculation as to how the stone-carved statue traveled so far from its origins. It may be evidence of ancient war booty, or perhaps the mythical creature was gifted by Egypt. It’s the first time an Egyptian statue has been found in the ancient Levant region, now modern-day Israel, Lebanon and Syria.
Archeologists worked for nearly a year to restore the statue’s granite paws and forearms, in the process exposing hieroglyphic inscriptions that reveal the sphinx was dedicated to Egyptian ruler Mycerinus. He ruled circa 2,500 BC and built the smallest of Giza’s three great pyramids.
Amnon Ben-Tor, archaeology professor at Hebrew University, suggests the sphinx was brought to Tel Hazor 3,000 years ago. Ben-Tor told AFP, “That it arrived in the days of Mycerinus himself is unlikely, since there were absolutely no relations between Egypt and this part of the world then.”
“Egypt maintained relations with Lebanon, especially via the ancient port of Byblos, to import cedar wood via the Mediterranean, they skipped past today’s northern Israel”, he said. He believes the most likely way the sphinx reached Tel Hazor is as a gift sent by a later Egyptian ruler.
As to the deteriorated state of the statue, Ben-Dor said it was probably deliberately broken by later occupiers at Tel Hazor in an act of defiance to older rule.
Shlomit Blecher, who manages the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations, was the archaeologist who unearthed the finding in August 2012. The remarkable discovery occurred on “the last hour of the last day of the dig,” she told AFP.
Learn more in this short video clip by Dr. Sharon Zuckerman of Hebrew University’s Department of Archeology:
Image of Sphinx on Egyptian Stamp from Shutterstock