The Egyptian city of Luxor, formerly known as Thebes, is often called the "world's greatest open air museum" and the latest discovery announced over the weekend is no exception. On the west bank of the Nile in this ancient city, beneath a mound of earth and rubble, a team of Egyptian and European archaeologists have unearthed a 3,000-year-old granite head of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (circa 1390-1352 BC).
It was found at the site of Kom el Hettan, the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III., called the ''House of Millions of Years,'' which king Amenhotep III had dedicated to the great sun god Amon-Re. The dig was carried out by the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project.
The Colossi of Memnon, the two massive stone statues that flank what was the entrance to the temple are the most famous surviving artifacts of the site.
Amenhotep III was the grandfather of King Tutankhamen. The DNA and CT results announced last week by Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Dr. Zahi Hawass, show that they were able to trace a direct line from the famous pharaoh back to his grandfather.
Speaking to reporters, Hawass described the latest find as "a masterpiece of highly artistic quality and shows a portrait of the king with very fine youthful sculptured features." Egypt's top archaeologist described the statue to ABC News, saying it's ''very well preserved and features the king during his youth, wearing the white crown of upper Egypt and a royal suit.''
Hourig Sourouzian, who has led the joint Egyptian-European expedition at the site since 1999, told ABC News that originally they thought that ''there was nothing at the site... but then we saw that there were monuments lying there.''
As they began to unravel the thousands of artifacts, they first discovered the king's beard. ''We found bits of the statue without knowing we'd ever find the head,'' Sourouzian said. She explained that the aim is not to rebuild the entire temple but they will ''reassemble the statue and wish not to be moved into a museum and for once to have a statue in situ, [remain where it was found] not in rooms of a museum and out of context.''
Sourouzian describes the head as ''simply beautiful,'' and that it belongs to a large statue representing the king standing, hands crossed over his chest and holding the royal insignia. The ceremonial beard is broken under the chin but, according to Sourouzian, it may still lie beneath the rubble.
"Over the past years we have gathered a large quantity of red granite statue pieces, which once stood in the southern part of the great court of the funerary temple of Amenhotep III at Kom el Hettan. Parts of the body of the statue are presently in restoration," she explained. With 15,000 items found at the site there is still much work to be done.
Amenhotep III's reign took place during the height of Egyptian civilization, within its most powerful reign because of the trade and cultural relations with neighboring lands. The king was on the throne at a young age and Egyptologists speculate that he was 10 or 12 years old when he ruled Egypt.