x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Riddle as sphinx found in Israel

The sphinx, a mythological creature with the head of a man and the body of a lion, has never before been found in Israel. Until now. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

Excavation volunteer Joshua Talbot displays the remains of a sphinx with a hieroglyphic inscription between its paws, found during excavation works in the archeological site of the ancient Tel Hazor.
Excavation volunteer Joshua Talbot displays the remains of a sphinx with a hieroglyphic inscription between its paws, found during excavation works in the archeological site of the ancient Tel Hazor.

RAMALLAH // The sphinx, the mythological creature with the head of a man and the body of a lion, is the emblem of Egypt, its image flowing through history like the river Nile.

The Great Sphinx of Giza bears the face of the pharaoh Khafra, and guards his pyramid temple. For millennia, carved sphinxes or their remains have been found all over Egypt.

But they have never been found in Israel. Until now.

The discovery at Tel Hazor National Park in northern Israel of part of a sphinx bearing the name of the pharaoh Mycerinus is not just archaeologically fascinating - it raises the question of who exactly were the occupants of the biblical land of Canaan more than 3,000 years ago.

Mycerinus was one of the builders of the Giza pyramids who ruled about 4,500 years ago. The sphinx's clawed feet with the inscription bearing his name were found in a layer of earth dating to the destruction of the Hazor Canaanite palace in the 13th century BC, about 3,300 years ago.

"This shows the close ties between the Canaanite king and the Egyptian pharaoh," said Sharon Zuckerman, an archeologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is running the dig. "We know that during the period that the Canaanite palace existed, the supreme rulers were the Egyptians."

Amnon Ben-Tor, also an archeologist at the Hebrew University who heads the Tel Hazor dig, said: "This is the only monumental Egyptian statue ever found in the Levant - today's Israel, Lebanon, Syria.

"It is also the only known sphinx of this particular king; not even in Egypt was a sphinx of that particular king found."

The aretfact is about 50cm long and Mr Ben-Tor estimates the complete statue was 150cm long and half a metre high. A hieroglyphic inscription on the feet reads: "Beloved by the divine manifestation … that gave him eternal life."

Mr Ben-Tor, however, differs from Mrs Zuckerman on whether the find indicates ties between Egypt and Canaan during Mycerinus's rule.

"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," he said.

"Egypt maintained relations with Lebanon, especially via the ancient port of Byblos, to import cedar wood via the Mediterranean, so they skipped" the area that became northern Israel.

He speculated that the statue could have been part of the plunder of the Canaanites, a people who spoke a variety of Semitic languages, including Hebrew and Phoenician. They controlled lower Egypt in the early 16th century BC.

The archaeologists believe the sphinx may have originated in the ancient city of Heliopolis, just north of Cairo.

About 81 hectares in size, Hazor National Park is the largest biblical-era site in Israel. In the biblical book of Joshua, Hazor was capital of southern Canaan and had a population as large as 20,000.

That era predated the biblical kingdom of David, who tradition says united the area's Israelite tribes about 3,000 years ago.

Mrs Zuckerman, who thinks the sphinx may have been a gift, said the discovery suggested that the kingdom of Hazor may have been a significant power during its time.

"The fact that such a royal artefact arrived at Hazor and came apparently as an exchange of gifts shows that Hazor was without a doubt a significant kingdom," she said.

Mycerinus was one of the builders of the Giza pyramids who ruled about 4,500 years ago. The sphinx's clawed feet with the inscription bearing his name were found in a layer of earth dating to the destruction of the Hazor Canaanite palace in the 13th century BC, about 3,300 years ago.

"This shows the close ties between the Canaanite king and the Egyptian pharaoh," said Sharon Zuckerman, an archaeologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is running the dig. "We know that during the period that the Canaanite palace existed, the supreme rulers were the Egyptians."

Amnon Ben-Tor, also an archaeologist at the Hebrew University who heads the Tel Hazor dig, said: "This is the only monumental Egyptian statue ever found in the Levant – today's Israel, Lebanon, Syria.

"It is also the only known sphinx of this particular king; not even in Egypt was a sphinx of that particular king found."

The artefact is about 50 centimetres long and Mr Ben-Tor estimates the complete statue was 150cm long and half a metre high.

A hieroglyphic inscription on the feet reads: "Beloved by the divine manifestation ... that gave him eternal life."

Mr Ben-Tor, however, differs from Mrs Zuckerman on whether the find links Egypt and Canaan during Mycerinus's rule.

"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," he said.

"Egypt maintained relations with Lebanon, especially via the ancient port of Byblos, to import cedar wood via the Mediterranean, so they skipped" the area that became northern Israel.

He speculated that the statue could have been part of the plunder of the Canaanites, a people who spoke a variety of Semitic languages, including Hebrew and Phoenician. They controlled lower Egypt in the early 16th century BC.

The archaeologists believe the sphinx may have originated in the ancient city of Heliopolis, just north of Cairo.

About 81 hectares in size, Hazor National Park is the largest biblical-era site in Israel. In the biblical book of Joshua, Hazor was capital of southern Canaan and had a population as large as 20,000.

That era predated the biblical kingdom of David, who tradition says united the area's Israelite tribes about 3,000 years ago.

Mrs Zuckerman, who thinks the sphinx may have been a gift, said the discovery suggested that the kingdom of Hazor may have been a significant power during its time.

"The fact that such a royal artefact arrived at Hazor and came apparently as an exchange of gifts shows that Hazor was without a doubt a significant kingdom," she said.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Bloomberg News and Agence France-Presse

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse

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