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Pharaoh in the Basement Volume 53 Number 3, May/June 2000
by Kristin M. Romey

[image] After almost a century in a basement, this 2,700-year-old statue has been heralded as an "incredibly exciting" find. (Courtesy Karen Wardley, Southhampton City Council) [LARGER IMAGE]

A 2700-year-old statue of an Egyptian king was recently rediscovered in a British archaeological museum in Southampton, where it had languished in the basement among the museum staff's bicycles for almost a century.

Karen Wardley, curator of archaeological collections at the God's House Tower museum remembered the small sculpture during a recent visit by local Egyptologists Hilary Wilson and Peter Funnell and invited them to the basement for a look. "The statue was certainly unloved and its significance unrecognized," says Wardley, "but when the Egyptologists saw the statue, they immediately thought we had something of exceptional importance."

The 27-inch-high grano-diorite statue is believed to depict Taharqa, the third king of Dynasty 25 in Egypt who ruled from 690-664 B.C. Taharqa was an avid builder both in Nubia and Egypt, where a 63-foot-high column from the colonnade he built in the first court of the temple of Amun at Karnak still stands.

Vivian Davies, Keeper of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, who traveled from London to confirm the identification of the statue, called it an "incredibly exciting" find. The statue is now on display at the Southampton City Art Gallery, and will be featured in a temporary exhibit at the British Museum next year.

How Taharqa ended up in a basement in the south of England remains the big question. While the museum focuses on the archaeology of the Southampton area during the Roman, Saxon, and Medieval periods, it also hosts small collections of ethnographic material and Egyptian artifacts, usually of unknown provenience. According to Wardley, these items were either donated to the museum by individuals or may have formed part of the original bequests of local antiquarians and "civic worthies" when the first public museum was established in Southampton in 1912.

The only reference to Egyptian objects in the museum's records is a receipt from that year for an "Egyptian figure" given to the museum by a "Mr. Williams." "I'm trying to find out more about Mr. Williams, to see if he had any links to Egypt," says Wardley.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America