Ancient Mini-Sphinxes Found Outside Cairo

A CACHE of 2,000-year-old headless sphinxes, uncovered this week by workmen digging in southern Cairo, may shed new light on ancient life near Egypt's pyramids, the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

Abdulhalim Nur al-Din says the sphinxes - small versions of the giant half-lion, half-human statue that surveys the Nile River from the burial place of three pharaohs - were found Sunday 1.5 miles north of the pyramids at Giza. Initial investigation dates them to the start of the Ptolemaic era (about 300 BC), when Egypt was ruled by a Greek dynasty descended from the conqueror Alexander the Great.

``This is very important. It means Giza was inhabited in this period. We were not expecting to find a [Ptolemaic] presence here,'' Mr. Nur al-Din says. He says the discovery site could have been a temple, a cemetery, a priest's house or an administrative building.

But the limestone mini-sphinxes, just two-feet long and less than half as old as the original, also present a new riddle for archaeologists.

``The heads of these statues are all broken,'' Nur al-Din says. ``They meant to break them. Maybe [they broke them] later on in the same period. No one knows, but they were broken in their time.'' The four heads are all missing, as is the head of a fifth sculpture, a lion.

He says that despite the difficulty of excavating in the narrow alley where the sphinxes were found, he hopes to start unraveling the mystery of the missing heads and the site itself.

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