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Pharaoh’s Sphinx Found in Israel Stirs 4,500-Year Mystery

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Sphinx Feet
The feet of an Egyptian sphinx found in Israel. Historians said the sculpture was probably part of an exchange of gifts between kings. Source: Hebrew University via Bloomberg

July 10 (Bloomberg) -- The clawed feet of an ancient sphinx engraved with a hieroglyphic inscription and belonging to a pyramid-building pharaoh shows evidence of Egyptian influence in the biblical state of Canaan, archaeologists said.

“Beloved by the divine manifestation ... that gave him eternal life,” reads the inscription that Hebrew University archaeologists say indicates the sphinx originally came from the ancient city of Heliopolis, or the biblical city of On, just north of modern Cairo.

The sculpture was found at a northern Israeli site in Tel Hazor National park, with a mystery on how it got there and speculation it was part of an exchange of gifts. The sphinx bears the name of Egyptian king Mycerinus, who ruled about 4,500 years ago and was one of the builders of the famous Giza pyramids, the university said in a statement.

The front feet of the sphinx were discovered in the destruction layer of the Hazor Canaanite palace that dates back to the 13th century BCE, about 3,300 years ago.

“This shows the close ties between the Canaanite king and the Egyptian pharaoh,” university archaeologist Sharon Zuckerman said. “We know that during the period that the Canaanite palace existed, the supreme rulers were the Egyptians.”

The sphinx, the only one of its kind ever found belonging to this specific pharaoh, has tremendous importance to Egyptologists researching the age of the pharaohs, she said.

Hazor is the largest biblical-era site in Israel, covering some 200 acres (81 hectares). It has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. The biblical book of Joshua cites Hazor, built on the route between Egypt and Babylon and home to 20,000 people, as the “head of all those kingdoms.”

“The find strengthens the fact and is evidence of how important Hazor was in the late Bronze Age,” Zuckerman said. “The fact that such a royal artifact arrived at Hazor and came apparently as an exchange of gifts shows that Hazor was without a doubt a significant kingdom.”

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To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

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