KHARTOUM (Reuters Life!) - Huge granite statues of a pharaoh and other kings have been found in Sudan, a discovery that has shocked archaeologists at how far south the expansive Kushite empire extended, the dig directors said Monday.
The Pharaoh Taharqa, mentioned in the Bible for saving Jerusalem from the Assyrians, was a Kushite from north Sudan but ruled a wide empire through Egypt to the borders of Palestine. The southern borders are unknown. The Kushite civilization survived from 9th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.
"It's an amazing shock that we've found the statues there particularly Taharqa," said Julie Anderson, co-director of the project in Dangail, about 350 km (217.5 miles) north of Khartoum.
"This is the furthest south that we know of that a statue of Taharqa has ever been found," she added.
The dig found four royal statues, of Pharaoh Taharqa (690-664 B.C.), kings Senkamanisken (643-623 B.C.) and Aspelta (593-568 B.C.) as well as part of a crown of a fourth royal who they have yet to identify.
The granite life-size statues would weigh 1.5 tons but appeared to have been deliberately broken at the neck, knees and ankles in a ritual, which may have been due to internal dynastic disputes or an Egyptian pharaoh who came south to assert authority.
The names of the kings were written in hieroglyphics on the backs of the statues, Anderson said.
The Kushite empire ruled for so long because it had control of trade routes, the waters of the river Nile, gold and agriculture.
Salah Mohamed Ahmed, Director of Fieldwork in the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, said Sudan had more pyramids than its better known neighbor Egypt and more were being discovered every day.
"These statues belong to kings from between the 8th century B.B. to the 6th century B.C." he told Reuters, adding the site was some 300 km south (by Nile) of the previously known Kushite royal site.
Anderson, assistant keeper in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan in the British Museum, said working in Sudan was "incredibly exciting" because so little had been excavated.
"The world is discovering Sudan and its fantastic and exciting history," she said, adding more digs were being planned in the future.
Editing by Paul Casciato