An American archaeological mission has unearthed the remains of more than 2,000 mummified ram heads at a prominent temple in southern Egypt.
The mission from New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World also uncovered a building dating back almost 4,000 years to the rule of ancient Egypt’s sixth dynasty (2345-2181BC).
The discoveries were made on the grounds of the Rameses II temple in the ancient city of Abydos, in the Upper Egyptian province of Sohag.
The temple is one of several across the country that are dedicated to Rameses II, whose reign from 1279BC to 1213BC is regarded by many as the height of Egypt’s power and glory.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s antiquities council, which conducts and oversees archaeological digs, said the discoveries were quite important because they “lift the veil off important details about the life and history of Rameses II’s temple at Abydos and the surrounding area.”
“The find contributes greatly to our understanding of the temple and all the life it witnessed over 2,000 years from the time of the sixth dynasty to Ptolemaic Egypt,” he said.
The building that the mission uncovered predates the reign of Ramses II by about 1,000 years to the final epoch of Egypt's Old Kingdom, and is architecturally quite different from the temple structure, with particularly thick walls about five metres in depth.
It is expected to shed some much needed light on the architectural traditions of the Old Kingdom, which is the least understood era of ancient Egypt.
The pyramids of Giza are among only a handful of relics that remain from the Old Kingdom.
The ram heads, which date back to the Ptolemaic period from 305-30BC, were found in a recently discovered storage room in the northern portion of the temple, along with the remains of other mummified animals, including ewes — which were differentiated from the rams by their lack of horns — dogs, wild goats, cows, gazelles and mongooses.
The ram heads are believed to have been laid there as votive offerings to a god, a common practice in ancient Egypt, according to Dr Sameh Iskandar, the head of the American mission. He said using rams in worship rituals was relatively unheard of during the Ptolemaic period.
He suggested the heads could have been used as a reverence to Rameses II, which would suggest the legendary pharaoh remained exalted even 1,000 years after his death.
Fragments of statues, papyruses and the remains of ancient trees were also uncovered by the mission, which will continue its excavation at the temple in coming months.