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Colossal granite head of Amenhotep III in the British Museum

The 18th Dynasty Ancient Egyptian colossal red granite statue of Amenhotep III, dating from c.1370 BC was found in the temple enclosure of Mut at Karnak in Egypt. Two parts of the broken colossal statue are known: the head and an arm. Both parts are now in the British Museum.[1]


The statue

The statue is thought to have been erected by King Amenhotep III, one of the huge number of statues that he set up to himself in Thebes. It is uncertain whether it was originally erected at its findspot at the Temple of Mut in Karnak, or if it came to be there having been removed in antiquity from Amenhotep's massive mortuary temple on the West Bank of the River Nile at Kom el-Hitan.[2] Other colossal statues of Amenhotep III include the two Colossi of Memnon, which still stand at his mortuary temple at Kom el-Hitan.

The statue is made of red granite. It is fragmentary: only the head and an arm are known to survive.

After its discovery, the statue was originally ascribed by scholars as a statue of King Thutmose III. The confusion has arisen from modification of the head by later rulers - it was common practice in Ancient Egypt for pharoahs to usurp statues of earlier rulers, modifying and re-inscribing them. The lips have had their corners drilled to suggest a smaller mouth, and the heavy cosmetic lines around the eyes, suggestive of the style of cosmetic fashion in Amenhotep III's time, have been largely erased. It is now thought that the alterations were made in the time of and to represent Ramesses II.[3]


The broken statue was discovered in the temple enclosure of Mut at Karnak by Giovanni Battista Belzoni and Henry William Beechey in 1817. The head was found in front of the temple of Khonsupakhered. After uncovering the head, it needed to be moved to Luxor on the Nile for transport upriver to Alexandria and thence to London. Moving the head was not easy: it took 8 days to transport it the one mile (1.6 km) to Luxor. Belzoni does not mention the exact findspot of the arm, though it is assumed it was found with the head.[4]

The head was stored for a period in the house of Signor Rosi in Cairo:

'One evening Salt took him [a Captain FitzClarence] to call on Signor Rossi, where he had deposited some interesting items brought from the neighbourhood of Thebes, including a head of 'Orus', "10 feet from the top of the mitre to the chin, having a band at the bottom part of it not unlike a turban ... made of red granite ... and in a very fine state of preservation ... an arm 18 feet long of the same statue with the fist clenched."'[5]

The head

The head is 2.90m high, and is depicted wearing the pschent, the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.[6] It was acquired in 1823 by the British Museum from Henry Salt. It has the reference number EA 15 and is displayed in Room 4 of the Museum.

The arm

The arm, a left arm, is 3.30m long and terminates in a clenched fist. It was acquired in 1823 by the British Museum from Henry Salt. It has the reference number EA 55 and is also and is displayed in Room 4 of the Museum.



  • T.G.H. James and W.V. Davies, Egyptian sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)
  • A.P. Kozloff and B.M. Bryan, Egypts dazzling sun: Amenhotep (Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992)
  • Deborah Manley and Peta Rée, Henry Henry Salt: artist, traveller, diplomat, Egyptologist London: Libri, 2001)
  • Strudwick, Nigel, Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt, London: British Museum Publications, 2006 p160-1

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