Written by Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN

A new sphinx-like statue has been discovered in Egypt — but this one is thought to be Roman.

The smiling sculpture and the remains of a shrine were found during an excavation mission in Qena, a southern Egyptian city on the eastern banks of the River Nile.

The shrine had been carved in limestone and consisted of a two-level platform, Mamdouh Eldamaty, a former minister of antiquities and professor of Egyptology at Ain Shams University, said in a statement Monday from Egypt’s ministry of tourism and antiquities. A ladder and mudbrick basin for water storage were found inside.

The basin, believed to date back to the Byzantine era, housed the smiling sphinx statue, carved from limestone.

Eldamaty described the statue as bearing “royal facial features.” It had a “soft smile” with two dimples. It also wore a nemes on its head — the striped cloth headdress traditionally worn by pharaohs of ancient Egypt, with a cobra-shaped end or “uraeus.”

A Roman stela with hieroglyphic and demotic writings from the Roman era was found below the sphinx.

The team from Ain Shams University discovered the mini sphinx in the southern Egyptian city of Qena.

The team from Ain Shams University discovered the mini sphinx in the southern Egyptian city of Qena. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities/Facebook

The professor said that the statue may represent the Roman Emperor Claudius, the fourth Roman emperor who ruled from the year 41 to 54, but noted that more studies are needed to verify the structure’s owner and history.

The discovery was made in the eastern side of Dendera Temple in Qena, where excavations are still ongoing.

Sphinxes are recurring creatures in the mythologies of ancient Egyptian, Persian and Greek cultures. Their likenesses are often found near tombs or religious buildings.

It is not uncommon for new sphinx statues to be found in Egypt. But the country’s most famous sphinx, the Great Sphinx of Giza, dates back to around 2,500 BC and represents the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Khafre.

Eldamaty, who is also president of the university, said in a separate release on the university’s website that this is the first Egyptian mission to the site at Dendera. Work there will continue for many seasons to come, Eldamaty said, as excavations at the site promise to “add a lot to the history of Egyptian civilization in the Greek and Roman ages.”

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