An Egyptian cult bell has rung for the first time in 2,000 years after scientists discovered the sacrificial remains of 1,200 rams skulls, slaughtered in offering to the pharaoh Ramses the Great.
Egyptologists discovered the tiny bell - which still rings - tied around the neck of one of the rams during excavations at the ancient Egyptian city of Abydos. The bell was decorated with four animal heads, representing various deities.
Archaeologist Sameh Iskander, of New York University, believes the find proves that Egyptians were still worshipping Ramses II as a god, 1,000 years after his death.
Dr Iskander said the skulls were probably placed there in a single sacrificial ritual honouring Ramses.
“We came across this storage area and we found this extremely unusual find,” he said. “It's filled with these bones, mostly skulls of rams.
“We counted more than 1,200 ram heads. Some of them are wrapped in fabric. It gives us an idea that this is a cult of the ram.
“We came across this beautiful bell with its clapper and in excellent condition. And we have here four heads of animals that represent the gods. This was hanging from the neck of the ram and making that sound. It's extremely, extremely unusual.”
Ramses II came to power in 1279 BC, 44 years after Tutankhamun, and ruled for almost 70 years.
Known as Ramses the Great, he transformed Egypt over the course of his reign, expanding the country's borders and building colossal monuments like Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum mortuary temple.
He was so revered that nine further pharaohs took his name.
In ancient Egypt former pharaohs were often worshipped as gods, with temples and cults devoted to them, but they usually died out fairly quickly.
The skull sacrifice, which dates from around 2,000 years ago, was found at the site of an ancient temple to Osiris, the Egyptian god of death and resurrection. It was the first temple to be built by Ramses II but large parts of the complex have remained excavated until now.
“Usually cults of other pharaohs last for two or three centuries,” added Dr Iskander. “This is a thousand years. It says a lot about how important this pharaoh was in the mindset of Egyptians."
The discovery was documented by a TV crew from the National Geographic series ‘Lost Treasures of Egypt’ which airs at 8pm this Sunday.