Officials said on Saturday that the statue was unusual in that the king is depicted holding hands with a double of himself, although the second part of the carving remains under the sand and its form has been determined by the use of imaging equipment.

Archaeologists unearthed the 1.8m-tall statue as they were carrying out repairs around Karnak Temple in the southern city of Luxor, Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said.

Limestone statue

Francois Larche, one of the team that found the limestone statue of the king, whose name means beautiful and good, said it was lying about 1.6m below ground near an obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman to have reigned as a pharaoh in Egypt, ruling from 1504-1484 BCE.

Karnak, now in the heart of Luxor, was built on the ruins of Thebes, the capital of ancient Egypt. The huge temple, dedicated to the god Amon, lies in the centre of a vast complex of religious buildings in the city, 700km south of Cairo.

"In order to pull it out, a structure on top of the statue has to be dismantled and then restored"

Francois Larche,
archaelogist

The statue shows the king wearing a funeral mask and royal head cloth or nemes, said Larche.

The forehead bears an emblem of a cobra, which ancient Egyptians used as a symbol on the crown of the pharaohs. They believed that the cobra would spit fire at approaching enemies.

Second time

Larche said this was only the second time such a statue had been found in Egypt. A similar one was dug up during the excavations of the hidden treasures of Karnak from 1898 to 1904.

But it is not clear when or whether the statue will be completely unearthed. It is blocked by the remnants of an ancient structure, possibly a gate.

"In order to pull it out, a structure on top of the statue has to be dismantled and then restored," said Larche, adding that permission from the Egyptian antiquities authorities was needed before the team could go ahead with plans to raise the statue.

King Neferhotep

The discovery was announced by
antiquities chief Zahi Hawass

"It's up to the Higher Council of Egyptian Antiquities to decide on the fate of the statue of Neferhotep I and whether it will be brought to light or left buried where it was found," Larche added. 

Neferhotep was the 22nd king of the 13th Dynasty. The son of a temple priest in Abydos, he ruled Egypt from 1696-1686 BCE.

Experts believe his father's position helped him to ascend the throne, as there was no royal blood in his family.

Neferhotep was one of the few pharaohs whose name did not invoke the sun god, Re. It is written on a number of stones, including a document on his reign found in Aswan.