Obelisks are iconic monuments and masterpieces of ancient Egyptian engineering. They are found throughout Egypt and usually stand in towering pairs in front of entrances to temples. Known in ancient Egyptian language as tekhen, they are made from a single piece of stone with a rectangular shaft and topped by a gilded pyramidion to reflect the sun’s rays. Obelisks are associated with solar mythology, representing the benben, or first land to come into existence at the dawn of time, and from which the sun-god stood to create the universe. Egyptian kings liked to have obelisks made and dedicated to themselves by carving their names and religious dedications onto the four sides of the obelisk’s shaft.
The Unfinished Obelisk was discovered in the early twentieth century after it had been covered by sand for thousands of years. It remains as you see it today in one of the Aswan quarries, famous for its supply of hard and high-quality stone. Believed to have been commissioned by Hatshepsut (c. 1473–1458 BC) for the temple of Amun in Karnak, work was abandoned because of flaws in the stone and the presence of multiple fissures. Had it been finished, it would have weighed 1168 tonnes, and stood at a height of around 42 metres, taller than any other ancient Egyptian obelisk.