An archeological team, under the direction of Egypt's well-known Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, has begun uncovering rubble under which the largest known statue of Pharaoh Ramses II is buried in the southern Egyptian town of Sohag.

The statue, which workers discovered more than 15 years ago, 476 kilometers miles south of Cairo, is finally being uncovered, according to Antiquities Chief Zahi Hawass.

The Egyptian team had been hampered in its excavation work, until now, by the presence of a Muslim cemetery in the region of Akhmim across the Nile River from Sohag. Archeologists were finally able to begin their work when bodies from the modern-era cemetery were moved elsewhere.

Hawass said the statue was the "largest of Ramses II" ever found in Egypt, and his team said the statue was part of a temple complex dedicated to Ramses II.

The reign of Ramses II was marked by major building projects and archeologists say that he is reputed to have built more buildings and statues in Egypt than any other pharaoh.

Ramses II ruled for approximately 67 years. In addition to being known as a builder, Ramses II is also believed to have carved his name over the names of other Pharaohs to rededicate their statues to himself.

French Egyptologist Bruno Argemi of the Egyptian Archeological Society of Provence, France, says that Ramses II is one of the most important Pharaohs of Egypt's New Kingdom's 19th dynasty, which is the next to last dynasty of the era. The Amenophis pharaohs begin the New Empire, he says, at the point when the 18th dynasty ends, and it includes the Thutmose pharaohs and Hatchepsout. The 19th dynasty is known for Ramses I, Seti I and Ramses II? So, he concludes that Ramses II is really one of the greatest kings that Egypt has ever known, along with Tuthmose III, Amenophis III and Hatchepsout?

Argemi thinks that the discovery of the new statue is also an important event, not only because of its colossal size, but because few other remnants of his reign have been found, to date, in the Middle Egyptian region of Sohag.

He says that Ramses II built many impressive temples and statues, including those of Abu Simbel and Athenis, so the discovery of one that is even larger than that of the 25 meter statue at Abu Simbel is a major find. He also stresses that many statues and temples of Ramses have been found in both Upper Egypt and the Delta region, but very few in Sohag, making this an unusual find.

The granite statue of Ramses II in Sohag was first discovered in 1991 when workers were installing a foundation to build a new post office.