Excavators have uncovered another 15 statues of ancient royalty and gods from a pit inside Luxor Temple that yielded five magnificent statues earlier this year.

The overall find is as significant as the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, which yielded enormous amounts of gold and other precious objects, said Sayed Tawfik, chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization."The Tut tomb was wonderful but gave us information only about the art of the day," Tawfik said this week. "This find will answer many questions about many periods of history."

He said one of the new statues is unlike any ever found: a 42-inch-high white granite cobra, probably representing Mertsager, the goddess of silence. Her job was to keep secret the location of royal tombs in the bone-dry valleys of the kings and queens across the Nile River opposite present-day Luxor 450 miles south of Cairo.

Tawfik and other Egyptian officials said workers trying to take the search deeper hit underground water at the 10-foot level that makes digging more difficult.

Water is more than 3 feet deep at the bottom of the pit, endangering not only the excavation but a row of towering columns nearby, Tawfik said.

Many Egyptologists consider Luxor Temple, built more than 3,300 years ago, the most endangered monument in the antiquity-rich Luxor area. It lies in a picturesque setting between the Nile and the modern town of Luxor and suffers greatly from rising water and other natural debilitations.

The new statues, found in a sacred courtyard beneath the earlier finds, cover a wide range of Egyptian history and include depictions of some of Egypt's best-known rulers and a pantheon of gods.

Tawfik said the earliest appears to be an alabaster Sphinx dating from the reign of Tutankhamun, the young pharaoh who died in 1323 B.C. after a 10-year reign.