The Great Sphinx of the Giza Plateau. This megalithic monolith is thought to have been built by Pharaoh Chephren during the old kingdom and is currently dated to around 2500 BC.
But is this date correct?
In 1993 John Anthony West enlisted the help of Dr Robert Schoch to entertain a theory.
He believed the Sphinx to be much older than scholars had concluded.
Schoch is a doctor of geology and associate professor at Boston university. He graduated George Washington university in geology and anthropology, then received his PhD from Yale university in Geology and Geophysics.
Schoch agreed with West’s idea that the Sphinx dating needed an update. He found that it appeared to have been weathered by rain. A weather that has not been in constant flow at Giza since around 10,000BC at the end of the last ice age. He found that the Sphinx itself clearly showed signs of rain weathering.
In fact, West had shown a masking taped section of the Sphinx to a geologist at Oxford, leaving it unrecognizable. He agreed that it was undoubtedly rain weathering until west removed the tape and this scholar recognized what he was looking at. After that he wished to have no part in the discovery… for fear of ridicule most likely.
Another important factor given by geology against the conclusions reached by egyptology was the nature of the sand surrounding the Sphinx. Thutmoses IV famously dug out the Sphinx as attested to on the stele between its paws. The Sphinx appeared to him in a vision and told him to dig out its body and it would make him king. Thutmoses excavated the Sphinx which was buried in sand up to its neck at that point. And he did in fact become king. The point of this story is that the Sphinx is famously buried in shifting sands very quickly, and the body has often been dug out periodically.
In fact, there have been attempted excavations of the Sphinx where it has been dug out, only to be discovered almost buried up to its neck a few decades later. It shows that it’s had a protection of preservation of a sort, from the attack of wind degradation. And yet, it shows such prominent signs of weathering.
Furthermore, during the debate of the Sphinx’s age in relation to degradation, it was noted that there had been many restorations carried out on the structure. In fact, some of those restorations dated back to ancient Egypt. There was a renovation of approximately 3 feet to the back of the sphinx. This ‘restoration’ was claimed by egyptologists to have been carried out just 300 years after the Sphinx was constructed. They claimed it was because the limestone was extremely weak.
Schoch went further to explain that the reason this could not have occurred just 300 years after the Sphinx was built was very simple:
If you look at the Sphinx and you applied the 3 feet of degradation up to the present day, that would be 1ft every 100 years. Therefore, 2,500 BC – 2,000 AD = 4,500 years.
Over 4,500 years at that rate of degradation, there would be 45ft of the sphinx lost to weathering. That would mean that the entire sphinx would have disappeared by this point in history. (or at the very least, the head, given the body’s burial beneath the sand. But, as it turns out, the head seems to be in better condition…)
Made in the Image of … Who?
Chephren was considered to be the builder of the Sphinx because a part of his name was marked on the stele between the Sphinx’s paws. It was first discovered in 1818 during the first fully successful excavation by Giovanni Battista Caviglia.
However, let’s analyze this in more detail. Below is a diagram of the hieroglyphics on the dream stele. It tells the story of Thutmoses IV divine right as king after Harmakhis (Horus in the horizon) appeared to him through the image of the sphinx, as mentioned earlier.
As we can see, it’s not exactly a slam dunk.
It was also attributed to Chephren because of its location in relation to The Second Pyramid which has been attributed to Chephren, and his mortuary temple where 23 statues of his likeness have been found. There is no physical evidence to suggest that he was ever buried in this pyramid. Just as no original burial has ever been found in a pyramid.
Supporters of an older sphinx theory often refer to the inventory stele, stating it as an example that the Sphinx was in existence before the reign of Chephren, but it contains a variety of inconsistencies with its 26th dynasty period, potentially making it a forgery or fake instituted by priests of the period for political gain.
Scholars also believe it to be attributed to Chephren as its face represents his likeness. It’s not uncommon that older structures are often reclaimed by later pharaohs.
However, there’s more. Mark Lehner apparently used computer modeling to show that the face matched Chephren.
Egyptologists agree that the Egyptians understood the dimensions of the face very well, let’s look at this explanation from James F. Romano, Ph.D. Curator of the department of Egyptian, Classical and Ancient Middle Eastern Art at the Brooklyn Museum
“One of the questions we often get about Egyptian art is just how life-like is it. How accurately does it produce the features of the subject that are represented.
Well, we often hear that Egyptian art is purely symmetrical, you could draw a vertical line bisecting the nose, and all the features on the right would be the mirror image of those on the left. But you know what, that’s not true. In fact, it’s absolutely wrong. If you in fact do find a statue that is absolutely symetrical, where all the features on the right aren’t different from those on the left – you know what you have, you have a forgery.
Because the Egyptians were very canny observers of the human condition. They realised that one eye on a face is always a little bit lower than another eye; one nostril will be a little bit larger than another nostril. And they showed those details.”
So if they had been that good, then it should be a match for another one of his statues, or at least pretty close, right?
West enlisted the help of New York Police Department’s forensic scientist, Frank Domingo.
He was one of the United States foremost on facial structure analysis. After running many comparison diagrams in meticulous detail he also concluded that the Sphinx bared little resemblance to the Pharaoh Chephren. In fact, he found that the Sphinx’s likeness more likely resembled someone of Black African origin.
Another factor to consider when looking at the Sphinx is that it didn’t originally resemble a Pharaoh.
Bearing in mind the Egyptian’s legendary accuracy, why does the Sphinx look so out of proportion?
Many hypothesize that the Sphinx has been re-carved. Perhaps originally resembling the head of lion. The body matches the proportion of a lion or a lioness, but its head is far out of proportion. Is it possible that the head was re-sculpted to resemble a Pharaoh long after its original construction? Another factor that supports this theory occurs in 10,450BC when the Sphinx, the adjacent pyramids, and the river Nile mirrored constellations in the sky. This took place in the what’s known as the Age of Leo, when the sun rose in the constellation of Leo at the vernal equinox.
So where does that put the dating of the Sphinx?
Find out in the next episode of Riddle of the Sphinx.