Riddle of the Great Sphinx
Around 2560 BC
66 feet (20m) high and 240 feet (73m) long.
A lion with a man's face..
19 feet (6m) from forehead to chin. 18 feet (6m) wide
and thought to be modeled after Pharaoh Khafra (Chephren).
of: A natural limestone, rock outcropping modified into
the shape and augmented with stone blocks.
Name means "The Terrifying One," or the
"Father of Dread."
fearful form is the work of the deathless gods. To spare the
flat and fertile lands they placed you in your depression. A
rocky island from which they banished the sand. They placed
you as a neighbor to the pyramids...Who vigilantly watches the
blessed Osiris... -Inscription from the second
25 centuries the history of the great Sphinx at Giza was so
forgotten that many believed it had been placed in its position,
as guardian of the pyramids, by the Gods. Indeed, the Sphinx
is such an impressive work one, even today, might easily believe
it must have been created by supernatural means. The statue,
with a man's head and a lion's body, stands 66 feet high and
240 feet long. The head measures 19 feet from forehead to chin.
Each paw extends 56 feet forward of the body. The face is over
6 yards wide.
lion was a powerful symbol in ancient Egypt as it represented
strength and courage. The great cat was also considered the
supreme guardian and tamed lions sometimes accompanied kings
into battle. Not just as a mascot, but as the physical presence
of a god meant to protect troops. The Sphinx was the combination
of two symbols, a lion god, and the king pharaoh/god, into one
icon. In fact, the Great Sphinx at Giza probably bears the face
of the ruling pharaoh at the time of construction: Khafra (AKA
name "Sphinx" is probably not the orgianal name of
this statue (which is thought to be the oldest monumental sculpture
in the world). The term "Sphinx" comes from Arabic
and means The Terrifying One, or quite literally, the
Father of Dread.
symbol wasn't limited to Egypt, but was also found in ancient
Phoenician, Syrian, and Greek societies. In Greek legend, the
Sphinx devoured all travelers who could not answer the riddle
it posed: "What is the creature that walks on four legs in the
morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?" The hero
Oedipus gave the answer, "Man," causing the Sphinx's death.
Great Sphinx at Giza started as a natural outcropping of rock.
The ancient Egyptians carved the giant statue into the limestone
around 2500 B.C.. To make it even taller than the height of
the outcrop they chipped out a depression around the base of
the statue. The paws were constructed from stone blocks. The
entire statue was painted in ancient times: red for the face
and body, yellow with blue stripes on the headress. Finally,
a temple was built in front of the statue as a place visitors
could offer gifts to the "living image" of the creature the
Egyptians sometimes referred to as "Horus-in-the-Horizon."
passed the statue was given less attention and, after a few
centuries, desert sands covered the Great Sphinx up to its neck.
Legends claim that visitors would press their ear to the statue's
lips seeking wisdom. Around 1400 B.C. a Egyptian prince, on
a hunt, came to rest in the shadow of the Sphinx. While napping
he heard the Sphinx tell him it would make him ruler of Egypt
ahead of his older brothers if he promised to clear the sand
away. On waking the prince vowed to keep the bargain. Sure enough,
as the story goes, he ascended the throne as Pharaoh Thutmose
IV and quickly had the statue uncovered.
beleive that Thutmose IV concocted the dream to cover up murder.
Thutmose had his brother killed so that he could gain the crown.
While the Egyptian people might not have been able to forgive
Thutmose the slaying for personal gain, they could overlook
it if it seemed like it was the will of the gods.
19th century, when European archaeologists started taking a
close look at Egyptian monuments, the statue was again covered
up to it's neck in sand. Efforts to uncover and repair the statue
were undertaken early in the 20th century. Preservation work
continues even today.
have been rumors of passageways and secret chambers surrounding
the Sphinx and during recent restoration work several tunnels
have been re-discovered. One, near the rear of the statue extends
down into it for about nine yards. Another, behind the head,
is a short dead-end shaft. The third, located mid-way between
the tail and the paws, was apparently opened during restoration
work in the 1920's, then resealed. It is unknown whether these
tunnels were constructed by the original Egyptian designers,
or were cut into the statue at a later date. Many scientists
speculate they are the result of ancient treasure hunting efforts.
attempts have been made to use non-invasive exploration techniques
to ascertain if there are other hidden chambers or tunnels about
the Sphinx. These include electromagnetic sounding, seismic
refraction, seismic reflection, refraction tomography, electrical
resistivity and acoustical survey tests.
made by Florida State University, Waseda University (Japan),
and Boston University, have found "anomalies" around the Sphinx.
These could be interpreted as chambers or passageways, but they
could also be such natural features as faults or changes in
the density of the rock. Egyptian archaeologists, charged with
preserving the statue, are concerned about the danger of digging
or drilling into the natural rock near the Sphinx to find out
if cavities really exist.
close study much about the Great Sphinx remains unknown. There
are no known inscriptions about it in the Old Kingdom, and there
are no inscriptions anywhere describing its construction or
its original purpose. In fact, we do not even know what the
buiders of the Sphinx actually called their creation. So the
riddle of the Sphinx remains, even today.
Sphinx: Older Than We Think?
science has held that the Sphinx was carved out of an
outcropping during the reign of King Khafre around 2500
B.C.. In 1979, though, an amateur archaeologist named
John Anthony West wrote a book entitled Serpent in
the Sky. In the book West suggested that the Sphinx
was far older than the pyramids and its severe erosion
was the result of rain, not blowing sand. Therefore, concluded
West, the Sphinx must have been built thousand of years
earlier when the land was much wetter.
gave West's theory much attention until West brought in
a trained geologist from Boston University named Robert
Schoch. Schoch examined the Sphinx and thinks some of
the fissures in the rock were indeed created by running
water or rain. His conclusion is that the front and side
of the Sphinx dated from 5000 to 7000 BC and was remodeled
during Khafre's era to give the likeness of the pharaoh.
Other Egyptologists argue that the original estimate is
still right and that the fissures found by Schoch were
the result of wet sand being blown up from the Nile river,
Great Sphinx's head is 19 feet high. (CC
BY-SA 3.0 Ad Meskens)