The Riddle of the Sphinx
Sphinx's face is thought to have been modeled after Pharaoh
Your 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 century A.D.
After 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.
The 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:
The 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: 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, not rain.
The Great Sphinx at Giza started as a natural
outcropping of rock. The ancient Egyptians carved the giant
statue into the stone 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."
As time 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.
Historians 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.
By the 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.
There 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.
Several 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.
Studies 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.
Are these "anomalies" secret chambers? And is
it worth risking damage to such a work as the Sphinx in order
to find out? That's the modern riddle of the Sphinx the Egyptian
authorities must solve.
times in history the desert wind has blown sand around
the Sphinx sometimes covering it up to its neck.
Copyright Lee Krystek 1997.
All Rights Reserved.