Sphinx Project Archive

The Sphinx as a National Park

Posted on Oct 13, 2009


The cult of the Sphinx reached its height in New Kingdom Egypt (1550-1070 BC), when the statue was already 1,200 years old. Certain New Kingdom pharaohs came to Giza in the first year of their reigns, perhaps to be ordained by the Sphinx. They built monuments to the Sphinx or left a record of their visits.

Despite the great labor expended to create the Sphinx and its temples, there is circumstantial evidence that the cult of the Sphinx was never active in the Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BC). Among inscriptions in the hundreds of Old Kingdom tombs at Giza, there are no titles that we can recognize as a priest or priestess of the Sphinx. It appears that no one served the cult at that time.

Instead, it was the New Kingdom pharaohs who looked to the past and brought the Sphinx to life in a cult that lasted into late antiquity. By the early New Kingdom, the Egyptians already knew the Sphinx as Hor-em-akhet, “Horus in the Horizon.”

New Kingdom rebirth

Approached from the east-southeast, the Sphinx’s head appears on the horizon between the Khafre and Khufu pyramids, like the sun disk between two mountains in the hieroglyph “akhet” or horizon.… READ MORE »

Khafre’s Monuments as a Unit

Posted on Oct 13, 2009

Linking the elements

There are a number of elements of Pharaoh Khafre’s monuments (2520-2494 BC) that link them together. Some point to the probability that the Sphinx and its temple were the final elements added to Khafre’s building program at Giza. Other elements tie buildings together architecturally or geologically.

Geological fingerprints

The Swiss architect-Egyptologist, Herbert Ricke, concluded in his study of the Sphinx Temple (1967-70) that the Sphinx, Sphinx Temple, and Valley Temple were all part of the same quarry and construction process.

In 1980, geologist Thomas Aigner did a study of sea-floor sedimentation that formed the geological layers of the Giza Plateau. Mark Lehner and Aigner examined the geological layers of the Sphinx quarry and found that a certain number of these layers matched to the geological layers of the Sphinx Temple blocks.

The Sphinx Temple builders probably cut the large limestone blocks for the core of the temple walls (so-called “core blocks”) from the lowest layers of Member II of the Sphinx quarry. We can identify the bedrock layers from where specific temple blocks were cut.

This indicates that the Sphinx and the Sphinx Temple were created at the same time. As we demonstrate in another article, the Sphinx Temple was built after the Khafre Valley Temple, making the lower parts of the Sphinx and its quarry younger than the Valley Temple.… READ MORE »

Why Sequence is Important

Posted on Oct 13, 2009

Sequencing tells us which happened first

When was the Sphinx built? The archaeological evidence points with a high degree of probability to the reign of Pharaoh Khafre, rather than to much earlier dates proposed in recent popular theories. Archaeological sequencing at the Sphinx supports the Khafre date. Sequencing in archaeology looks at when one event happened in relation to another.

Egyptian architects created funerary monuments in somewhat standard sets. During the period of pyramid building, the set generally consisted of a pyramid, pyramid temple, causeway, and valley temple. Some pyramid complexes included queens’ pyramids.

Khafre’s building program differed from standard Old Kingdom pyramid complexes in that it included his pyramid, the Sphinx, Sphinx Temple, causeway, and Valley Temple, but did not include pyramids for the pharaoh’s queens.

Respecting walls

Two temples occupy a low terrace in front of the Sphinx: Khafre’s Valley Temple at the end of his pyramid causeway and the Sphinx Temple.

Khafre built enclosure walls north and south of his Valley Temple. Parts of the south wall still exist, but the ancient builders removed most of the north wall.

You can still see the foundation track for the northern enclosure wall stones in front of the southeast corner of the Sphinx Temple.… READ MORE »

Mapping the Sphinx

Posted on Oct 13, 2009

The details of mapping the Sphinx

Why map a statue? There is no way to understand a monument as complex as the Sphinx, part of a larger group of monuments, without examining in detail of all of its elements. This includes mapping the bedrock of the Sphinx, mapping the ancient and modern restorations, and mapping the associated temples in the Sphinx complex.

While clearing the Sphinx quarry down to bedrock for a subsurface mapping project, Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner noted that there were ancient deposits that had never been excavated. Using modern archaeological methods, the team revealed cultural material from the time of the pyramids, including numerous pieces of 4th Dynasty pottery (2575-2465 BC), right up through the Roman occupation of Egypt (30 BC-395 AD).

During the work, Hawass and Lehner realized that the existing maps of the Sphinx were not very useful and that, in fact, there were no accurate maps of this important monument.

AERA‘s story began with a project to map the Sphinx, with Dr. James Allen as Director and Mark Lehner as Field Director. Sponsored by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) over a five-year period, the ARCE Sphinx Project produced the only existing large-scale maps of the Sphinx.… READ MORE »

Geology of the Sphinx

Posted on Oct 13, 2009

Cutting through the layers

Arguments proposing a date for the Sphinx that is much earlier than 4th Dynasty Egypt are based on a misreading of the Giza geology.

Sphinx Interactive Map

Giza geological formation

The Sphinx is carved from the natural limestone of the Giza Plateau known as the Mokkatam Formation. An Eocene-period sea retreated 50 million years ago, leaving an embankment that became the north-northwest part of the Giza Plateau.

As the sea receded, a shallow lagoon formed above a shoal and coral reef in what is now the south-southeast part of the Plateau. Over millions of years, carbonate mud petrified to become the layers from which the pyramid builders quarried limestone blocks and from which they carved the Sphinx.

The Sphinx within the Giza geology

The Sphinx is cut from the lowest layers of the Mokkatam Formation, those layers lying directly on the harder petrified reef. We label the Sphinx geological layers Member I, Member II, and Member III after the work of geologist K. Lal Gauri (K.L. Gauri, Geoarchaeology, 1995).

The lowest stratum of the statue is the hard, brittle rock of the ancient reef, Member I. This layer rises to a height of 12 feet at the Sphinx’s rump and only two to three feet at the paws.… READ MORE »