The Origins of the Great Sphinx of Giza

Study says sphinx began as a naturally carved landform

Great Sphinx of Giza

Painting of the Great Sphinx of Giza and pyramids from 1839. Courtesy Photo Companion to the Bible.

The Great Sphinx of Giza is a monolithic structure and one of the ancient world’s most iconic monuments, alongside the Pyramids of Giza. However, unlike the pyramids—which were built using millions of 2-ton limestone blocks—the construction of the sphinx may have had a little help from mother nature. While the recognizable form of the sphinx and especially its face is believed to have been modeled on Pharaoh Khafre (r. 2558−2532 BCE), shortly after the construction of that pharaoh’s pyramid, the structure may not be completely manmade. Indeed, a new study published in Physical Review Fluids suggests the sphinx began its life as a naturally occurring landform.

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The study, which recreated natural erosion patterns on model clay mounds, demonstrated that under normal conditions it is possible for erosion to create a structure roughly resembling the figure of a reclining lion. This is not the first time such a theory has been put forward, with the Egyptian geologist Farouk el-Baz first suggesting it in 1981. According to el-Baz, the ancient Egyptians likely carved the sphinx out of a yardang, a naturally occurring bedrock ridge sculpted by wind. Several yardangs are known today that bear similar lion-like shapes. This natural feature would have been the perfect base to carve out the main features of the sphinx, with other features created using limestone blocks. The new study, performed by researchers at New York University, lends additional credence to el-Baz’s original theory.

Today, the Great Sphinx of Giza measures 240 feet long and 66 feet tall. With the body of a lion and the face of a human, the sphinx took its name—already mentioned in antiquity—from the Greek mythological beast. It is thought that the face of the sphinx may be that of Pharaoh Khafre, whose temple complex was partially dismantled to allow for the building of the sphinx’s associated temple.

Read more in Bible History Daily:

Archaeologists Discover Two Lost Sphinxes in Egypt

The Changing Nile and How the Pyramids were Built

Feeding the Pyramid Builders

Hidden Corridor Found Inside the Pyramid of Khufu

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Who Really Built the Pyramids?

How I Almost Climbed Cheops’ Pyramid

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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