The sphinx is one of the largest structures and the greatest mysteries of ancient Egypt. For modern man, unveiling the enigma of its construction has taken urgency in this time of rapid urbanization. With a head as big as a house, this crouching lion, human-headed figure is approximately 240 feet long, 70 feet tall, and weighs fifty times the weight of a 747-jumbo jet. The desolate landscape of Giza started to change over 4000 years ago with the construction of the Great Pyramid by Pharaoh Khufu and two more pyramids by his son. While the inscriptions inside the pyramids give some information about its builders, the great Sphinx provides no such clues. However, the burial ground of Pharaoh Aha provided some insight about when the remains of thirty-five young adults and several lions were also excavated from the site. Kings often identify themselves as a lion to express power and supremacy. The lion’s body depicts strength whereas the human head signifies intelligence. This, combined with the nemes headdress, represents a Pharaoh with great power and intelligence.
Extensive mapping of the Sphinx’s structure by the world’s leading Egyptologist, Mark Lehner, revealed that it is carved right out of the natural mother rock of the Giza Plateau. It is made of soft and hard limestone layers, which once was a seabed. Similar layers of hard and soft limestone are found in the surrounding walls of the Sphinx ditch and the Sphinx temple. It is believed that after quarrying a horseshoe-shaped ditch, a giant rock remained. The stones were carried to the lower terrace to fabricate the Sphinx temple and the giant rock was carved into a Sphinx. The carving of the Sphinx was undoubtedly no simple task. Even with the modern steel tools and the primitive copper tools fashioned by the investigators, little success was achieved. Although it was relatively easy to sculpt the softer stone, the hard stone bent the tools out of shape. The restoration of Sphinx has continued since the time of Thutmoses – as inscribed in hieroglyphs on a granite stela between the Sphinx’s paws. The Sphinx has stones from many different periods i.e., 30 B.C., 1550 B.C., and 2600 B.C. The Gaza plateau was a seabed; therefore, the rise of the groundwater crystalizes the salt within the structure. As a result, it expands and forms flakes that crumble into dust. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans have been covering the Sphinx with blocks to protect its deteriorating structure.
The impossible feat of carving the Great Sphinx could have only been carried out by a Pharaoh. However, the question about the identity of this pharaoh remains a debate. Due to its proximity to the pyramids, many believe that its face resembles the small ivory statue of Pharoah Khufu. Much like the Sphinx today, the statue of Khufu does not wear a beard. However, others argue that the original structure of the Sphinx sported a beard much like Khufu’s son, Khafre. The bump on the Sphinx’s chest might have supported the beard at one time.
Today, the Sphinx represents one of the many mysteries of Egypt but it held a completely different meaning for the ancient Egyptians. It is believed that the Sphinx temple is a massive sun temple with 24 pillars depicting the hours of the day. During the fall and spring equinox, the sun forms a line that connects the temple, the Sphinx, and the pyramid of Khafre, presenting another evidence of its builder. Conclusively, the Sphinx symbolized the king and the god – a guardian of the horizon whose sole purpose was to ensure the pharaoh’s safe passage to the afterlife (NOVA).
NOVA. Riddles of the Sphinx. 2010. <https://vimeo.com/13402076>.