Besides the pyramids, the Sphinx is probably the best known monument in Egypt. It is also one of the most controversial — theories of its origins range from Chephren, pre-dynastic Egyptians, to aliens. Conventional archeology dates it to the reign fo Chephren, and that the face on the Sphinx is a representation of him.
The sphinx is badly ruined and ineptly repaired over the centuries. A huge outcropping of stone was carved to create the human-head and lion body. Unfrotunately, the body of the sphinx was softer stone, and has eroded dramatically.
Some Egyptologists now claim that the sphinx may be as much as 2600 years older than we thought, they base this idea on the erosion of the body of the sphinx, which tyhey cleaim was during a period of heavy flooding and rain (the Nabtian Pluvial Era, 3000-1200 BCE).In the 19th century, it was assumed to be older than the pyramids, simply because it looks older — the weathered face and body imply that it has been around longer. In fact, a stele found on the Giza plataue has been read to say that Cheops ( Chephren’s predecessor) built his funerary temple beside the sphinx, implying that it was already there at the time — the stele is current considered to be from a much later dynasty.
Most other egyptologists dismiss this theory as fanciful — in most theories, the erosion of the sphinx was caused by mineral salts and the wind. In fact, had the Sphinx not been buried in sand for most of its long life, it would have long since disitnigrated. In fact, if the sand is not cleared away, it can fill up the basin where the sphinx lies in less than twenty years.
It is assumed that the Sphinx was buried in sand shortly after its creation — it lies in a low area on the plateau and the desert encroaches on everything here. It was first uncovered by Tuthmose IV, after he dreamed that if he uncovered the monument, he woud be king. He did — and subsequently took the throne. The “dream stele” that sits between the Sphinx’s paws tells this story.
The sphinx is carved from an outcrop of soft limestone 240 feet long anda bout 60 feet high. The head and headdress are of a harder stone, and is less eroded. The sphinx was not build up from blocks (despite the way it looks post-repairs), but was dug out of the outcropping and down to the bedrock.
The face of the sphinx is well known, but it is incomplete. The nose is missing, and the huge false beard is also gone. It has been used for target practice by armies from the Mamlukes to Napeoleon (although the theory that the nose was blown off by artilery shells is not supported by fact. )
Many of the “repairs” in the last few centures have actually damaged the Sphinx even more. In the 1980s, indjections of a ‘stablizer’ to the stone was supposed to stop the erosion. It in fact made it worst — pieces of the overly soft stone started to flak off. Then, concrete was used, which is too rigid for the structure, as the limestone expands and contracts differently. An effort in the 1990s has attempted to undo some of that damage under the ausipices of the Supreme COuncil of Antiquities (SCA) and Dr. Zawi Hawass. THese effots also include plans to keep the rising subsurface water from affecting the low-lying monument.
The sphinx has three tunnels (behind the head, in the tail, and one on the north side) and several others that have been dug into the structure by treasure seekers. There are no inscriptions on the sphinx, no reliefs carved into its body. However, teh valley temple nearby is quite obviously linked to the Sphinx and Chephren.
Me? Well, I don’t know what to believe about the origin of the sphinx. I do think that the head looks absurdly small on the body, as if it was re-carved to the shape of Chephren’s face long after the original body was done.
But wait!! What’s that? A KFC right there across from the sphinx.