The Great Sphinx of Giza in Pictures - 9

Sphinx in Pictures

The Sphinx in 1882

The Sphinx by Fiorillo, 1882.

The erosion of the southern and western walls of the Sphinx enclosure is clear at bottom left: in the corner between the two walls there is the notch created where the enclosure cuts into the ditch alongside the Khafre causeway (which runs up to the Khafre pyramid from bottom left at the top of the enclosure wall); the presence of this notch, filled with pieces of granite, indicated to Professor Selim that the enclosure had been cut after the ditch of the causeway and that the notch had had to be plugged to prevent rainwater from running into the enclosure and round the lower body of the Sphinx.

But what did the Sphinx look like when it was first made, and the years had not yet taken their toll of erosion and damage - with the beard (and its support plate) in place, with the uraeus cobra intact on its brow, with the head-dress gathered together in a queue on the hack of the body, with the lappets of the head-dress descending over the shoulders, but without perhaps any statue yet before its breast and without the Dream Stela in its little chapel between the paws? How much was originally built on to the living rock with additional masonry blocks, or perhaps added in plaster, we cannot say.

The Sphinx seen over the valley temple of Khafre

The Sphinx seen over the valley temple of Khafre, by Sebah.

The two foremost scholars of the Sphinx in our day have disagreed about that: Dr Zahi Hawass has suggested that most if not all of the body was clad from the first; Dr Mark Lehner thinks it was mostly carved from the living rock to begin with and only required cladding after hundreds of years of neglect and erosion. Our reconstruction shows few details of masonry, therefore, without implying that none at all was present at the start, if not a good deal.

The Sphinx temple in front of (and below the level of) the monument itself may never have seen much use to judge by its not quite finished state, and so it is possible that the Sphinx, too, was never completed and was neglected within a short time. Some three hundred years after Khafre's death, during the time of social collapse that Egyptologists call the First Intermediate Period, the signs are that his valley temple was ransacked and his statues there deliberately smashed - it is unlikely that the Sphinx would have escaped the attentions of the wreckers at the same time, when the monuments of Giza were attacked in general. The beard would have been an easy target and the vandals may well have forced off some of any cladding blocks that were part of the original design.

The Sphinx showing the scale of the head against a standing human figure and the characteristic erosion  of the Sphinx body

The Sphinx by Lekegian, showing the scale of the head against a standing human figure and the characteristic erosion

of the Sphinx body. Note the fissure at the haunches, before it was part-filled with cement.

Egyptologists believe that it is from this time, in about 2200 BC, that the decline of the monument dates. The sands would have quickly swamped the neglected Sphinx, and under them the process of erosion would have got to work on the lion's body, while the desert winds scoured the neck and picked out the weak lines in the human head and face. So that by the time of Tuthmosis IV, the Sphinx was ripe for restoration, as it has been on at least three occasions since, including our own day.

Such, at least, is the view of the Egyptologists about the creation and decay of the Great Sphinx, its restoration and subsequent further decline. But there are other interpretations of the Sphinx's history and vicissitudes and they continue to be developed and aired by their proponents.

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