Egypt: Mysteries of the Great Sphinx

Mysteries of the Great Sphinx

Few, if any man-made objects cast as large a shadow as the great sphinx of Egypt. Large and looming, with deep eyes that gaze into the shifting sands of the desert, entirely unique in its quiet majesty, the Sphinx stands as a symbol of a civilization at the roots of mankind.

But what of the Great Sphinx? A brimming debate has been taking place suggesting that the Sphinx may be not 2,500 years old, as previously calculated, but in fact some 10,500 years old, a timetable which would in effect serve to virtually re-spool some of the previously established threads of man's existence.

It is a debate forged down the lines of radical contemporary schools of thought and old school traditionalism. On one side, University of Chicago Egyptologist Mark Lehner, a respected student of ancient Egypt who has helped to formulate and piece together many of the opinions commonly accepted as fact. On the other side, authors Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock (composers of the book "The Message of the Sphinx"), who not only suggest that the Sphinx may be much older than previously anticipated, but also that the Great Pyramids of Egypt, a mile and a half to the west of the Sphinx, may in fact provide a map to the three stars of Orion's belt, formed, "in 15 million tons of solid stone," and unraveling further reaching mysteries.

For years the Sphinx was but a head in the sand - literally. By Islamic times, sand had encroached and blown upon the two hundred and forty foot long structure with the head of a man, the body of a lion. Sixty-six feet high and thirty-eight feet wide, the Sphinx has been revered as an eternal god, been painted red, and been covered in blocks of masonry. Its history has been undoubtedly colorful.

Abul-Hol, the Arabic name of the Great Sphinx, translates to mean "Father of Terror." But the statue is far less frightening and much more intriguing today. One of the first points of contention between Dr. Lehner and Bauval and Hancock revolved around the very face of the Great Sphinx. Lehner and the traditionalists hold that it is the face of Khafre, from the fourth dynasty, that adorns the statue in tribute. But as the king's mummy was never found, the only point of comparison is a statue that is generally attributed to the likeness of Khafre. The authors, who hired a forensic expert, Frank Domingo (late of the New York police department), contend that the face is not that of Khafre, and as such don't hem in the origins of the stone carving to the fourth century. More on why that's important later.

The One Syllable Link

All of this controversy could be eradicated if it weren't for one significant problem: as the Sphinx is made entirely out of stone, it cannot be carbon-dated, there is no organic material to subject to testing. Therefore, scientists turn to other clues. There is a single syllable carved on a granite stela in between the paws of the Great Sphinx. This stela "commemorates the efforts of efforts of the Pharaoh Thutmosis IV(1401-1391 B.C.)to clear the sphinx of encroaching sand" and describes the lion as a 'great magical power that existed in this place from the beginning of time.' The 13th line contains the syllable Khaf - the first syllable of the name Khafre. But the rest of the stela has now entirely flaked away and apparently was in fact already damaged at its time of discovery, in 1817, significantly damaged.

The translation of the original manuscript line 13 read as follows: '...which we bring him oxen..and all young vegetables, and we shall give praise to Wenofer...Khaf...the statue made for Atum-Hor-em-Akhet..." The authors assert that British philologist Thomas Young, the leading Egyptian hieroglyph expert of the time, inserted the surname -Re, a conclusion that has been challenged significantly by American Egyptologists in the present day.

What does this mean, exactly? Hard to say, but even if the 'Khaf' does refer to Khafre, since the rest of the text no longer exists it is indeed possible that the reference could refer to Khafre as a restorer of the statue, not its builder, further loosening timelines. Another stela at Giza, the so-called Inventory Stela, refers to the Pharaoh Khufu as having seen the Sphinx. Say the authors, "since Khufu was Khafre's predecessor, the obvious implication is that Khafre couldn't have built the Sphinx."

Nonetheless, contemporary pervasive opinion continues to hold that the Sphinx is the face of Khafre, and according to the authors, it is Lehner who subscribes to a sort of 'magic bullet' theory designed to eradicate all doubt. Lehner's 'bullet', say the authors is context, and is one he used frequently when defending the orthodox views on the age of the Sphinx in 1992.

Lehner's context is defined by the other findings in the region. He points early and often toward Giza, where the three pyramids have been dated to the now-infamous fourth dynasty. Frankly, both sides present minutiae to support their stances.

Let it Rain

Where the debate really starts to get interesting has more to with weather patterns that affected Egypt reportedly more than 12,000 years ago. What is now a dry, arid region was deluged by storms and flooding, evidence suggests, and it is that which helps to challenge the place of Khafre as builder of the Sphinx.

It was noted that the weathering patterns of the Sphinx were significantly different on its flanks as opposed to its upper regions. The rock, which clearly showed a certain predictable sand-blasting pattern near the Sphinx's top eschelons, appears to show a different weathering pattern on its sides, one that, by virtue of its melting patterns and downward fissures seen on the statue, would seem to establish rain patterns on the Sphinx. If this is true, not only does the chronology held dear by Lehner seem to suffer, but the suggestion would indicate that rain waters, not flood waters, would have eroded the Sphinx, meaning that the Sphinx was much older than previously held.

Researcher John West, another who ascribed to the new timeline, hired Dr. Robert Schoch, a Boston University geologist, to study the weathering patterns on the Sphinx. After ascertaining permission from the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO), Schoch's study of the structure's limestone appeared to show, via endoscopes placed within the body of the Sphinx, that the monument was by his estimation "at least 5,000 to 7,500 years old." The results were shown to an NBC audience of 33 million.

Finally feeling vindicated, still scoffed at by the traditional powers that were, West and company still faced an uphill battle. Schoch had come to the conclusion that the weather patterns on the limestone pointed to one conclusion, that those inhabiting Egypt at that time weren't merely hunter-gatherer stick-carver types but moreover were members of an advanced civilization in antiquity, one previously undiscovered.

This did not go over well with the establishment. Hancock and Bauval note that "Although it cannot be said that Robert Schoch has proved that the monument dates back to the epoch of 7000 to 5000 BC. Nor has John West proved that the even earlier date (before 15,000 BC) that he favors. But then again neither has orthodox Egyptology proved that the Sphinx belongs to Khafre and to the epoch of 2500 BC." By their own admission, at this point, the "jury's still out." True enough.

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