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  • Camille Basso

A new study reveals the secrets of the Great Sphinx

An emblematic figure of ancient Egypt, the Great Sphinx of Giza has dominated the Giza Plateau for over 2,500 years. Since its discovery in the 1930s by British archaeologists, this twenty-metre-high sculpture has remained a mystery to many experts. Fortunately, new technologies have enabled researchers at New York University to unlock its secrets.

Photographie de jour du Grand Sphinx de Gizeh
Le Grand Sphinx de Gizeh

A recent study published in the American Physical Society's monthly journal Physical Review Fluids claims to have uncovered the secrets behind the construction of the Sphinx of Giza. Researchers Scott Weady, Samuel Boury and Leif Ristroph have carried out extensive analyses of the structure and soil of the Egyptian plateau in recent years. According to their findings, the initial shape of the Sphinx was formed by nature, before being perfected by man. In fact, a huge block of limestone rock was formed over 4,500 years ago on the Giza plateau, giving the Sphinx its original shape. In ancient Egypt, architects would have taken advantage of this natural sculpture to carve an impressive representation of the Pharaoh, in the form of a chimera with the body of a lion and the head of a man. According to other recent studies, the monolithic statue was covered with plaster and paint at the time of its construction.

While this study provides a better understanding of the construction of the monuments erected by the Egyptians on the Giza plateau, it also invalidates the most far-fetched theories about the Sphinx. For almost a century, many have wondered how long it would have taken men without our modern technology to build such a sculpture. Extraterrestrial help, false dating - the most conspiracy theorists have regularly used their theories to explain these creations of our ancestors. Nevertheless, the results published in Physical Review Fluids last October also confirm what Farouk El-Baz, an Egyptian geologist, suggested in Smithsonian Magazine in 1981. According to him, the Sphinx had been built on a large eroded rock, or yardang, typically found in desert regions such as the Giza plateau.

"Today, there are yardangs that look like animals sitting or lying down," the New York University researchers detail in their study. To test their theory, they placed several clay mounds under a swift current of water to mimic the action of the Giza Plateau winds. In this way, most of the mounds took on shapes resembling those of the Sphinx, no matter what rock they were encrusted with. Like the Egyptians of 2,500 years ago, all they had to do was carve out details in the rock to specify the shape of a Sphinx.


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