Insight & Analysis

Origin of Great Sphinx of Giza discovered

Published: Nov 2023

With the body of a lion and face of a woman, the Great Sphinx of Giza, carved into rock 4,500 years ago, has mystified archaeologists for thousands of years.

The great Sphinx and pyramids in Giza

Scientists have now revealed the huge mystical creature could have been made by Mother Nature, with humans adding the detail at a later stage.

Historians have often questioned what it originally looked like and who it was designed to represent. But did Mother Nature actually play a role in its creation?

A team of scientists from New York University (NYU) believe elemental forces may have eroded the rock formation into what closely resembles the mythical creature, long before the Egyptians came along.

“Our findings offer a possible ‘origin story’ for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion,” explains Leif Ristroph, an Associate Professor at NYU. “Our laboratory experiments showed that surprisingly Sphinx-like shapes can, in fact, come from materials being eroded by fast flows.”

The study concentrated on replicating strange rock formations often found in deserts from wind-blown dust and sand – which are known as yardangs.

The NYU team explored the possibility that the Great Sphinx was originally a yardang, with humans adding the finer details later.

To replicate the process, they took mounds of soft clay with harder, less erodible material embedded inside (similar to the terrain in northeastern Egypt) and washed the formations with a stream of water to reenact the wind that would have reshaped and carved them – eventually forming a Sphinx-like shape.

The lions head and other features such as the neck, paws and back were formed from the harder material. “Our results provide a simple origin theory for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion,” said Mr Ristroph. “There are, in fact, yardangs in existence today that look like seated or lying animals, lending support to our conclusions.”

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