How Old is the Sphinx
Table of Contents
- The Official Dating of the Sphinx
- Why the Signs of Water Erosion Challenge the Mainstream Dating
- Disproportion between the Statue's Head and the Body
- Possible Explanations for the Water Erosion
- Speculations about the Hidden Chambers and Tunnels
The Great Sphinx of Giza, commonly simply known as the Sphinx is one of the most impressive as well as one of the most mysterious monuments of the ancient world. The colossal statue with a human head and the body of a lion is traditionally believed to be about the same age as the pyramids in Giza (ca. 2650-2550 BC) which means that it is about 4,500 years old. Most Egyptologists link it to Pharaoh Khafra (2558-2532 BC) who built the second largest pyramid in the Giza plateau. Artifacts found at the Sphinx date from the time of the Fourth Dynasty that built the pyramids in Giza, while the statue’s face bears striking similarity to the statues of Khafra. Another thing that supports the link of the Sphinx with the Fourth Dynasty is the fact that the statue is believed to represent the solar deity the worship of which started shortly before Khafra’s reign. However, the famous statue was carved out of limestone which makes dating of the Sphinx impossible. Furthermore, not everyone agrees with the mainstream theory about the statue’s age. How old is the Sphinx therefore remains a matter of debate.
There are several theories about the age of the Sphinx which claim that it predates the pyramids. Speculations about how old is the Sphinx are not new and there was a disagreement about its age even in the ancient times as no records exist about who built it and when. Theories about the Sphinx predating the pyramids again attracted attention at the end of the 20th century especially the theory of Dr. Robert M. Schoch, a geologist from the Boston University. Dr. Schoch pointed out to the signs of water erosion which could have been caused by heavy rains that occurred in the area around 5,000 BC. John Anthony West, an independent Egyptologist believes that the Sphinx is much older and that it was built around 9,000-10,000 BC. Both Schoch and West support their claims with geological evidence and the fact that no such erosion exists on other monuments from the Old Kingdom.
Colin Reader, an English geologist agrees with Schoch and West but he does not think that the Sphinx is as old as Schoch and West suggest. Reader thinks that the statue is only a few centuries older than the pyramids in Giza and that the original Sphinx had a different head which was re-carved during the reign of Khafra. He supports his theory with the obvious disproportion between the statue’s head and the body as well as evidence of activity in the area before the construction of the pyramids. According to Reader, the original Sphinx probably had the head of a lion.
The mainstream Egyptologists reject the theories about the Sphinx being older than 4,500 years because most of the theories focus exclusively on water erosion, while ignoring other evidence. In addition, the water erosion could also been caused by the Nile flooding or raising water table. And the latter has been shown to pose a threat of damage that is still alive. A few years ago, the Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass and his team drilled several holes in the immediate vicinity of the statue to protect it from the rising water table that reached the surface nearby. They eliminated the threat for now but at the same time, they have also shown that other explanations for water erosion are possible in addition to heavy rains.
Dr. Hawass rejects the theories about the Sphinx predating the ancient Egyptian civilization for not having “any basis in fact”. He also said that the recent drilling near the statue has shown that there are no hidden chambers or passages beneath the Sphinx as claimed by some authors. He and his team did, however, find four tunnels beneath the statue but they were empty. According to Dr. Hawass, the tunnels were probably dug by treasure hunters long after the Sphinx was built and that they were used for burials in the later period. Dr. Hawass dates the Sphinx to Khafra’s reign on the basis of archaeological evidence and architecture.
Neither the mainstream nor alternative dating of the Sphinx’s age answer all the questions. If the signs of water erosion do not necessarily prove that the colossal statue predates the pyramids, it is hard to explain why the head is so disproportional with the body other that the head had been re-carved. But if the Sphinx was not built by the ancient Egyptians, who sculpted it? A number of archaeological finds in the recent years have revealed that monumental architecture is older than previously thought and that there may have been earlier civilizations than Sumer and ancient Egypt. One of the best examples is the monumental complex of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey which was radiocarbon dated to 10,000 BC. But since the famous statue with a human head and the body of a lion cannot be radiocarbon dated, the question how old is the Sphinx will probably continue to yield very different answers.