In a depression to the south of Khafre's pyramid at Giza near Cairo sits a huge creature with the head of a
human and a lion's body. This monumental statue, the first truly colossal royal sculpture in Egypt, known as the
Great Sphinx, is a national symbol of Egypt, both ancient and modern. It has stirred the imagination of poets,
scholars, adventurers and tourists for centuries and has also inspired a wealth of speculation about its age, its
meaning, and the secrets that it might hold.
The Great Sphinx is to the northeast of Khafre's (Chephren) Valley Temple. Where it sits was once a quarry. We
believe that Khafre's workers shaped the stone into the lion and gave it their king's face over 4,500 years ago.
Khafre's name was also mentioned on the Dream Stele, which sits between the paws of the great beast.
However, no one is completely certain that it is in fact the face of Khafre, though indeed that is the
preponderance of thought. Recently, however, it has been argued that Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid, may
have also had the Great Sphinx built.
The Great Sphinx is believed to be the most immense stone sculpture in the round ever made by man. However, it must be noted that the Sphinx is not an isolated monument and that it must be examined in the context of its surroundings. Specifically, like many of Egypt's monuments, it is a complex which consists not only of the great statue itself, but also of its old temple, a New Kingdom temple and some other
small structures. It is also closely related to
Khafre's Valley Temple, which itself had four
colossal sphinx statues each more than 26 feet
The material of the Sphinx is the limestone
bedrock of what geologists call the Muqqatam
Formation, which originated fifty million years
ago from sediments deposited at the bottom of
sea waters that engulfed northeast Africa during
the Middle Eocene period. An embankment
formed along what is now the north-northwest
side of the plateau. Nummulites, which are small,
disk-shaped fossils named after the Latin word
for 'coin', pack the embankment. These were once
the shells of now extinct planktonic organisms.
There was a shoal and coral reef that grew over
the southern slope of the embankment. Carbonate mud deposited in the lagoon petrified into the layers from
which the ancient builders, some fifty million years later, carved out the Great Sphinx.
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