Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Great Sphinx -1

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 word "sphinx", which means 'strangler', was first given by the Greeks to a fabulous creature which had the head of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird. In Egypt, there are numerous sphinxes, usually with the head of a king wearing his headdress and the body of a lion. There are, however, sphinxes with ram heads that are associated with the god Amun.
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 long.
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.
To do so, they trenched out a deep, U-shaped ditch that isolated a huge rectangular bedrock block for carving the Sphinx.
This enclosure is deepest immediately around the body, with a shelf at the rear of the monument where it was left unfinished and a shallower extension to the north where important archaeological finds have been made.
The good, hard limestone that lay around the Sphinx's head was probably all quarried for blocks to build the pyramids.
The limestone removed to shape the body of the beast was evidently employed to build the two temples to the east of the Sphinx, on a terrace lower than the floor of the Sphinx enclosure, one almost directly in front of the paws, the other to the south of the first one.
It is generally thought that quarrying around the original knoll revealed rock that was too poor in quality for construction. Therefore, some visionary individual conceived of the plan to turn what was left of the knoll into the Sphinx.
However, the Sphinx may equally well have been planned from the start for this location, good rock or bad. The walls of the Sphinx enclosure are of the same characteristics as the strata of the Sphinx body and exhibit similar states of erosion.