Jon de Vos: 5,000 years left to see the sphinx
February 20, 2009
I sat up in bed yesterday and shouted, “Who built the Sphinx of Giza?” My wife stared in amazement but the dogs took it in stride, assuming, as they always do, that I had shouted that it was time to feed them. It’s lucky for you, Dear Reader, because if I hadn’t asked that burning question, the remainder of this page would be full of ads.
The Sphinx is an enigma. No one knows who built it or even when they did it. Carbon dating is no help because the gigantic sandstone sculpture was carved in place out of a sandstone shelf on the outskirts of present-day Cairo. Despite the ravages of time’s erosion and man’s wanton destruction, the statue of the half-man, half-lion is remarkably well preserved due to being buried under the sands of the Saharan Desert for more than 4,000 years. It carries the distinction of being the oldest and largest stone monument ever built by man. It’s exact age has caused a debate among archeologists so profound as to cause them to shake flint-tipped spears at each other. Estimates range from 600 BC to 6000 BC.
But was it really built by men? This is where it gets odd as one theory speculates it was huge man-like creatures from the North Pole who settled the mythical island of Atlantis located just off the north coast of Africa, or maybe the Caribbean, or just possibly somewhere in the Atlantic. All that we know about Atlantis was from the writings of the Greek philosopher, Plato, who claimed Atlantis was the opposite of Athens. While Athenians pursued the peaceful pursuit of philosophy, the Atlanteans were war-like and nasty neighbors who conveniently sank into the ocean during an earthquake. In the early 1930s, a couple of German writers, Julius Evola and Alfred Rosenberg speculated that Atlanteans were Hyperboreans-Aryan Nordic supermen who originated far to the north on the island known as Ultima Thule and moved south to populate the idyllic island of Atlantis. The concept of Aryan supermen attracted Nazi theorists. In 1938, SS Officer Heinrich Himmler organized a search into Tibet searching for remnants of the Aryan Atlanteans. They didn’t find any.
In the late 1700s, Napoleon stumbled across the Sphinx, buried up to its neck in the sand. For the next 250 years, there were several efforts to excavate the sand away to expose the huge monolith but the Sahara’s relentless wind and the sheer immensity of the undertaking proved beyond the abilities of several engineers who tried.
Beginning in 1925, it took 11 years of continuous effort for the French engineer Emile Baraize to excavate the Sphinx on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and apparently for the first time since antiquity, the great beast once again became exposed to the elements. It turns out the sand has been its savior, since, being built of soft sandstone, it would have disappeared long ago had it not been buried for much of its existence. Much of the decay of this great statue has occurred since it was uncovered due to the influences of modern man. From acid rain to the effects of soot and carbon monoxide from Cairo traffic that nowadays encircles the ancient work.
Preservation efforts have made the situation worse, causing great chunks of the sandstone to flake off making it’s ultimate fate uncertain. Last week a fence was erected around the Sphinx to keep out the camels, donkeys and souvenir-seekers.
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