Thesis Open Access

The Archaeology of an Image: The Great Sphinx of Giza

Lehner, Mark Edward

Thesis supervisor(s)

Simpson, William Kelly

This study is the first systematic description of the Great Sphinx of Giza. It is an architectural, archaeological, and geo-archaeological approach, based on five years of field work at the Sphinx between 1979 and 1983. The Sphinx and its site were documented using photogrammetry and conventional surveying techniques.  

          I describe the setting and layout of the site of the Sphinx and review the history of previous research and excavation. The results of eight years of excavation from the 1920s and 30s are documented here for the first time.  I review published sources about the history and significance of the Sphinx. I describe the features of the Sphinx and its site on the basis of the field work. This work has lead to the following conclusions:

           Builders, under the 4th Dynasty pharaoh, Khafre (ca. 2,500 B.C.), quarried a series of terraces and a U-shaped sanctuary for the Sphinx. They extracted the stone in the form of multi-ton core blocks that they used for making the Khafre Valley Temple and the Sphinx Temple on a terrace in front of the Sphinx. The project was part of a program of statue and temple building that was unequaled until New Kingdom times. The Sphinx and its associated temple were not completed, and it is doubtful whether a cult service specific to the Sphinx was ever organized.

          The Sphinx was mostly abandoned and neglected for nearly a millennium. Detailed documentation of the Sphinx's stratified masonry indicates that 18th Dynasty rulers carried out the earliest and largest reconstruction of the statue. At the same time, they quarried Khafre's pyramid and temples for granite and hauled away his colossal statues. They carried out their reconstruction of the Sphinx body with limestone slabs taken from Khafre's pyramid causeway. They made a royal chapel at the base of the Sphinx's chest and repaired the divine beard, which was original to the 4th Dynasty. There is evidence that they placed a colossal royal statue above the chapel and under the beard to embody the selection of the sovereign and his protection by the Sphinx, now known as the god, Horemakhet.

          The 18th Dynasty builders added masonry boxes to the flanks of the Sphinx body. These served as pedestals for naoi. The largest may have been for a statue of Osiris, or an Osiride statue of a king related to the cult of Osiris, Lord of Rosetau. The Sphinx was repaired again, probably in the 26th Dynasty, and in Roman times.

          The study concludes with a model of the Sphinx as it may have appeared in the 18th Dynasty. Comparisons with other sphinxes and 4th dynasty statues of Khafre are used to create the model with the help of computer imaging.

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