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Californian Archaeologists Unearth A Not-So-Ancient Egyptian Sphinx

Dec 2, 2017
Originally published on December 4, 2017 11:30 am

Archaeologists recently unearthed a curious artifact in California: An Egyptian sphinx.

Unlike the Great Sphinx of Giza, which was made of bedrock, this sphinx was made from plaster. And it wasn't carved by the ancient Egyptians, but molded by designers on the set of Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 biblical film The Ten Commandments.

The film featured thousands of actors and actresses, and the director commissioned famed art deco designer Paul Iribe to construct an ancient Egyptian palace for the film's backdrop. Iribe's final product was the largest set design of its time and included more than 20 sphinxes.

After filming was complete, the 12-story set was too expensive to dismantle —and too valuable to leave for rival film studios to pilfer. In a move just as ambitious as his filmmaking, DeMille, who created a second version of the film in 1956, ordered the set buried at a location unknown to the public.

Director Peter Brosnan and other filmmakers began searching for DeMille's lost city in Californian dunes in the mid 1980s. In 1990, after receiving a $10,000 grant to fund his archaeology, Brosnan found the very first sphinx buried in Guadalupe, Calif., a small city about 175 miles from Los Angeles.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center has found several significant DeMille artifacts in the past few years. "Given that these objects have lasted 94 years, even though they were only built to last for two months during filming— it really speaks to the craftsmanship and the level of skill that the artisans could build," Doug Jenzen, executive director of the center where the recent sphinx was found, told CBS This Morning.

The center has good news for Hollywood classic buffs, faux Egyptian aestheticians, and amateur archaeologists alike: It will begin displaying the sphinx and other artifacts from DeMille's lost city next year.

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