Remnants of a Lost Civilization?

Sphinx 5-98 Copyright (c) 1998 Andrew Bayuk - All Rights Reserved Writer John Anthony West and Boston University geologist Robert Schoch contend that weathering of the Member II  layers indicates that the Sphinx was built between 5000 and 7000 BC. If  Egyptologists tend to ignore West and Schoch it is because the two mostly ignore the evidence of the Old Kingdom Egyptian society that surrounds the Sphinx, concluding that the monument must be the remnant of a much older civilization, otherwise unknown to archaeology. They do not explain how their lost civilization disappeared from the archaeological record, nor how the Old Kingdom society of Khufu, Khafre, and their cohorts are so abundantly represented in that record. Nor do they explain what happened to this lost civilization during the thousands of years between their mysterious Sphinx builders and the Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BC). Apart from these problems, the West-Schoch case is flawed in the specifics they cite about erosion on the Sphinx.

During the American Research Center in Egypt Sphinx project, we identified Member II layers in our drawings by giving each one a number (and a Roman numeral for subdivisions); for example, li denotes the soft bottom, lii the hard top of the first Member II layer above Member I. Geologists Thomas Aigner and Lal Gauri have studied these layers. Gauri has analyzed samples from their surfaces at the Stone Conservation Laboratory at the University of Louisville to understand the mechanics of how the layers eroded, a process that has left a profile of rounded protrusions at the top and deep recesses at the bottom of each layer.

Sphinx Head - 5/98 - Copyright (c) Andrew Bayuk, All Rights ReservedThe bases of the lowest layers (li, 2i, and 3i), which are the most recessed, are so soft that in places (such as the inner side of the left forepaw) you can crumble the stone with your fingertips. The surface of the harder, protruding  layers is constantly flaking in large patches, like giant potato chips. A gust of strong wind sends these flakes rattling across the stone surface of the Sphinx, after which more flakes appear on the surface.

In 1978 when we carried out the first thorough cleaning around the base of the Sphinx since the late 1920s  and 30s, Sphinx "dust" from these disintegrated chips had accumulated around the base of the chest and the rock walls of the ditch. In places along the upper edge of the Sphinx's back, where the 1926 restorers poured gray cement into cracks and fissures, the surrounding stone has flaked away, leaving the cement protruding.

While geologists and conservators may not agree on why the surface of Member II is constantly shedding, or what to do about it, anyone can see that this erosion does progress daily. Schoch is aware that if the same rapid deterioration occurred in antiquity, we would not need to push back the origin of the Sphinx 5,000 years. The 1,100 years between Khafre and first major restoration in the 18th Dynasty. or even half this time, would have been more than enough to erode the Member II into the deep recesses behind Phase I I restoration masonry. In the unabridged version of The Mystery of the Sphinx, a video production about the West-Schoch hypothesis, narrated by Charlton Heston, Schoch dodges this issue: "But the weathering I'm looking at," he says, "is ancient weathering...that we see under ancient repairs, and that's a whole different ball game, a whole different set of evidence than modern weathering." Schoch cites pollution and "acid rain" as possible causes for faster weathering but offers no data to back this claim. Given that we are dealing with the weathering processes (wind or water erosion) on the same limestone layers with the same intrinsic qualities. ancient and modern weathering on the Sphinx are, for the most part, the same ball game.

The Member I and II rock is also transected by many fractures or joints, eroded by subsurface water to form fissures. These run through the rock for many yards. When joints intersect near the surface of the Sphinx they isolate boulder-size pieces that will eventually fall off the body if not supported. This is precisely why a three ton chunk fell from south shoulder in 1988. Such fractures occur throughout the Giza Plateau and were probably created in post-Eocine geological times when regional tectonic forces lifted the formation at Giza. Underground water dissolved the limestone along the joints to create subsurface channels and cavities. When the Egyptians quarried the Sphinx ditch they had to cope with these fissures and cavities. the largest and most problematic of which passes through the waist and is more than three feet across at the top of the back. It extends vertically through the entire 40 feet of the lion body and deep into the floor of Member I. The Major Fissure, as we call it, is formed from a series of  of smaller joints that traverse this part of the geological formation and run together at the Sphinx. It can be easily traced on both sides of the Sphinx, and through the wall of the ditch to the south.

In some of the West-Schoch photographs we see West standing inside the opening of one of the larger fissures in the walls of the Sphinx ditch. He would have us believe that it is a major piece of evidence for rainwater erosion that occurred after the sphinx was created. We are apparently supposed to believe that the other joints are also surface features created by torrents of rainwater running over the sides of the Sphinx and into its ditch. In Mystery there is a graphic of the Sphinx layers entirely unblemished by any vertical fissures. Rainwater then pours over the edge of the rock wall and gouges out vertical gullies suggesting how the fissures were created. In fact the joints existed in the rock long before the ancient quarrymen ever fashioned the Sphinx and its ditch. That the television scenario may look convincing testifies more to the power of animated video graphics than to bedrock reality. Schoch is aware of the technical studies that discuss how these fissures were formed--he cites them in his articles. But in the unabridged Mystery, he points to a fissure on the south wall of the Sphinx ditch, "clearly formed by water running down the wall, pecking out weak spots."

Next Schoch and West point to the fašade of the tomb of Debehen, who lived during the 4th Dynasty. They claim it was carved, as Heston reads from his teleprompter, from "the exact same layers as the Sphinx," and that the facade is weathered by wind.

The evidence, apparently, is the sharp angle between the harder protruding layers and the softer recessed ones. Schoch and West find it chronologically significant that the tomb was eroded by wind, evidenced by an angular profile, while the Sphinx (they claim) was eroded by rain, evidenced by the rounded profile.

Thus their case for the lost civilization rests, ultimately, on angularity. Schoch, however, never shows any other examples of wind or rain weathering so that we can judge the Giza profiles by comparison. If he did, we would then be interested in how he establishes rates of erosion to demonstrate that the Sphinx was built between 5000 and 7000 B.C. Even if the Sphinx were eroded by rain, Schoch never demonstrates why the rainfall over the last 4,500 years would not be sufficient to round off the corners. We have been caught in many downpours during our work at Giza over the last 20 years. Schoch must present more evidence than a few photographs and some video animation to make the case that these different erosional patterns are chronologically significant. To point simply to the "morphology of the rock"--that is, "the way it looks" --is not enough to convince us of the enormous ramifications that West and Schoch attach to this distinction.

Another problem with Schoch's comparison between the Sphinx and "the exact same layers" in the Old Kingdom tomb concerns the location of the two. The Sphinx sits at the lowest part of the plateau, around 63 feet above sea level, and close to the damp Nile floodplain that today is about 55 to 59 feet above sea level.

Schoch does not tell the audience that those Debehen tomb layers are much higher and drier, 458 yards (more than four football fields) out in the desert west-southwest of the Sphinx, at an elevation between 154 and 206 feet above sea level. Between the Sphinx and the tomb of Debehen there are numerous rock-cut tombs and, most significant, a yawning open-air quarry 250 yards wide, from which Khufu probably took much of the stone for his pyramid. Correlating stratigraphic layers from the Sphinx to the tomb of Debehen is not as easy as Schoch, or Heston's script, would have us believe.

The layers in the tomb of Debehen are not, in Fact, the same as those in the Sphinx. Certainly all the layers at Giza are part of the Mokattam Formation, but from the bottom to the top of the sequence they vary considerably in quality. Starting at the edge of the Khafre causeway, which is the south side of the Sphinx ditch, one can trace the Sphinx layers southwest. The top of the causeway is formed by layers 4 and 5 as we numbered them in the Sphinx profile. South of the Sphinx ditch and causeway, the surface slopes radically to the south. It is possible to follow the Sphinx layers down this slope, then, proceeding through the cemetery of rock-cut tombs to the west, toward Debehen, you can trace layer 5 and then layer 6 (with some gaps between quarry blocks and tombs). Proceeding west through this quarry, which was later converted to a cemetery of rock-cut tombs, it becomes apparent that as the ground surface rises, layers equivalent to the neck and head of the Sphinx and, farther west, layers that are higher (i.e., younger) in the Mokattam sequence than the Sphinx's head are exposed. Farther west and higher in elevation, the layers of the Debehen tomb are younger, closer to the top frosting in the "layer cake" of limestone, than the Member II layers of the Sphinx, which are at the very bottom.

Schoch also fails to mention in his public presentations the simple fact that different limestone layers, like those in the Debehen tomb and the Sphinx, weather in different ways. Angularity and roundness of weathered rock profiles are due as much to the rate at which one layer grades into another as to different weathering agents. In fact, between Debehen and the Sphinx there are Old Kingdom rock surfaces with both rounded angular profiles. For Schoch to present a creditable argument about erosion patterns and the date of the Sphinx relative to Old Kingdom tombs, he must offer more evidence than a single photograph of one tomb facade. His argument should at least begin with a detailed Stratigraphic correlation that demonstrates he is not comparing apples and oranges. So many factors can affect the erosion of a stone surface that surface erosion is simply not a good basis for dating stone monuments or for postulating the existence of a civilization lost somewhere in Epipalaeolithic or Neolithic times.

West and Schoch's treatment of the evidence tying the Sphinx to Khafre's pyramid complex is incorrect. They point to the two-stage construction of the Khafre temples, but never cite the detailed architectural studies of this kind of construction at Giza. There is no doubt that the large limestone blocks of the core mid the granite blocks of the casing of the temple walls were built at the same time. In both the Sphinx Temple and Mortuary Temple of Menkaure's Pyramid there are frozen moments where the builders left the work incomplete. Even today you can see where one team was trimming back the rough limestone core walls while another, working several yards behind, was fitting the granite casing. The limestone blocks are not weathered under the intact granite casing on the Khafre Valley Temple. Where the granite casing remains in situ, the original face of the limestone core block behind it is preserved.

Vest and Schoch perceive that the south and west walls of the Sphinx ditch are eroded more at the top than at the bottom--the effect, they say, of rain water beating back a rock face that was originally vertical.

But looking.at the eastern end of the south wall, where much of the original face is still preserved, it is clear that the ancient quarrymen cut the face at this slope in the first place. Regarding the west wall, West and Schoch seem to get tangled in their own argument. Selim Hassan, who excavated at the Sphinx in 1936, pointed out that the drainage channel along the north side of the Khafre causeway opens into the southwestern corner at the back of the Sphinx ditch. This suggests that the ancient quarrymen formed the Sphinx ditch after the Khafre causeway. Schoch, however, believes that Hassan's point is "negated" because "the back of the Sphinx enclosure" was excavated by Khafre five millennia after the time of the mysterious Sphinx builders. Accordingly, the back wall should not show rain weathering because in West-Schoch logic that would date it thousands of years before Khafre. Why, then, do we see Schoch in the Mystery video patting that same back wall of the Sphinx ditch and calling it a "classic textbook example of what happens to a limestone wall when you have rain beating down on it for thousands of years"?

Geologist Robert Schoch claims that the angularity between recessed and protruding layers on the facade of the Tomb of Debehen indicates that it was eroded by wind. The rounded profile of the Sphinx, he contends, resulted from water erosion and proves that the sculpture is much older. Archaeologists believe both tomb and Sphinx were carved during the 4th Dynasty (2575-2134 B.c.). The tomb facade--originally the western side of the Khufu quarry, 459 yards west of the Sphinx and 75 to 141 feet higher--is carved in bedrock higher in the geological sequence of layers than those of the Sphinx. The different weathering profiles reflect differences ill the physical properties of the rocks, not the age of the monuments. Schoch and West cite the roundness of the protrusions and recesses in the south wall of the Sphinx ditch as evidence of rain erosion, and believe that fissures in the rock were caused by rainwater after the Sphinx was carved. Most scholars believe the fractures were caused by tectonic forces and eroded by groundwater long before the monument was carved.

--ZAHI HAWASS AND MARK LEHNER
Reprinted with the permission of Dr. Hawass

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