The Sphinx
Conservation of the Sphinx has had an impressively long history. Around 1400 B.C., according to a stela found between the statue's paws, the Egyptian prince Thutmose IV dreamt that the Sphinx asked him to free it from the desert sand that had engulfed it since it was first carved over a millennium before. In return, the Sphinx would offer Thutmose the crown of upper and lower Egypt. Thutmose undertook the project and subsequently became pharaoh. Mudbrick walls inscribed with his name surround the Sphinx, suggesting that Thutmose indeed cleared the area and built walls to keep new sand from encroaching on the monument.

Despite a second restoration attempt during the Roman period, the Sphinx slowly became buried again. Not until 1925, when the French archeologist Emile Baraize and his workers spent 11 years clearing the area of sand, did the Sphinx finally enjoy liberation. Between 1955 and 1987, a series of restorations were undertaken, but they lacked an over-riding plan and adequate sensitivity to the findings of scientific studies undertaken in the area. These problems, along with inadequate records of the procedures, left future restoration projects with a difficult task.

In 1989, a committee consisting of appointees from different divisions of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization and Egyptian universities began what became the most sophisticated, advanced renovations the Sphinx had yet seen. First, they performed scientific studies and careful restoration work in select areas. Next, they corrected faulty restoration work previously done on the North side and replaced previously attached stones that did not match the original rock. Finally, they restored the Sphinx's crumbling chest using a combination of stones and a mortar of lime and sand. The team carefully documented the entire process so that future archeologists and restorers can responsibly further their efforts.

Principal source: The Secrets of the Sphinx: Restoration Past and Present, by Zahi Hawass (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1998).

Photo: Peter Tyson

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