So how old do I look?
The Great Sphinx stumps the experts again
BY JAMES M. PETHOKOUKIS
The riddle of the Great Sphinx is well
known: What animal walks on all
fours in the morning, two legs at
noon, and three legs at night? (The answer
is man, of course.) But that's not the only
Sphinx-teaser. Is the sculpture thousands
of years older than the pyramids, as controversial geological evidence suggests? If
true, that means it was built at the end of
the Stone Age, when mud buildings were
the height of human achievement.
Mainstream Egyptology says the
Sphinx was carved from bedrock during
the reign of Khafre (2520-2494 B.C.) as
a self-tribute to the pharaoh. Then an unlikely agitator shook things up. In the
1979 book Serpent in the Sky, amateur archaeologist and Egyptian tour guide John
Anthony West proposed that the Sphinx
was far older than the pyramidsand that
its severe weathering and erosion were
caused not by winds and blowing sand,
but by rain. Ipso facto, the Sphinx must
have been built thousands of years earlier, back when arid Egypt was all wet.
Given West's lack of scientific credentials, the "old-Sphinx theory" attracted little interest until 1990 when he brought
in Robert Schoch, a trained geologist and
Boston University professor. Schoch
found rock fissures in the Sphinx that suggested creation by running water or rainfall. He concluded that the front and side
dated from 5000 to 7000 B.C. (although
no one disputes that it was later recarved
as a royal totem). But if Schoch is right, a
cruder yet still impressive "proto-Sphinx"
was carved in the even more distant past.
Egyptologists attribute the Sphinx's
weathering to wet sand from Nile floods,
or morning dew that condensed and expanded natural salt in the rock, causing
layers to flake off. "But none of us can
prove our point," admits James Harrell,
a geology professor at the University of
Toledo and a "wet sand" proponent. Both
sides spin out analytical articles.
Who carved it? Call the geological argument a draw. But if the Sphinx were built
millenniums earlier, where are the traces
of the culture that carved it? "Perhaps all
their pots got washed away," West says.
"If you pin these guys down, they really think these people were refugees
from Atlantis, the Lost Continent," Harrell scoffs. West calls Atlantis the "A
word" and claims to use the name only as
shorthand for the mystery civilization. "I
really don't care what their passports
said," says West, who hopes more digging
at Giza might reveal the answer to the
riddle of the Sphinx's age.