Dr. Robert M. Schoch comments on Geological Analysis of Ian Lawton and Chris Ogilvie-Herald

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By Robert M. Schoch

 

        Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald (page 313) agree with me that the current arid climatic regime of the Giza Plateau began approximately in the middle of the third millennium B.C. (circa 2350 B.C. by one standard dating scheme) and there were various periods of relatively heavy rainfall from about 10,000 or 8,000 B.C. up until the onset of the predominant aridity that has existed in the area for the last 4500 years or so. Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald also correctly point out that there were occasional rains, even heavy rains, during dynastic Egyptian times and up through the present day, resulting in periodic flash floods. Still, as will be discussed further below, such flash floods actually have little bearing on the weathering, erosion, and ultimately the determination of the age of the oldest portion of the Sphinx (here it is important to remember that the Great Sphinx was refurbished and partially re-carved, including a recarving of the head, in dynastic times).

        Sporadic heavy rains and the resulting flash floods (due to the inability of the rain to penetrate and soak into the land's surface and thus it runs off and collects in valleys, wadis, and other depressions) commonly found in arid regions do have tremendous potential to move loose debris and even cause serious erosion. However, in my opinion as a geologist, the nature and especially degree of weathering seen in the Sphinx enclosure and on the body of the Sphinx itself, is incompatible with sporadic flash floods since dynastic times. Even if occasional heavy rains occur on the Giza Plateau, the fact remains that currently on average only about an inch of rain each year occurs in the region (25 to 29 mm annually).

        I do not believe that there has been enough rainfall in the area over the last 5000 years to account for the tremendous degradation of the actual limestone bedrock as seen on the western end of the Sphinx enclosure, much less will account for the extreme weathering and erosion seen on the core body of the Sphinx itself. The latter is an important point, because in the case of the body of the Sphinx only the back (top) of the Sphinx serves as a catchment area for any subsequent runoff. From what we understand of the climate of the area, it strains credulity to suggest that this weathering and erosion is the result of rainfall during the last 4,500 years. This is even more so the case when we take into account the calculations of Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald (page 312) that the Sphinx enclosure and body of the Sphinx have been buried in sand, and thus effectively protected from this type of erosion, for 3,100 of the last 4,500 years.

        Furthermore, based on the perceptive analysis of the geologist Colin Reader (discussed below), since at least the time of Khufu (circa 2550 B.C. according to one standard chronology), the Sphinx has not even been situated in a position where it could receive the brunt of such flash floods. Among ancient Egyptian structures, those that show clear signs of having been damaged or otherwise significantly affected by the occasional heavy rains and resulting flash floods are those situated in valleys, wadis, and other low areas that serve as channels for the collected water. Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald cite the Valley of the Kings at Luxor as a case in point, and other authors have cited Reisner's suggestions of flood damage to the Menkaure valley temple on the Giza Plateau. Potential flood damage to Menkaura's valley temple is very different in kind and degree than the actual erosion and degradation of limestone bedrock as seen in the Sphinx enclosure. According to Lehner (1997, The Complete Pyramids, Thames and Hudson, London, p. 137), Menkaure's valley temple "lies at the mouth of the main wadi" (as is clear from maps of the site, as well as personal inspection of the area) which would situate it to receive the brunt of any ephemeral flash floods and hardly is relevant to the western end of the Sphinx enclosure or the body of the Sphinx itself. Furthermore it was apparently finished in mudbrick by Shepseskaf, then rebuilt (after being "flooded" at some point) during the 6th Dynasty. To use an argument from Menkaure's valley temple or the Valley of the Kings at Luxor in an attempt to keep some semblance of the traditional date for the Sphinx, or at least keep it dynastic, just doesn't work.

        Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald proceed (starting on page 315) to discuss a number of "types of weathering" that they claim are taking place in the Sphinx enclosure, but it quickly becomes evident that they have little understanding of the topic. They discuss what they term "precipitation weathering" (caused by rainfall, as I have elucidated in my various works), "wind-sand weathering" (also based on my work), and "chemical weathering" (apparently based primarily on the papers of Gauri and Harrell). They divide the latter category into "capillary weathering" (apparently based on ideas from both Gauri and Harrell), "wet-sand weathering" (based primarily on the ideas of Harrell), and "atmospheric weathering" (apparently based on the work of both Gauri and Harrell). Rather than addressing Gauri and Harrell indirectly via a discussion of Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald's reinterpretation of their ideas, here I will briefly discuss Gauri and Harrell directly.

          K. Lal Gauri has maintained that the weathering and erosion of the Sphinx and walls of the Sphinx enclosure are the result of the various effects of chemical weathering, particularly something known as "exfoliation" or the flaking away of the surface of the limestone. According to Gauri, dew that forms at night on the surface of the rock dissolves soluble salts found on the surface and then the liquid solution is drawn into tiny pores in the rock by capillary action. During the daytime the solution evaporates and salt crystals precipitate in the pores. As the crystals form they exert pressure which causes the surface of the limestone to flake away. This, in fact, is an important weathering factor that is currently taking place on the Giza Plateau. However, it alone cannot account for all of the weathering features seen in the Sphinx enclosure, and more importantly it alone cannot account for the specific distribution of weathering features actually found in the Sphinx enclosure (such as the more intense weathering, erosion, and degradation seen in the western end of the Sphinx enclosure, as discussed further below).

          The weathering processes proposed by Gauri will also have their maximum effect under extreme arid conditions with the Sphinx exposed to the elements. When buried under a layer of sand, the Sphinx and Sphinx enclosure are on the whole protected from these effects. Also, interestingly, the flaking away of the rock as proposed by Gauri is (or at least should be) operating on all of the limestone surfaces of the Giza Plateau, yet somehow virtually no other surfaces show the same type of weathering and erosional profile as seen in the Sphinx enclosure. While I do not deny that salt crystal growth is indeed damaging the Sphinx and other structures during the present day, this mechanism does not explain the ancient degradation patterns observed on the Sphinx's body and in the Sphinx enclosure area but virtually nowhere else on the Giza Plateau.

          Gauri has also suggested that the Sphinx and Sphinx enclosure have been, and are, subject to extremely rapid weathering, and he has pointed out that there has been significant deterioration of the Sphinx since the beginning of the twentieth century. As I have pointed out previously, however, and in all fairness Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald mention this in their book, one cannot extrapolate present modern weathering rates back into the past when it comes to the Giza Plateau. Industrialization, air pollution, acid rain, rising water tables due to encroaching settlement, tourism, automobile and bus traffic, and so forth, may (I believe are) affecting the structures on the Giza Plateau in a detrimental manner. Modern weathering and erosional processes are not the same as the ancient processes in every case.

          As I have discussed previously in a letter to the magazine "Archaeology" (January/February 1995 issue, one of many references that Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald fail to cite), much of the Hawass-Lehner argument, which is in large part based on the work of Gauri, for a younger Sphinx hinges on the assertion that its present style and rate of weathering and erosion is representative of its past weathering. Hawass and Lehner have stated that "ancient and modern weathering on the Sphinx are, for the most part, the same ball game." They discuss how soft the limestone is in some places ("you can crumble the stone with your fingertips") and the flaking of the stone to produce "giant potato chips" without realizing that these surficial weathering features are primarily due to modern assaults (pollution, acid deposition, salt deposited by rising water tables from the adjacent village and the damming of the Nile, and so forth) that have not been operating over the last five millennia. The work of K. Lal Gauri has documented the modern deterioration, as opposed to ancient weathering, of the Sphinx. In one publication Gauri illustrates, using comparative photographs from ca. 1925-26 and ca. 1980-81, how amazingly rapid this deterioration has been over the span of just a few decades (K. L. Gauri and G. C. Holdren, 1981, American Research Center in Egypt Newsletter, No. 114). This contradicts the Hawass-Lehner assertion that the ancient and modern weathering are the same. Arguably the Sphinx has suffered more during the last century than it did during the previous 5,000 years.

          It has also been suggested that the Sphinx has been heavily weathered by the action of subsurface ground water being sucked up into the pores of the rock by capillary action (Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald, page 316). There are a couple of problems with this hypothesis. First, I have yet to see any evidence that this is actually occurring to any significant extent today, much less in the past. If it is a significant factor in producing the weathering profile seen on the Sphinx and in the Sphinx enclosure, then it should also produce the same features (and to the same degree) on rock-cut structures carved from the same limestones and at the same elevation or lower found immediately to the south of the Sphinx enclosure. Yet such "capillary weathering" is not evident there. Second, such "capillary weathering," if it does indeed occur to any significant degree in the present day, may well be the result of rising water tables due to sewerage from the adjacent village that has been progressively encroaching on the Giza Plateau.

          James Harrell is the major proponent of the " wet-sand" theory to explain the weathering and erosion of the Sphinx and Sphinx enclosure. He has suggested that sand piled up for centuries in the Sphinx enclosure has been wetted by rainfall, Nile floods, and capillary action sucking water up into the overlying sand. Persistent flooding, however, would be expected to cut a wave bench into the Sphinx and the enclosure, and there is no such feature. Also, wet sand around the bottom of the Sphinx enclosure does not explain the obvious and pronounced weathering on the upper portions of the walls of the enclosure. Indeed, the major problem with the wet-sand hypothesis is that there is no documented mechanism known by which wet sand piled against a limestone surface will produce the weathering and erosional profile seen on the body of the Sphinx and on the walls of the Sphinx enclosure. Sand, even wet sand (if it ever occurred in the Sphinx enclosure - - there is no evidence that it did to any significant degree), may actually have served more to promote the preservation of the Sphinx. Furthermore, capillary action, far from being a mechanism cable of keeping numerous feet of piled sand wet over many centuries, is negligible in loose sands in arid areas. Harrell's "wet-sand" theory simply does not work as an explanation for the weathering and erosional features of the Sphinx and Sphinx enclosure.

          Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald (page 320) write "Schoch has emphasized that the enclosure walls are generally more eroded at the top than at the bottom, which appears at odds with the fact that the upper layers tend to be harder. However, Lehner argues that even the relatively un-eroded eastern end of the south wall shows that it was deliberately cut with a slope in the original excavation of the enclosure." Thus, Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald imply that my observations are invalidated. However, as I already pointed out in the 1995 letter to "Archaeology," I have never implied that the walls of the Sphinx enclosure were originally absolutely vertical. In a published illustration (in J. A. West, 1993, Serpent in the Sky, Quest Books, Wheaton, IL, p. 227) I show them at an approximately 80 degree angle before being weathered. However, the fact remains that even taking such a small slope into account the harder layers at the top of the section have been in general eroded back further than softer layers lower in the section, thus corroborating the hypothesis of an older Sphinx.

          On page 320 of their book, as if to put the final "nail" in the coffin of an older Sphinx, Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald write: "Finally, West and Schoch have increasingly fallen back on the evidence of the deep, rounded, vertical hollows in the west and south walls of the Sphinx enclosure, insisting that these are too ["too" is stressed by being placed in italics by L and O-H] obviously weathered by precipitation for the other arguments about weathering to matter. We have sympathy for this view, but again Gauri appears to have an answer. He suggests that they represent faults in the rock originating from the time when the structural deformation of the whole Plateau caused the rock strata to tilt, perhaps millions of years ago, and that they were widened into cavities or channels by the 'hydraulic circulation of the underground water'. They were then exposed when the bedrock was excavated from the Sphinx enclosure." Again, as I pointed out in the 1995 letter to "Archaeology," the limestones of the Giza Plateau are criss-crossed with fractures or joints, and these joints date back millions of years, and possibly some of them may be due to geologic faulting (but see comments by Coxill quoted below). However, the joints are not opened up as fissures everywhere on the Giza Plateau. Vertical fissures such as those on the Sphinx enclosure wall can only be produced by water, primarily precipitation, and do bear on the age of the Sphinx. Basically the precipitation runoff follows paths of least resistance and thus works its way into weak joints and fractures. This is dramatically illustrated on the western wall of the Sphinx enclosure and the western portion of the southern wall (which have been subjected to substantial runoff) versus the eastern portion of the southern wall of the enclosure where the fissures are much less extreme; the eastern portion of the enclosure has not taken the brunt of the runoff. My critics, including Gauri, Lehner, Hawass, Lawton, and Ogilvie-Herald, do not distinguish between naturally occurring joints, on the one hand, and open fissures developed only through weathering processes on the other hand.

          Regarding these so-called "faults," the geologist David Coxill (writing in the journal "InScription: Journal of Ancient Egypt, Issue 2, Spring 1998, page 14; another article that Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald fail to cite) notes: "The sub-vertical joints . . . are a distinctive characteristic of the surrounding pit [that is, the Sphinx enclosure], and to a somewhat lesser extent, of the Sphinx itself. They are natural fissures in the rock, that were formed by contraction of the carbonate rich sediments, when they were undergoing rockification. These are sedimentologically related fissures and not tectonic faults related to earthquakes, since they do not displace the strata. On the . . . Causeway edge, they are sometimes closed and grouted by fine grained carbonate sediments [a natural process], while others, are open at the top, narrowing, and eventually closing - - further down the vertical profile of the excavated pit face, and the sphinx's body . . . They represent lines of weakness that have selectively and progressively been exploited by the forces of weathering."

           It is worth quoting Coxill (pages 16-17), an independent geologist who has taken the time to study the Sphinx first-hand, further on these issues: "[Robert Schoch] presented his findings . . . that the weathering features present [on the body of the Sphinx and in the Sphinx enclosure] are caused by rainfall that has cascaded over the sides of the monument and the surrounding pit . . .  "

          Other theories have been put forward to try to counter the claim. Lal Gauri et al. (1995) consider that being porous, Member 2 limestone [of which the body of the Sphinx is carved], will suffer from morning dew condensation that dissolves salts within the limestone. When the heat of the day evaporates the water, the salts crystallize out and progressively exert minute pressure weakening the rock and opening up fissures already present. Both they, Hawass, and Lehner (1994), suggest that sub-surface water movements, during Eocene times, caused the fissures to open as the water table dropped. This is intriguing, but unlikely to be the case. Firstly, condensation affects all monuments in the Giza complex, but very rarely do any show the same type of weathering features of the Sphinx, surrounding pit and cut stone blocks of the Valley Temple.

          Secondly, these weathering features require intense weathering to form their present profile, and, condensation/evaporation is a relatively mild and insignificant form of mechanical weathering in this arid climate. Thirdly, fluctuations in the water table do not lead to fissures being produced wider at the top. Lal Gauri [et al.] (1995) also suggest that the roundness of the laminars is due to gradational differences in the hardness of the strata. This does not account for variations in the weathering profile, within Member 2 beds, as previously discussed on the Sphinx's body or the presence of open fissures.

          Harrell (1994) suggests that wet sands from Nile floodwaters, and occasional rainfall, would have produced wet sands, leading to these weathering features. That is not acceptable, since floodwaters would have produced a wave cut bench and notch, which would certainly be seen today in the surrounding excavation pit. This is not the case, and again this theory does not satisfactorily explain the presence of erosion features higher up the Sphinx's body and pit face. . . "Therefore, by a process of elimination, it appears that floodwaters and fluctuating ground water levels cannot explain these weathering features, but rainfall does. " Bottom line: Coxill, an independent geologist (as of this writing, I have never met him nor corresponded with him), corroborates my analysis of the nature and agency responsible for the predominant weathering and erosion seen in the Sphinx enclosure and on the body of the Sphinx.

          Ian Lawton and Chris Ogilvie-Herald (pp. 324-327), have also criticized my analysis of the seismic data. Unfortunately, they make a number of incorrect assumptions and perpetuate misunderstandings. For instance, Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald (pp. 324-325) claim that I assumed that "the subsurface weathering has been caused by rainfall seeping down through the bedrock floor of the enclosure" when in fact I never postulated that to be the case at all. They then further argue incorrectly that when the Sphinx enclosure is filled with sand, as it has been for much of its existence, the sand will protect the underlying bedrock floor from subsurface weathering. Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald fail to understand the nature of subsurface weathering. Subsurface weathering is essentially a mineralogical and petrological change in the rocks that proceeds once the rock surface is exposed to the air or atmosphere (such as occurred when the core body of the Sphinx was excavated), no matter what the climate is like. Loose porous sand piled up in the Sphinx enclosure will not significantly protect the bedrock from this type of weathering. This type of weathering is certainly not caused primarily by rainfall collecting on the rock surface and seeping down. It could even be argued that in some cases a moister climate with periods of standing water on the rock that protects the surface from atmospheric exposure may actually result in a slower rate of this form of subsurface weathering than may occur under dryer conditions.

          To further dismiss the seismic data, Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald go on to claim (page 325) that "it is almost certain that the subsurface erosion has been caused far more by hydraulic and capillary action over the many millennia since the bed was laid down than by relatively recent rainfall and exposure." They are simply wrong. It is subsurface weathering, not erosion (erosion is where the rock is actually carried away), that is under consideration here, and postulating unknown and undocumented mechanisms of "hydraulic and capillary action" as a way to explain the data is essentially meaningless. Furthermore, their explanation of hydraulic and capillary action, quoted above, does not address the discrepancies in subsurface weathering seen within the Sphinx enclosure.

          Concerning the use of the seismic data to date the initial excavation of the Sphinx: It has taken about 4,500 years for the subsurface weathering at the younger, western-most floor of the Sphinx enclosure to reach a depth of about four feet (assuming that the western end was fully excavated to approximately its present state during Old Kingdom activity at the site - - see further discussion below). Since the weathering on the other three sides is between 50 and 100 percent deeper, it is reasonable to assume that this excavation is 50 to 100 percent older than the western end. If we accept Khafre's reign as the date for the western enclosure, then this calculation pushes the date for the Great Sphinx's original construction back to approximately the 5000 to 7000 B.C. range.

          I believe this estimate nicely ties in with the climatic history of the Giza Plateau and correlates with the nature and degree of the surface weathering and erosion features. This estimate can be considered a minimum if we assume that weathering rates proceed non-linearly (the deeper the weathering is, the slower it may progress due to the fact that it is "protected" by the overlying material), and there is the possibility that the very earliest portion of the Sphinx dates back to before 7000 B.C. However, given the known moister conditions on the Giza Plateau prior to the middle third millennium B.C. versus the prevailing aridity since then, some might argue that initial subsurface weathering may possibly (but not necessarily) have been faster than later weathering, and this could counter balance the potential "non-linear" effect mentioned in the last sentence. In other words, the early moist conditions might, crudely, give deeper weathering which could appear to give it an "older" date but this is countered by the non-linear nature of the weathering which could appear to give it a "younger" date. In the end, based on many hours of analysis and rumination, I am satisfied that the two opposing factors roughly cancel each other out and a crude linear interpretation of the data is justifiable. In this manner, I return to my estimate of circa 5000 to 7000 B.C. for the oldest portion of the Sphinx, a date that is corroborated by the correlation between the nature of the weathering in the Sphinx enclosure and the paleoclimatic history of the region.

          Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald (page 326) state that "Schoch himself accepts the existence of New Kingdom repair blocks on the rump ["rump" is stressed by being placed in italics by L and O-H] of the monument, indicating that extensive weathering had taken place at the back since the orthodox carving date. So why could this rate of weathering not have applied all over?" This is a dishonest statement. From my original 1992 KMT article to my 1999 book VOICES OF THE ROCKS I have pointed out the disagreement among Egyptologists (such as Lehner and Hawass) as to whether the earliest repairs to the Sphinx date to the Old Kingdom or New Kingdom. I have never definitively "accepted" any particular date for them, although I tend to suspect that Hawass is correct and they are indeed Old Kingdom. Furthermore, I've made no statement nor judgment concerning the age of any repairs on the very western-most end of the core body of the Sphinx in the vicinity of where we ran our seismic line. Indeed, this area is currently covered at ground level with twentieth-century repair blocks that obscure any ancient repairs, and furthermore, evidence of New Kingdom repairs there (if they existed) would not invalidate the concept of an older Sphinx. It is well known that the Sphinx has been refurbished and reworked many times over the centuries. New Kingdom repairs could easily have replaced Old Kingdom repairs, and of course not all repairs from all time periods cover or repair equal amounts of damage as Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald imply in the quote above.

          Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald go on to state (page 326) that "it is clear that the west wall [of the Sphinx enclosure] behind the rump [of the Sphinx] - - which according to Schoch's theory must have been carved only c. 2500 BC - - shows exactly the same vertical and rounded profiles as the [presumably older] south wall. ["shows . . . south wall" is stressed by being placed in italics by L and O-H]" They therefore conclude that this obvious contradiction refutes my analysis. Actually it does nothing of the kind. Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald fail to mention that two "back walls" lie behind the rump of the Sphinx. The higher "back wall," which lies farther to the west, does indeed show rain weathering ("vertical and rounded profiles") and dates back to pre Old Kingdom times. The seismic studies indicate that the lower "back wall," set directly behind the rump of the Sphinx and lacking the "vertical and rounded profiles," may have been excavated much later, possibly in Khafre's time (circa 2500 B.C.), when I believe the rump of the Sphinx was reworked and possibly at that time carved down to the same level as the floor of the Sphinx enclosure on the other three sides of the sculpture. I discuss this issue explicitly in my 1992 KMT paper titled "Redating the Great Sphinx of Giza" (see especially page 57).

          These same authors argue against the two-stage construction of the so-called Valley and Sphinx temples, pointing out that some granite blocks have actually been worked into the Valley Temple and underlie an uppermost course of limestone blocks (page 331). Likewise, Old Kingdom pottery fragments have been found around and under detached limestone blocks of the Sphinx Temple (page 334). This evidence they take to "prove" that the temples, and therefore the Sphinx itself, must date to Khafre's time. However, it is perfectly conceivable, in fact to be expected, that Old Kingdom artifacts would be found around the temples and newer (that is, Old Kingdom) granite blocks would be incorporated into the actual temples during the rebuilding and refurbishing phase of Khafre's time. Clearly, there was much activity on the Giza Plateau during the Fourth Dynasty, and we should expect to find the remains of that activity.

          Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald fail to mention two independent studies of the Sphinx and Sphinx enclosure that have been undertaken by qualified geologists. The first study, by the geologist David Coxill ("The Riddle of the Sphinx" published in the Spring 1998 issue [Issue 2, pp. 13-19] of the journal "InScription: Journal of Ancient Egypt"), has already been mentioned and quoted above. After confirming my observations on the weathering and erosion of the Sphinx, and pointing out that other explanations (for instance, as proposed by Gauri and Harrell) do not work, Coxill clearly states (page 17): "This [the data and analysis he covers in the preceding portions of his paper] implies that the Sphinx is at least 5,000 years old and pre-dates dynastic times." Coxill then discusses very briefly the seismic work that Thomas Dobecki and I pursued and my estimate of an initial date of 5,000 to 7,000 B.C. for the earliest parts of the Sphinx based on the seismic data. He neither supports nor refutes this portion of my work, but simply writes (page 17): "Absolute dates for the sculpturing of the Sphinx should be taken with extreme caution and therefore dates should be as conservative as possible -- until more conclusive evidence comes to light." I can understand that he could take this stance, although perhaps I feel more comfortable with, and confident in, the seismic analysis we did. Coxill, in the next paragraph of his paper (page 17), continues: "Nevertheless, it [the Sphinx] is clearly older than the traditional date for the origins of the Sphinx -- in the reign of Khafre, 2520-2490 BC."

          Another geologist, Colin Reader, has also pursued a meticulous study of weathering and erosion (degradation) features on the body of the Sphinx and in the Sphinx enclosure. This he has combined with a detailed analysis of the ancient hydrology of the Giza Plateau. Although as of this writing, his research has apparently not been formally published in journal or book form, Reader has been circulating his work as an illustrated paper entitled "Khufu Knew the Sphinx" (the copy I received from him is dated July 1998). Like Coxill, Reader points out the problems and weaknesses in the arguments of my opponents. Reader notes (quoted from the summary of his paper; no page number), that there is "a marked increase in the intensity of the degradation [that is, weathering and erosion] towards the west [western end] of the Sphinx enclosure." Reader continues, "In my opinion, the only mechanism that can fully explain this increase in intensity is the action of rainfall run-off discharging into the Sphinx enclosure from the higher plateau in the north and west . . . However, large quarries worked during the reign of Khufu [a predecessor of Khafre, the "traditional" builder of the Sphinx] and located immediately up-slope, will have prevented any significant run-off reaching the Sphinx." Thus Reader concludes (page 11 of his paper) that "When considered in terms of the hydrology of the site, the distribution of degradation within the Sphinx enclosure indicates that the excavation of the Sphinx pre-dates Khufu's early Fourth Dynasty development at Giza." Interestingly, Reader also concludes that the so-called "Khafre's" causeway (running from the area of the Sphinx , Sphinx Temple, and Khafre Valley Temple up to the Mortuary Temple on the eastern side of the Khafre pyramid), part of "Khafre's" Mortuary Temple (which Reader refers to as the "Proto-mortuary temple"), and the Sphinx Temple predate the reign of Khufu.

          As I have discussed in my book, VOICES OF THE ROCKS (published in the United States by Harmony/Crown, 1999, and due out in early 2000 in the UK), I have come out strongly in favor of not only an older Sphinx, but also a contemporaneous (thus older) Sphinx Temple (at least the limestone core being older than the Fourth Dynasty). Independently of Reader, John Anthony West and I have also concluded that part of "Khafre's" Mortuary Temple predates Khafre. Reader has now come to the same conclusion concerning "Khafre's" Mortuary Temple. I am pleased to see his confirmation.

          One should note that Reader clearly accepts the Sphinx Temple as predating Khufu, and if it is correct that the Valley Temple was constructed from limestone blocks that came out of the Sphinx enclosure at a higher level than the blocks that were used to build the Sphinx Temple (as clearly stated by Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald in their book on page 329; I believe they are correct here), then the Valley Temple must also be pre-Khufu (as West and I have hypothesized and advocated all along).

          Reader tentatively dates the "excavation of the Sphinx" and the construction of the Sphinx Temple, Proto-Mortuary Temple, and "Khafre's" causeway to "sometime in the latter half of the Early Dynastic Period [page 11]" (that is, circa 2800 to 2600 B.C. or so) on the basis of "the known use of stone in ancient Egyptian architecture [page 8]." I believe that Reader's estimated date for the excavation of the earliest portions of the Sphinx is later than the evidence indicates. I would make three general points:

1) In my opinion, the nature and degree of weathering and erosion (degradation) on the Sphinx and in the Sphinx enclosure is much different than what would be expected if the Sphinx had not been carved until 2800 B.C., or even 3000 B.C. Also, mudbrick mastabas on the Saqqara Plateau, dated to circa 2800 B.C., show no evidence of significant rain weathering, indicating just how dry the climate has been for the last 5,000 years. I continue to believe that the erosional features on the Sphinx and in the Sphinx enclosure indicate a much earlier date than 3000 or 2800 B.C. It strains credulity to believe that the amount, type, and degree of precipitation-induced erosion seen in the Sphinx enclosure was produced in only a few centuries.

2) In his July 1998 paper Reader never addresses the seismic work that we pursued around the Sphinx, which is in part the basis I used to calibrate a crude estimate for the age of the earliest excavations in the Sphinx enclosure. In my opinion, the date estimate based on our seismic work is compatible with the type and amount of erosion and weathering seen in the Sphinx enclosure, and also nicely correlates with the known paleoclimatic history of the Giza Plateau.

3) I do not find dating the Sphinx on the basis of "the known use of stone in ancient Egyptian architecture" convincing. I would point out that massive stonework erections were being carried out millennia earlier than circa 2800 B.C. in other parts of the Mediterranean (for instance, at Jericho in Palestine). Even in Egypt, it is now acknowledged that megalithic structures were being erected at Nabta (west of Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt; discussed in the text of my book, VOICES) by the fifth millennium B.C. and the predynastic "Libyan palette" (circa 3100-3000 B.C.), now housed in the Cairo Museum, records fortified cities (which may well have included architectural stonework) along the western edge of the Nile delta at a very early date. I find it quite conceivable that architectural stonework was being pursued at Giza prior to 2800 or 3000 B.C.

          Reader suggests that the head of the Sphinx may have originally been a prominent rock outlier that was first carved into some type of head (perhaps initially a lion, Reader suggests - - likewise, J. A. West and I hypothesized that the Sphinx may have originally been a lion in the 1993 video "The Mystery of the Sphinx" and later re-carved. Independently, I have come to similar conclusions relative to the head of the Sphinx once having been a prominent rock outlier, and I have stated so publicly. In my 1992 KMT paper I point out that while Farouk El-Baz's yardang (natural wind-shaped hill) hypothesis for the Sphinx as a whole is untenable, the head may have originally been a yardang (which would mean that it was some kind of rock outlier), but it is too heavily modified by carving and recarving to know for certain. As far as I am concerned, Reader is one more geologist who has corroborated my basic observations and conclusions. The oldest portions of the Sphinx date back to a period well before circa 2500 B.C.

 

 

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