Robert M. Schoch discusses Egyptology’s analysis of geological evidence redating the Great Sphinx of Giza, Khafre, Khufu and the Great Pyramid, Zahi Hawass John Anthony West.
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THE GREAT SPHINX CONTROVERSY
by Dr. Robert M. Schoch © 1995
[A modified version of this manuscript was published in the "Fortean Times" (P.O. Box 2409, London NW5 4NP) No. 79, February‑March, 1995, pp. 34‑39.]
The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt, has long been thought to have been carved de novo by the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Khafre (Chephren) about 2500 B.C. Recently I have determined that, in fact, the Great Sphinx was built in stages and I have estimated that the earliest portions of the statue (the core body of the Sphinx) date back to the period of 7000 to 5000 B.C. My redating of the Sphinx is now well ‑ established. The evidence for an earlier Sphinx has been duly published in appropriate journals , discussed at major scientific meetings without being falsified  and thus far the hypothesis of an older Sphinx has not been convincingly refuted.  My work on the Great Sphinx has also received quite a bit of attention in the popular press.  Here it is not my purpose to restate the scientific evidence for an older Sphinx (interested readers are referred to the articles already cited in the footnotes, or may write to me directly at Boston University); rather, in this note I will briefly describe a few of the interesting tactics used by some of my critics in attempting to discredit my work on the Sphinx.
To begin with, one must realize (as I did not at first) that the dating of the Great Sphinx seems to be a very touchy subject for most modern Egyptologists. Despite the fact that some of the early founders of modern Egyptology (such as Sir Flinders Petrie, Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, and Sir G. C. Maspero) were open to the notion that the Sphinx may be older than the Fourth Dynasty pyramids that it seems to guard, and ancients from New Kingdom Egyptians to Romans (circa 1400 B.C. to 400 A.D.) generally thought that the Sphinx was older than the pyramids, modern Egyptologists have galvanized around the dogma that the Great Sphinx was built by Khafre, circa 2500 B.C. The basis for this attribution is purely circumstantial, the strongest piece of evidence being the reputed similarity between the face of the Sphinx and the face of Khafre as seen on other statues. Yet forensic expert Frank Domingo of the New York Police Department has definitively proven that the face of the Sphinx and the face seen on signed statues of Khafre are not of the same person (4); indeed, the face of the Sphinx apparently does not pertain to the same race as the face seen on statues of Khafre (the Sphinx has a distinctive "African," "Nubian," or "Negroid" aspect which is lacking in the face of Khafre).
Still, most living Egyptologists maintain that the Sphinx was built by, or at least around the time of, Khafre. Questioning the age of the Sphinx seems to shake the very foundations of conventional Egyptology. A much older Sphinx calls into question the conventional wisdom concerning when and how civilization developed in the Nile Valley. Maybe mainstream Egyptologists will be forced to rethink their traditional story as to exactly who the dynastic Egyptians were and where they came from (both geographically and culturally). On the whole, the Egyptologists insist that the peoples of Egypt did not have the technology or social organization to cut out the core body of the Sphinx in predynastic times. An older Sphinx implies that a highly sophisticated culture existed along the banks of the Nile at an earlier time than hitherto imagined. Maybe the whole notion of cultural progress will have to be reconsidered.
When told of my work on redating the Sphinx, Egyptologist Carol Redmount of the University of California, Berkeley, was quoted and paraphrased as saying (LOS ANGELES TIMES, 23 October 1991, p. A18): " 'There's just no way that could be true [that the oldest portion of the Sphinx dates back to 5000 B.C. or earlier].' The people of that region would not have had the technology, the governing institutions or even the will to build such a structure thousands of years before Khafre's reign, she said." And Redmount continued, stating "that conclusion [that the Sphinx is considerably older than Khafre] flies in the face of 'everything we know about ancient Egypt.' " Likewise, Peter Lacovara, assistant curator of the Egyptian department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, attempted to dismiss my work by stating (quoted from THE BOSTON GLOBE, 23 October 1991, p. 8): "That's ridiculous. . . Thousands of scholars working for hundreds of years" [a bit of an overstatement as to how many persons have seriously studied the Sphinx] have studied this topic . . . "the chronology is pretty well worked out. There are no big surprises in store for us."
The Egyptological community did little to address my arguments and data. One of the most cogent statements made against my data was Dr. K. Lal Gauri's: "Neither the subsurface evidence nor the weathering evidence indicates anything as far as the age is concerned. It's just not relevant" (SCIENCE, 14 February 1992, vol. 255, p. 793). But of course such a statement lacks any objective basis. The reason this evidence is "not relevant" to my critics is that they cannot accept the implications of the evidence. They "know" when the Sphinx was built, and no evidence can overthrow their long‑cherished beliefs. Since they cannot refute the evidence, it is dismissed as not relevant.
The main tactic used to counter my heresy was to try to dismiss me as a quack and non‑ person. Dr. Kathryn Bard (Archaeology Department, Boston University) strongly implied (in BOSTON UNIVERSITY TODAY, 11‑17 November 1991, p. 6), by association, that my work on the Sphinx falls into the same category as that of "charlatans and sensation seekers." (as a side note, thus far Dr. Bard has refused to debate me in person on the topic despite an invitation from a neutral branch of Boston University to arrange such a meeting) Dr. Mark Lehner of the University of Chicago accused me of practicing "pseudoscience" (NEW YORK TIMES, 9 February 1992, p. 16). Dr. Zahi Hawass, then Director of Antiquities of the Giza Plateau and Sakkara, referred to the research as "American hallucinations" (see J. A. West, 1993, Serpent (revised edition), p. 229). To top it all off, an article was published in the Arabic newspaper "Al‑ Ahram" (Cairo, 24 November 1991) in which it was allegedly stated [I do not read Arabic, thus I have only read a translation of the article; see also P. W. Roberts, 1993, River in the Desert, p. 129] that Dr. James Wiseman (Chairman of the Archaeology Department, Boston University) asserted that I am not a member of the Boston University community. Of course, this is in error ‑‑ I am a full‑time, permanent (tenured) faculty member at Boston University. I am not, however, a member of the Archaeology Department in the College of Liberal Arts, Boston University, but rather a member of the Division of Science and Mathematics in the College of General Studies (formerly the College of Basic Studies) Boston University. Boston University consists of some fifteen Schools and Colleges, and over 2,400 faculty members; perhaps the confusion concerning my affiliation with Boston University is due to the size of the university and the number of different academic units it contains.
Clearly the Egyptological community was up in arms, and the easiest way to get rid of me (or so they thought) was with ad hominem attacks on my person. A large part of the problem seemed to be that I was an "outsider" (my Ph.D. is in geology and geophysics from Yale), and off the record I was even told by an Egyptologist that there were plenty of rocks for me to study other than those on the Giza Plateau where the Sphinx stands.
Admittedly some of my early problems with the Egyptological community seem to have stemmed from the fact that I was introduced, by way of a colleague (Dr. Robert Eddy, at the time a fellow faculty member at my college), to the problem of the Sphinx by the notorious John Anthony West. West has a reputation as an unorthodox and self‑trained Egyptologist who has little regard for the Egyptological establishment; indeed, he argues that much of the standard interpretation of Egyptian civilization is fundamentally flawed. West is also seen by some people as a "New Ager"  and, dare I say it, a general crackpot and quack (I have come to know West well since I first met him in 1989, and he is neither). Unfortunately West has used the term "Atlantis" a little too often in propounding some of his ideas and, in my opinion, he has over‑ estimated the age of the Great Sphinx (he has suggested that it may go back to ten or fifteen thousand years B.C.). I begrudgingly got involved in the whole controversy as a favor to a couple of fellow faculty members. I heard West out, but did not think there was much chance he was correct in suggesting that the Sphinx was older than its standard attribution‑‑until I got to Egypt. Then, much to my surprise, I discovered that West might actually be on to something, even if he got a few details wrong (but then West has no formal training as a geologist).
So what if West has authored a book on astrology  and propounds other unorthodox views? This has no more bearing on the hard data relevant to the age of the Great Sphinx than does the color of my eyes, or the politics of Islam‑‑or does it? In the tight, virtually closed world of Egyptology I soon learned otherwise. It seemed that everything was politically and psychologically charged. Egyptologists strike me as overly sensitive about New Agers, psychics, religious fanatics, believers in "pyramid power," and so forth, perhaps with good reason when you have all sorts of "bizarre" claims as to the meaning and purpose of the pyramids, et cetera , including the contention that the two larger Giza pyramids were landing beacons for a spaceport that was built on the Sinai peninsula in ca. 10,500 B.C. , and that the Sphinx has some special relationship to the reputed "face on Mars" .
Indeed, even some scholars well entrenched within the Egyptological establishment have New Age connections. It is common knowledge  that Dr. Mark Lehner's interest in ancient Egypt and the Sphinx originated due to his connection with the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E., the Edgar Cayce Foundation). Reportedly part of Lehner's college education was subsidized by the A.R.E. and A.R.E. members; Lehner was to be the A.R.E.'s "man in Cairo." Lehner wrote a book  many years ago entitled The Egyptian Heritage in which he] discusses the Edgar Cayce psychic readings describing a very ancient society that existed in Egypt, consisting of the survivors of the lost civilization of Atlantis. I have been told that Lehner's book is a "classic" in its field among devotees. According to Edgar Cayce, as reviewed by Lehner, the Sphinx and pyramids were built ca. 10,500 B.C. and under or near the Sphinx was buried a Hall of Records that contained the records from Atlantis. Interestingly, not only Lehner has former A.R.E. connections. Dr. Zahi Hawass was also in part supported and patronized by members of the A.R.E. I personally do not put any stock in psychic readings, stories of Atlantis, or the like, but Lehner's (and Hawass's, for that matter) past associations with the A.R.E. do not bother me as long as they do not impinge adversely upon his (their) current scholarship. Indeed, the A.R.E. funds and publishes much solid research on ancient Egypt , despite the fact that much of the research they fund or publish contradicts the Cayce readings.
Given Lehner's and Hawass's A.R.E. / "New Age" connections in particular, I find it ironic that they and other Egyptologists have accused me of being a pseudoscientist who aids and abets supposed New Age quacks like West, ( The Mystery of the Sphinx.) Maybe it is because of their former connections that they are so sensitive about such issues. I, on the other hand, having never had such connections in the first place, worry little about where the inspiration for scientific hypotheses and analyses come from. In the case of the age of the Sphinx, just because West might hold some unconventional views, that does not mean that his suggestion (based on the work of Schwaller de Lubicz  )‑‑ that the Sphinx is older than its traditional attribution‑‑cannot be used heuristically . West's preliminary analysis into the age of the Sphinx got me started on some very serious, no‑nonsense scientific research.
Here I might also note that ideology, theology, and nationalism often influence the manner in which archaeological data is interpreted . have to consider the possibility that my redating of the Sphinx may be repugnant to some persons primarily on the basis of political ideology and religious dogma. Modern Muslim Arabs can sometimes be openly hostile toward ancient Egyptian culture‑‑especially if it is seen as being relatively early and sophisticated. When I first became interested in the dating of the Sphinx a friend who had lived in Egypt for several years warned me that I might run into such hostility if I dared to suggest that the Sphinx could be even older than already believed. Initially I did not believe him, but now I tend to think he may have been correct. Many of the Islamic militants and fundamentalists who are currently attempting to take over the government of Egypt want to destroy all the statues and monuments of ancient Egypt. Fundamental Islam bans representational art, and all civilization that predates the prophet Mohammed is considered idolatrous. To suggest that portions of the Sphinx are even older than traditionally thought, implying a sophisticated society that existed even earlier in time, only rubs salt in the open sores of fundamentalists who must face (at least until they can destroy them) the magnificent remains of pharaonic culture.
Over all, I have found that Egyptology is a fascinating, but emotionally charged, discipline. My training as a scientist did not fully prepare me for the strong personalities that I would confront among the ranks of Egyptophiles. Since becoming involved in research concerning the age of the Sphinx I have discovered that I am not the only scientist to have had a less than positive initial experience when dealing with Egyptologists. Germer  has astutely noted that "In the past, cooperation between the natural sciences and Egyptology has not necessarily been successful in every case. The Egyptologist is initially suspicious; he often rejects results out of hand, and is unwilling to work with scientific data. He believes that he can do better with his own methodology. Only when he reaches the limits of his approach ‑‑ working with ancient texts or archaeological material ‑‑ and would like to 'prove' a particular theory by citing 'objective' scientific data does the Egyptologist turn to the natural sciences. If there are different scientific results obtained from the same material, the Egyptologist is often not in a position to determine which is most probable. Often it is a matter of choosing those 'scientific' data that best suit a particular theory, without really knowing whether they are reliable or not."
Here I do not mean to posit a blanket criticism against all Egyptologists. Rather, I believe it is important to note that the traditional methodologies used by many Egyptologists often differ in a fundamental manner from the approaches and methodologies used by practitioners in the natural sciences. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science debate on the age of the Sphinx, for instance, I became quite aware that my adversary, Dr. Lehner, may be a very bright and competent Egyptologist, but he does not "think like a scientist." In hindsight I realize that I am perhaps to blame for any lack of communication between Lehner and myself at the February 1992 AAAS meeting for I was incorrectly addressing him as a fellow scientist, which he is not. Lehner is an Egyptologist and approaches problems and data from that bias. Perhaps it is time to inject a little more science into Egyptology and see what happens. We might witness some interesting developments.
1. R. M. Schoch, 1992, "Redating the Great Sphinx of Giza," KMT, A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt 3:2 (Summer 1992), 52‑59, 66‑70 (editorial comments and figure captions, not seen by Schoch prior to publication, are by Dennis C. Forbes, Editorial Director, KMT‑‑note that on p. 54 the rear of the Sphinx is on the left side of the photograph, not on the right side as incorrectly stated in the caption); T. L. Dobecki and R. M. Schoch, 1992, "Seismic Investigations in the Vicinity of the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt," Geoarchaeology: An International Journal7:6 (December 1992), 527‑544 (unfortunately an inadvertent error occurs on the first page of this article: incorrectly it is stated in passing that Khufu "reigned during the late twenty‑sixth millennium B.C." when of course he reigned during the late twenty‑sixth century, or middle third millennium, B.C.).
2. R. M. Schoch and J. A. West, 1991, Redating the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt. Geological Society of America abstracts with programs [for the Annual Meeting held in San Diego, October 1991], v. 23, no. 5, p. A253; R. M. Schoch, 1992, How old is the Sphinx?, Abstracts for the 1992 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chicago [February 1992], p. 202. The latter paper was an invited contribution to a symposium convened especially by the AAAS to discuss my redating of the Great Sphinx.
3. During the 1992 AAAS debate on the age of the Great Sphinx my staunchest opponents, Drs. Mark Lehner and K. Lal Gauri, were unable to successfully refute my older date for the Great Sphinx. The AAAS Sphinx debate is well‑described by Paul William Roberts in his book River in the Desert: Modern Travels in Ancient Egypt (1993, Random House, New York, pp. 127‑135); this debate also formed the basis of an article by Paul William Roberts entitled "Riddle of the Sphinx" which appeared in the March 1993 issue of the Canadian magazine SATURDAY NIGHT (pp. 22‑24, 26, 28, 73). See also related discussion of this subject in John Anthony West, 1993, Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt (revised edition), Quest Books (The Theosophical Publishing House), Wheaton, IL, pp. 225‑232. I wrote a popular article for OMNI magazine on my redating of the Great Sphinx (R. M. Schoch, 1992, "A Modern Riddle of the Sphinx," OMNI 14:11 [August 1992], 46‑48, 68‑69). The editors of OMNI realized how controversial the topic was, so they invited my critics, in the form of Lehner and Gauri, to write a rebuttal to my work. At first they eagerly agreed to write such a piece, but after months of delay, they refused. OMNI then published a short afterward that I had written reasserting my redating schema for the Great Sphinx, and the OMNI editors commented that Lehner and Gauri "declined" their invitation to comment on my work (see R. M. Schoch, 1993, Reconsidering the Sphinx. OMNI, v. 15, no. 6 [April 1993], p.31). While most Egyptologists have violently disagreed, at least initially, with my conclusions regarding the antiquity of the Great Sphinx, there have been exceptions. For instance, a group of scientists from Waseda University, Tokyo, using different criteria and totally independently from our work, came to similar conclusions regarding the age of the Great Sphinx‑‑namely, that the Sphinx predates the time of Khafre (see Yoshimura, S., T. Nakagawa, and S. Tonouchi, 1988, Non‑Destructive Pyramid Investigation (2), Studies in Egyptian Culture No. 8, Waseda University, Tokyo; Yoshimura, S., S. Tonouchi, and T. Nakagawa, 1987, The First International Symposium on the Application of Modern Technology to Archaeological Explorations at the Giza Necropolis: The Substance of Speech, Waseda University, Tokyo; Yoshimura, S., S. Tonouchi, T. Nakagawa, and K. Seki, 1987, Non‑Destructive Pyramid Investigation (1) ‑‑ By Electromagnetic Wave Method, Studies in Egyptian Culture No. 6, Waseda University, Tokyo).
4. See especially J. A. West, "Civilization Rethought," Cond Nast Traveler 28:2 (February 1993), 100‑105, 168‑171, 175‑177. West is the person who first got me involved in redating the Great Sphinx; in this article he succinctly tells the human story behind the Sphinx research. This article also includes a sidebar and two photographs that I contributed (p. 103), forensic expert Frank Domingo's analysis and reconstruction of the face of the Sphinx (p. 104), and various comments made by critics of the Sphinx redating hypothesis. For a taste of the publicity surrounding my Sphinx research, see GSA Today (vol. 2, no. 1., p. 1‑2, January 1992) and articles printed in THE NEW YORK TIMES 24 October 1991, THE WASHINGTON POST 11 November 1991, NEWSDAY [New York] 25 October 1991, THE INDEPENDENT [London] 14 October 1991, USA TODAY 10 October 1991, THE BOSTON GLOBE 23 October 1991, THE SAN DIEGO UNION 23 October 1991, LOS ANGELES TIMES 23 October 1991, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION 13 November 1991, 11 December 1991, and 15 January 1992, THE EGYPTIAN GAZETTE 28 October 1991, VANCOUVER SUN 28 October 1991, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE 12 November 1991, and THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE 23 October 1991, THE NEW YORK TIMES 9 February 1992, THE WASHINGTON POST 17 February 1992, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE 8 February 1992, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH (London) 10 February 1992, SCIENCE 14 February 1992, NEW SCIENTIST 15 February 1992, THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE 12 February 1992, and THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE 24 February 1992. For related articles, see THE NEW YORK TIMES 27 June 1992 and 18 July 1992, THE LAW ENFORCEMENT NEWS 15 June 1992, THE TIMES (London) 3 July 1992, SKY MAGAZINE (Delta Airlines) August 1992, FORTEAN TIMES (Number 64) August/September 1992, INSIGHT ON THE NEWS 10 August 1992, pp. 15‑16; an article in MUNDO 21 (issue for September 1992, pp. 130‑137); and the Home Life section of THE PROVIDENCE SUNDAY JOURNAL 28 February 1993. This is only a partial listing; reputedly the story was covered or reprinted in hundreds of papers around the world, and also mentioned on a number of radio and television shows.
I and/or West were interviewed for a number of radio and television programs. I was featured in "Science Report, A Video Presentation: Scientists Tackle Latest Riddle of the Sphinx‑ ‑How Old is It?" produced by the American Institute of Physics, May 1992 (length approximately 2 minutes, plus 5 minutes of extra comments). This video was aired over various television stations in May and June, 1992. West and I participated in a live television interview, with Scott Simon, concerning the age of the Great Sphinx on NBC's Saturday Today Show broadcast from New York City, 22 August 1992. I also agreed to be interviewed by the Association for Research and Enlightenment/The Edgar Cayce Foundation on the age of the Sphinx; for the published version of this interview see "The Sphinx: Older by Half?", Venture Inward, January/February 1992, pp. 14‑17, 48‑49.
5. C. Hedges, "Egypt Holds No Terror for Those in Sphinx's Spell," THE NEW YORK TIMES 13 April 1993.
6. J. A. West, 1991, The Case for Astrology. Viking Arkana, London and New York.
7. P. Tompkins, 1978, Secrets of the Great Pyramid. Harper and Row, New York.
8. Z. Sitchin, 1986, "Forgery" in the Great Pyramid. Venture Inward [magazine of the Association for Research and Enlightenment and The Edgar Cayce Foundation], November/December 1986, pp. 33‑37.
9. R. C. Hoagland, 1992 The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.
10. A. R. Smith, 1988, Hugh Lynn Cayce: About My Father's Business. The Donning Company, Publishers, Norfolk/Virginia Beach.
11. M. Lehner, 1974 [14th printing, 1991], The Egyptian Heritage, based on the Edgar Cayce Readings. Association for Research and Enlightenment Press, Virginia Beach, VA.
12. E. E. Cayce, G. Cayce Schwartzer, and D. G. Richards, 1988, Mysteries of Atlantis Revisited. Harper and Row, San Francisco.
13. R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, 1982 [translated by A. and G. VandenBroeck], Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy. Inner Traditions International, New York.
14. D. G. Richards, 1988, Archaeological anomalies in the Bahamas. J. Sci. Exploration, 2:181‑ 201; W. D. Gray, 1991, Thinking Critically About New Age Ideas. Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California.
15. N. A. Silberman, 1989, Between Past and Present: Archaeology, Ideology, and Nationalism in the Modern Middle East. Henry Holt and Company, New York; C. Hedges, "The Muslims' Wrath Doesn't Spare the Mummies," THE NEW YORK TIMES 23 July 1993.
16. R. Germer, 1986, Problems of Science in Egyptology, In Science in Egyptology (R. A. David, ed.), Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 521‑525 (quotation from p. 521).
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