Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

Californian Archaeologists Unearth A Not-So-Ancient Egyptian Sphinx

Photo caption:

Photo by Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center AP

The 300-pound sphinx is the second recovered from the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes.

Archaeologists recently unearthed a curious artifact in California: An Egyptian sphinx.

Unlike the Great Sphinx of Giza, which was made of bedrock, this sphinx was made from plastic. And it wasn't carved by the ancient Egyptians, but molded by designers on the set of Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 biblical film The Ten Commandments.

The film featured thousands of actors and actresses, and the director commissioned famed art deco designer Paul Iribe to construct an ancient Egyptian palace for the film's backdrop. Iribe's final product was the largest set design of its time and included more than 20 sphinxes.

After filming was complete, the 12-story set was too expensive to dismantle —and too valuable to leave for rival film studios to pilfer. In a move just as ambitious as his filmmaking, DeMille, who created a second version of the film in 1956, ordered the set buried at a location unknown to the public.

Director Peter Brosnan and other filmmakers began searching for DeMille's lost city in Californian dunes in the mid 1980s. In 1990, after receiving a $10,000 grant to fund his archaeology, Brosnan found the very first sphinx buried in Guadalupe, Calif., a small city about 175 miles from Los Angeles.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center has found several significant DeMille artifacts in the past few years. "Given that these objects have lasted 94 years, even though they were only built to last for two months during filming— it really speaks to the craftsmanship and the level of skill that the artisans could build," Doug Jenzen, executive director of the center where the recent sphinx was found, told CBS This Morning.

The center has good news for Hollywood classic buffs, faux Egyptian aestheticians, and amateur archaeologists alike: It will begin displaying the sphinx and other artifacts from DeMille's lost city next year.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Curious San Diego banner

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.