Robert Schoch, a geologist from Boston University in America, claims that the amount of weathering of the Great Sphinx shows that it was not constructed during the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt but in fact is some two to four thousand years older. As the earliest monumental constructions in Egypt date from about 2600 BC, Schoch and his co-author John West have had to invent a hitherto unknown civilisation to be responsible for the Sphinx.
Any talk of an unknown civilisation is meat and drink to those who believe in Atlantis, UFOs, conspiracy theories and all the rest of it. People have been quick to jump on the Schoch bandwagon and push the alleged date of the Sphinx even further back, from 7,000 BC to 10,000 BC and beyond. Some have gone so far as to villify Zahi Hawass, Mark Lehner and other archaeologists for not accepting the existence of this mysterious civilisation and claim that they are deliberately hiding evidence, that they are part of a grand government conspiracy to keep the valuable arcane knowledge in the “Hall of Records” from the public.
The fact that there is no evidence whatsoever for this unknown civilisation should be a problem, but it does not seem to have discouraged those who live in a world of fantasy. I can recall reading von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods in which he asked scornfully where the evidence was for the workmen who were supposed to have built the Great Pyramid. (His theory was that spacemen and/or priests possessed of mystic knowledge were responsible.) Having been to Gizeh and seen the huts of the workmen, I was not impressed. It is curious that the same question – but this time without a shred of contrary evidence – is not regarded as a problem by those who talk about this vanished civilisation.
Equally baffling – and equally unaddressed – is the problem of what happened to this mystery civilisation between the time when it was supposed to have flourished and the rise of the Old Kingdom. There are no tools, ruins, pottery or inscriptions, only the Great Sphinx, the sole evidence for a civilisation which lasted just long enough to create one single work and then vanish leaving no trace behind.
The other problem, of course, is the abundance of evidence for a Fourth Dynasty origin for the pyramids and the Sphinx. Pottery found around the Gizeh site is all from the Fourth Dynasty, tombs surrounding the pyramids bear inscriptions from that period, the workmen’s homes, tombs and supply chain can all be securely placed in the Fourth Dynasty.
More conventional geologists who have studied the Sphinx identify a number of layers in the bedrock which makes up its body. One of these layers, known as “Member II”, is the one which is supposed to show the clear evidence of aeons of erosion. The stone in these lowest layers of the Sphinx is so soft that it can be crumbled between bare fingers; it is also the most liable to wind erosion, for wind-blown sand does most of its damage in the first six or eight feet above ground level.
However even the harder layers of stone are not secure. Under the influence of cool nights and burning heat from the sun by day, large flakes constantly break away from the surface. Gray cement, poured into cracks in the rock by restorers in 1926, now stands proud of the rock surface a mere seventy years later. Imagine what might have taken place during the 1,100 years between the time when the Sphinx was constructed and its first major restoration during the Eighteenth Dynasty as recorded in the “Dream Stele” that stands between the Sphinx’s forepaws.
Schoch claims that, due to problems of pollution and acid rain, modern weathering is proceeding faster than in ancient times. Unfortunately he offers no evidence for this – and it is difficult to see what evidence he could adduce. After all, it is the essence of weathering that each chip of stone that falls away takes with it the evidence for the preceding weathering. Any talk of “ancient weathering” as opposed to “modern weathering” is not trustworthy because it is impossible to point to a worn patch of rock and say when it was weathered.
Schoch claims that ancient repairs have preserved behind them the evidence of this “ancient weathering”. Other experts have failed to detect any difference in quality or quantity between the stone that is currently exposed and that which has been protected by the repair work carried out in antiquity.
Limestone is very liable to water erosion, whether on the surface or deep underground; limestone caves are well known and limestone pavements, where the surface is fissured and broken, are a feature of many landscapes. Exactly the same processes have affected the Sphinx: there is a fissure three feet across in the back of the lion which extends right down to the base of the statue and can be traced on both sides of the beast and into the wall of the pit in which it stands.
In addition, it would appear that tectonic movements in geologic times fractured the rock in many parts of the Gizeh plateau. There are many of these fractures in the stone of which the Sphinx is carved, some of which intersect, isolating large chunks of stone that will eventually become loose and fall. A three ton boulder which fell from the shoulder of the Sphinx in 1988 and prompted the latest round of repairs, came from just such a conjunction of fractures.
Unfortunately Schoch appears not to have recognised the nature of these fractures and claims that some of them are “clear evidence” of water erosion. While the cracks have undoubtedly been shaped to a certain extent by water, they existed long before the Sphinx was carved out of the rock.
It is true that in other parts of the Gizeh site fractured rock has not been weathered and eroded to the same extent as in the Sphinx and its pit. As we have already remarked, there are many different layers in the limestone of the Gizeh plateau, some softer than others. The Sphinx, which stands at the lowest point of the pyramids enclosure, cannot be compared with layers higher up or further into the desert. The Sphinx is a mere 63 feet above sea level whereas Fourth Dynasty tombs with which Schoch seeks to compare the Sphinx are between 150 and 200 feet above sea level. Even if the layers were the same – a claim which has been disputed – the Sphinx is likely to be more saturated with water because it is closer to the water table, and therefore more liable to erosion.
It is even less convincing when Scoch and others attempt to compare the erosion around the Sphinx with that occurring in nearby Fourth Dynasty quarries. As we have already noted, the stone from which the Sphinx was carved is of poor quality, but the builders had to make do with that because it was all that was available for their purpose of carving a natural knoll into a huge statue. No one in their rights minds, however, would dream of quarrying such stone for building work. They would move to another location in order to quarry good quality stone – hard and with an even structure. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the quarry faces have withstood the passage of time better than the surface of the Sphinx and the pit in which it stands.
Within a block of limestone there are different layers of rock, some hard and some soft. As the stone weathers, the soft layers are affected more than the hard ones, with the result that the soft layers become recessed. Schoch claims that if the angle between the hard and soft layers is sharp, it is evidence of wind erosion whereas a rounded profile is evidence of water erosion. Other geologists believe that the nature of the rock is more important: a block of stone composed of very soft and very hard layers will erode with steeper angles than one composed of moderately soft and moderately hard stone.
If there is any evidence for ancient water erosion in the body of the Sphinx or in the walls of the pit in which it stands – and this is debatable – it may well be the result of water seeping or running into fissures and fractures in the limestone long before the first Egyptian set chisel to rock at Gizeh.
In short, the evidence does not support Schoch’s claim that the Great Sphinx was built by an unknown ancient civilisation. There are good explanations for any anomalies in the weathering and even where there are puzzles, the overwhelming evidence for a Fourth Dynasty origin compells us to look for rational rather than mystic explanations.
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