About the Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza, sometimes referred to as the Great Sphinx of Egypt, or simply the Great Sphinx, is, despite centuries of observation, study and recording, a complex, puzzling and incompletely understood monument. What we do know is that in ancient times this limestone colossus was carved out of the rock of the Giza plateau to form the shape of a lion-bodied, human-headed hybrid called by the ancient Greeks Σφίγξ, pronounced Sphinx, that they referred to as 'Aρμάχης, or Harmachis. Both of these terms are thought to possibly be corruptions of Ancient Egyptian words: ssp-ankh meaning “statue/living image”; and Horemakhet meaning “Horus in the horizon”.

The Egyptian name of the Great Sphinx of Giza: Hr-m-akhet

In it's long history it has also been known by many other names including ʼAbu al hōl (the father of terror), Balhib/Balheeb, and Hauron-Horemakhet by association with a Canaanite desert god. If modern Egyptologists are to be believed, the Great Sphinx was known by no name at all (or at least one that was written down and preserved) for the first 1000 years of it's existence. These proponents of the current consensus history of the Great Sphinx suggest it's name was either systematically or accidentally omitted from written records from the time it was created in the 4th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt around 2500BCE. Most of these Egyptologists consider the Sphinx to have been carved possibly either by Khufu, or one of his sons Djedefre or Khafre and that it was not until the 18th dynasty during the New Kingdom around 1500BCE that the name of the Great Sphinx was first recorded as Horemakhet. Shortly after this time, around 1400BCE, Thutmose IV recorded on his “Dream Stela” that he had restored the ailing Sphinx at the foot of the pyramids of Giza to a semblance of its ancient majesty at the command of Horemakhet himself.

Others, such as Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock and Robert Schoch, disagree with this sequence of events. They have used geological and astronomical evidence to argue for a much greater antiquity for the great Sphinx of Giza, dating its creation to a nebulous ancient civilisation existing roughly 12000 years ago.

Following the relative stalemate reached between these two opposing camps, in recent years the focus of discussion has shifted slightly to a consideration of whether the Great Sphinx originally had a different style of head from that of a human. This debate has arisen largely due to the undeniable fact that the head of the Sphinx is disproportionately small (c.9.5 metres in length) relative to the length of the body of the Sphinx (c.72.5 metres, including the legs) suggesting that it has been re-carved. Consequently, Robert and Olivia Temple have argued that the head was originally that of the jackal-headed god Anubis, Colin Reader has proposed it originally had the head of a lion, and, Matt Sibson (Ancient Architects) has suggested that it once had the head of a falcon (a hieracosphinx).

Where the debate will turn next is anyone's guess but it is an amazing fact that this ancient and mute monument continues to stir up so much passion, disagreement and division. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that we will never know the answers to all the questions we may ask of it, and that is probably part of what makes the Great Sphinx of Giza so alluring, as it sits before us in plain sight yet remains tantalisingly out of our reach. What can be said with certainty is that, as we continue to argue amongst ourselves, it will continue to gaze silently and serenely into the eastern horizon, oblivious.

Title Image from The Antiquities, Natural History, Ruins and other Curiosities of Egypt, Nubia and Thebes (1780) by Frederik Louis Norden. Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.