Over a quarter-century ago John Anthony West and I first formally announced our findings that the Great Sphinx of Egypt has its origins well prior to dynastic times. This was done in the context of a presentation at the October 1991 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (which was only allowed after our formal abstract was submitted for peer review and accepted). Quickly, following on the heels of the GSA meeting, our Egyptological critics organized a special “debate” on the age of the Sphinx, which was held at the February 1992 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Subsequently, in November 1993, the Emmy-winning television documentary, “The Mystery of the Sphinx”, narrated by the late Charlton Heston and featuring John Anthony West and me on-screen, was aired during “Sweeps Week” by NBC.
John Anthony West had first gotten the notion that the Great Sphinx is older than its conventional Egyptological dating of circa 2500 BCE during his studies of the work of R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz (1887–1961), founder of the “Symbolist School” of Egyptology (see J. A. West, Serpent in the Sky, first published in 1979). Schwaller had observed that the body of the Sphinx appeared to be eroded by water, not by wind and sand (as one would expect given the Sphinx’s location on the edge of the Sahara Desert). The implication, if Schwaller’s observation was true, would be that the original Sphinx pre-dates the origin of the Sahara, which has been a hyper-arid desert since early dynastic times, well prior to the conventional dating of the Sphinx. To confirm Schwaller’s analysis, West needed an “open-minded” geologist to critically investigate the weathering and erosion on the Great Sphinx, and thus, through mutual colleagues (one of whom at that time was teaching at the same college as I within Boston University), West contacted me. Much to my surprise (for at the time I was convinced that the majority of Egyptologists could not be so far off), Schwaller’s fundamental observations held up. Analyzing the surface weathering and erosion features, and placing them into a paleo-climatic context, I demonstrated that the core body of the statue must date back thousands of years earlier than 2500 BCE. Taking subsurface seismic analyses into account, I currently date the earliest portion of the statue to at least circa 10,000 BCE.
Independent of the work J. A. West and I were pursuing, Robert Bauval was also studying the ancient monuments on the Giza Plateau. Based on the orientations of the three major pyramids relative to each other and the Nile River, Bauval developed his Orion Correlation Theory—that the three major pyramids represent the belt stars of Orion while the Nile represents the Milky Way. The correspondence of these features on the ground to their orientation in the sky is not exact today, and was not exact even in Egyptian dynastic times. However, due to the slow shift of the relative positions of stars over the millennia, back in circa 10,500 BCE the Orion Correlation was an exact match. This date, arrived at by very different means, complements my dating of the proto-Sphinx. Furthermore, the eleventh millennium BCE was the precessional age of Leo (the lion), and at that time the Sphinx (which faces due east) looked at the Sun rising in the constellation Leo on the date of the Vernal Equinox.
Robert Bauval and I have known each other for decades, but it was not until joint fieldwork in Bulgaria during the summer of 2014 that, over a meal, we thought of collaborating on a project focused on the Sphinx and Giza Plateau. The result was Origins of the Sphinx: Celestial Guardian of Pre-Pharaonic Civilization (Inner Traditions, 2017). In this book we bring together the stones and the stars, the hard geological evidence, and the arguably more speculative archaeoastronomical evidence bearing on the age of the Great Sphinx and its context among the other very ancient structures on the Giza Plateau. In addition, we analyzed the archaeological and Egyptological context of the Great Sphinx and found the standard story lacking. Yes, the Great Sphinx was venerated in dynastic Egypt, but its origins go back well before dynastic times. Rather than carving the statue de novo, the dynastic Egyptians repaired the body, filling in sections that had eroded away with limestone blocks, and they re-carved the head of the original statue. The pharaoh Khafre was not the original builder of the Sphinx in circa 2500 BCE, as many recent Egyptologists have asserted, but rather a restorer of the Sphinx, just as was the pharaoh Thutmose IV some 1100 years later.
One criticism made by the conventional Egyptologists was that if indeed the Sphinx predates the time of Khafre, why is there no early dynastic written record of it? Could it have been simply missed? In fact, this indeed appears to be the case!
This past May (2017), Robert Bauval and I participated in back-to-back conferences in California and Arizona. One of the attendees at the conferences was our colleague and friend, Dr. Manu Seyfzadeh (a dermatologist with a passion for ancient Egypt), who privately revealed to us an amazing discovery he had made: hieroglyphic evidence dating back to earliest dynastic times that refers not just to the Sphinx but also an archive under the Sphinx, which corresponds to an underground chamber in the vicinity of the Sphinx’s left paw (see below). At Dr. Seyfzadeh’s invitation, Bauval and I joined him as coauthors on a scholarly paper describing this discovery that was, after being peer-reviewed, published in the journal Archaeological Discovery (“A New Interpretation of a Rare Old Kingdom Dual Title: The King’s Chief Librarian and Guardian of the Royal Archives of Mehit,” 2017, vol. 5, pp. 163–177: https://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=77957). I believe this paper and its implications are profound and history altering.
The pharaoh (king) Khufu (middle twenty-sixth century BCE) is the traditional builder of the Great Pyramid (of course, this is highly controversial in some circles; Bauval’s work suggests that if not the actual pyramid, at least its location, goes back to a much earlier period). Khufu’s vizier was a man named Hemiunu. As Dr. Seyfzadeh pointed out to Bauval and me, on the base of a statue of Hemiunu there is a dual/tandem title that has eluded full translation by the Egyptological establishment. This tandem title is not an isolated instance; it is also found on a stunningly beautiful stele of the royal prince Wepemnefret, a son of Khufu who may have served as vizier following Hemiunu. Furthermore, this title goes back in time well before Khufu and the Fourth Dynasty, as it is also found on wooden panels of Hesy-Re (Hesy-Ra, or Hesire), a high official in the court of king Djoser (middle or late twenty-seventh century BCE) of the Third Dynasty.
Before I proceed, I want to make the point that this dual title is found associated with individuals who preceded the date (circa 2500 BCE) generally attributed to the Great Sphinx by conventional Egyptologists. Possibly Wepemnefret could have known Khafre in life, but without doubt Hesy-Re lived a century or more prior to the time of Khafre and the supposed construction of the Great Sphinx.
This tandem title found in identical form (even taking stylistic differences due to the different sculptors into account, analogous to different fonts that can be used for our alphabetic letters, they are virtually identical) consists of seven, distinct signs or symbols, as recognized by Egyptologists, written in the following order: 1) Axe; 2) Reed and Inkwell, forming a single symbol; 3) Sedge (a plant found in Egypt); 4) Bread loaf; 5) Axe; 6) Bent Rod (this is a mysterious, previously undeciphered sign); and 7) Recumbent Lioness.
The axe symbol is standardly translated along the lines of overseer, master, architect, master builder, or carpenter; that is, it denotes some sort of high official or person in charge of something of major importance. The fact that there are two axes indicates that this is a dual title; in the three examples noted above, associated with three different individuals, the two titles occur together. The reed and inkwell, sedge, and bread loaf associated with the first portion of the dual title have generally been translated to mean that the official holding this title was the overseer of the royal scribes and/or architects (the two are conceivably related, as architects would have to draw and record building plans and construction details)—an extremely important position, for such a person would be responsible for royal records and accounts, essential in governing the vast territory held by the pharaoh.
But what could the second title represent? The axe of the second title is identical to that of the first, and thus presumably has the same meaning, that of an overseer or similar high official. But what is the apparent “bent rod,” and what does the lioness represent? The lioness of this second title appears to be the same lioness represented elsewhere on the Wepemnefret stele, specifically in the name of the goddess Mehit (who could act as a protectress, taking the form of a female lion). Thus the Egyptologist William Stevenson Smith (1907–1969) translated this title as “Craftsman of Mehit” (Archaeology, March 1963, p. 12). But what is the strange “bent rod” protruding from, or entering into, the back of the lioness? This is a symbol that has eluded Egyptologists, in part due to its extreme rarity. It was neither listed nor translated by either Alan H. Gardiner (1879–1963) or E. A. Wallis Budge (1857–1934). More recently, some Egyptologists have associated the “bent rod” with a mooring post used in the docking of a boat, but this appears to be based simply on a superficial visual similarity to mooring posts and neither seems convincing nor makes sense in the context under consideration.
I believe that Dr. Seyfzadeh solved the mystery of the “bent rod” by his suggestion that it represents a physical key that was used to open a lock. We know that by the Middle Kingdom (circa early second millennium BCE), the Egyptians had simple lock-and-key devices; now there is evidence that such devices go back to a much earlier period. Most likely, however, at such a very early date locks and keys were familiar to only the elite nobility, and thus references to or depictions of such devices appeared very rarely.
Why would anyone stick a key in the back of a lioness? This makes no more sense than sticking a mooring post in her back, unless the lioness represents something else, such as a building or statue protecting a locked chamber or vault. Was the physical structure securing or protecting a locked vault in the shape of a lioness? Immediately the Great Sphinx comes to mind. But the Sphinx as we see it today has a lion’s body with a human head. However, the head was re-carved in dynastic times. Since my earliest studies of the Great Sphinx, I have suggested that originally the statue was a recumbent lion. The locked chamber, or vault, associated with a lioness, was apparently indicated by the dual title. During the seismic work that Dr. Thomas Dobecki and I carried out around the Great Sphinx in the early 1990s, we located a chamber under the Sphinx in the vicinity of the left paw (see Origins of the Sphinx, pp. 70–86).
Now everything seemed to come together. The second portion of the dual title refers to an overseer, master, guardian, or possessor of a key that opened a vault that was, based on the first portion of the dual title (referring to scribes and records), an archive, a “Hall of Records,” guarded by a lioness. Furthermore, based on the striking similarity between Mehit (as shown on the Wepemnefret stele) and the lioness in the dual title, this guardian lioness is Mehit. In the real, physical, world, one might suspect that the actual archive was located in the chamber under the Great Sphinx and, prior to the re-carving of its head, the Sphinx was a representation of the lioness Mehit. The dual title can be translated concretely as “Overseer of the Scribes of the King and Master of the Key to the Lioness” or, more fluently as “The King’s Chief Librarian and Guardian of the Royal Archives of Mehit.”
Were the “Royal Archives of Mehit” located on the Giza Plateau in a chamber under the Sphinx? The answer may lie in seal impressions of the First Dynasty pharaoh Djer (circa late thirty-first century BCE, some 500 years prior to Khufu). One of the seals records a lioness with three rods inserted into her back; the later, single rod and lioness symbol may be a simplification of this earlier sign. On the same seal there appears to be a chambered edifice or structure depicted (possibly representing something underground?) on top of which sits an animal, protecting it. This is highly reminiscent of the way the Great Sphinx is shown sitting upon or over an edifice more than a millennium and a half later on the famous “Dream Stele” erected by Thutmose IV (circa 1400 BCE) between the paws of the Sphinx. Furthermore, on the seal impression of Djer is found a symbol that may represent “ropes” or “stau,” the latter being a fragment of the name “Rostau,” which is how the ancient Egyptians referred to the Giza Plateau where the Sphinx is located (the plateau contains many underground caves and chambers, both artificial and natural, that could be accessed via ropes used to descend into them from ground level—hence the association of ropes and Rostau).
Thus there is a strong case to be made that as early as the First Dynasty (when some of the first written records in Egypt were kept), the Sphinx—which at that time was a lioness named Mehit—existed on the Giza Plateau and guarded a locked chamber where archives were stored. How far back in time the proto-Sphinx goes, so far the written records do not tell us; however, the various analyses carried out by Robert Bauval and me suggest a date going back to at least the eleventh millennium BCE. The hieroglyphic evidence that I have just discussed does not contradict such an extreme age. Indeed, there is a hieroglyphic symbol that represents the forepart of a lion (sign “F4” in a list compiled by Gardiner) that may have been inspired by the proto-Sphinx/lioness prior to the body being fully carved. This symbol may be the root of the ancient Egyptian word for “ancient” (that is, ancient to the Egyptians 4,000 to 5,000 or more years ago), which is in keeping with the proto-Sphinx (the original statue of the lioness Mehit) being extremely old indeed.
One final note: We dedicated the Archaeological Discovery article to John Anthony West, who (as I write this) is bravely fighting Stage 4 cancer. Also, we re-designated the tandem hieroglyph that we reinterpreted, composed of the bent rod and the lioness, as the “J.A.W. Sign” in his honor.
Robert M. Schoch, Honorary Professor at the Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy, Director of the Institute for the Study of the Origins of Civilization at Boston University, and a full-time faculty member at B.U.’s College of General Studies, earned his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics at Yale University. Best known for re-dating the Great Sphinx, he is the author of Forgotten Civilization: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future, and many other books. Website: http://www.robertschoch.com