More than 40 years ago, Farouk El-Baz – a space scientist and geologist known for his research in deserts around the world – theorized that the wind played an important role in its formation Great Sphinx of Giza before the ancient Egyptians added superficial details to the famous sculpture.
Now, a new study of University of New York offers evidence that reinforces El-Baz’s theory. A team of scientists Applied Mathematics Laboratory undertook to test the theory by replicating landscape conditions about 4,500 years ago – when the 20m tall limestone statue was probably built – and conducting tests to see how the wind shaped the rock formations.
“Our findings offer a possible ‘origin story’ for how the Sphinx-like formations can result from corrosionsaid lead study author Leif Ristroff, an associate professor at New York University’s Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences.
“Our laboratory experiments have shown that shapes that look surprisingly like Sphinxes can, in fact, come from materials eroded by fast flows.”
The team behind the study, which is to be published in the journal Physical Review Fluidscreated clay models yardang – a natural massive geological formation of compacted sand blown by the wind in exposed desert areas – and passed them with fast currents of water to represent the wind, finding that a lion-like shape was beginning to take shape.
In the desert, there are yardang that look like stilts or recumbent animals with heads held high, Ristrov told CNNi. “Some of them look so much like a seated lion or a seated cat, that they are sometimes called Mud Lions. Our experiments could contribute to understanding how these yardangs form,” he said.
Disputed by Egyptologists
The original theory that the wind had shaped a yardang into the shape of the Sphinx was first presented in a journal article Smithsonian in 1981 by El-Baz and has been disputed from time to time by many Egyptologists.
“Once the Great Sphinx was carved, nature played a role in further shaping it, but it is unlikely that its original form was based on a yardang – which are generally made of mud, while this one is made of limestone – as there are significant quarry and workings signs around her,” Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, told CNNi.
“It’s not so black and white,” answer the New York University researchers.
“No one is saying this thing is entirely human and no one is saying it is entirely carved by nature. The question is how much was naturally present and then further modified,” Ristrov said.
“What our study does is tell you that a large part of it base of the head, neck and legsit is possible to be carved by nature, by erosion.”
With information from: Scientists offer evidence to support possible Great Sphinx origin story by Taylor Nicioli, CNN