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A recent study suggests that the Great Sphinx of Giza was initially formed by natural wind patterns well before it was sculpted into its recognizable form by ancient Egyptian artists.
The study, released in the publication Physical Review Fluids, revealed that materials eroded by high-speed winds can exhibit unexpected Sphinx-like formations.
According to Leif Ristroph, a co-author of the study from New York University, our discoveries provide a potential explanation for the formation of Sphinx-like structures through the process of erosion.
For many years, archaeologists have pondered the mysterious beginnings of the Great Sphinx. This ancient structure, made of limestone and located near the Great Pyramid in Giza, depicts a lion’s body and a pharaoh’s head, thought to be a representation of Pharaoh Khafre.
The largest monolith statue in the world is a towering 20m (66 ft) tall and stretches 73m (240 ft) in length.
The specific age and intended use of this structure are still being discussed, but it is commonly thought to have been constructed during the Old Kingdom era in Egypt, approximately 2500 BC. However, alternative theories propose that it could have existed even earlier.
The researchers recreated the environmental circumstances that were present 4,500 years ago, during the construction of the Giza Sphinx, in order to demonstrate the effects of wind on rock formations.
Scientists are aiming to gain a deeper comprehension of yardangs, atypical rock formations found in deserts that form due to the accumulation of wind-blown particles like dust and sand.
The researchers wanted to investigate the possible transformation of the Great Sphinx from a natural yardang formation to the man-made statue that is now well-known.
Researchers gathered piles of pliable clay containing pockets of more resistant material, resembling the topography found in the northeast region of Egypt.
The formations were subsequently cleansed in a tunnel using a swift current of water to mimic the effects of wind, which had originally molded and transformed them.
Researchers observed that the movement of a water tunnel imitates the dominant winds of Giza. They also mentioned that the changing shape of the tunnel can be documented through the use of three-dimensional optical scanning, revealing its history and changes over time due to erosion.
Eventually, they arrived at a formation resembling a Sphinx on the otherwise plain mound.
The material in the mound became harder and formed the shape of a “head” for the lion. Over time, other features like a concave “neck,” “paws,” and an arched “back” were also created.
Dr. Ristroph stated that there are currently existing yardangs that resemble animals in a seated or lying position, which reinforces our conclusions.
The findings indicate that the ancient Egyptians may have come across structures in the desert that inspired them to imagine and create a creature of their own.
The discoveries are expected to have practical applications for geologists as they uncover the influences on the creation of rock formations.
According to Dr. Ristroph, the unique shapes are a result of the diversion of flows around more solid or less easily worn down portions.