Archaeologists Excavate Sphinx from SoCal Sand Dunes
The face of the sphinx statue recently uncovered by archaeologists in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Sand Dunes.
(Courtesy of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center)
When Cecil B. DeMille made his 1923 blockbuster “The Ten Commandments,” he used the massive sloping sand dunes in Guadalupe, near Santa Barbara, as a stand-in for ancient Egypt. Huge gates and towering statues were built into the sand.
It was biggest set ever built for the most expensive movie that had ever been made at the time.
When filming ended, DeMille buried the set in the sand dunes so no one from a rival studio could steal it. But that didn’t stop archaeologists from searching for treasures in the sand.
The California Report magazine first introduced you to the buried treasure in our annual Hidden Gems show, about cool road trip spots in California.
Last month, archaeologists there dug up their most impressive find yet: a huge statue of a sphinx, made of plaster of Paris and horsehair. (A sphinx is a creature from ancient Egyptian mythology, a cat body with a human head.)
"It’s about 5 1/2 feet tall, and 300 pounds, and it’s quite the statue to be working with," says Doug Jenzen, Executive Director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.
It took a team of ten people 12 days to excavate the waterlogged statue. The first thing they noticed was its color, which wasn't black and white, like the other remains they’d found.
"The part that was in the earth the longest had this deep terra cotta pigment to it," Jenzen explains. "It was a complete surprise."
Jenzen sees uncovering these relics from “The Ten Commandments” movie set as an important way of saving a piece of cinematic history.
"People around the country - and actually around the world - could go see these films and have these shared experiences for the first time," says Jenzen.
And, he adds, it’s also about bringing art to rural Guadalupe.
"It deserves to get some positive press and children here deserve to have these amazing things to see in museums."
You can see the sphinx for yourself when it's on display at the Dunes Center next summer.