Archaeologists have recently unearthed a suspiciously well-preserved sphinx statue buried in the dusty sand dunes of... California. You don't have to be a world-class historian to know that the Ancient Egyptians were not particularly familiar with west-coast America.
Of course, this is no artifact from the ancient world. Instead, it's a relic from the history of Hollywood. The Dunes Center archaeologists, who recently made the find at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes of California, believe this plaster-cast relic is a movie prop from the 1923 silent film The 10 Commandments.
“The piece is unlike anything found on previous digs,” Doug Jenzen, Executive Director of the Dunes Center, said in a statement.
“The majority of it is preserved by sand with the original paint still intact. This is significant and shows that we’re still learning unexpected facets to film historical movie production such as the fact that objects in black and white films were actually painted extremely intense colors.”
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, just south of San Francisco, were famously the shooting location for The 10 Commandments during the 1920s. This early cinema epic by Cecil B DeMille told the Biblical tale of Moses leading the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land.
It was one the most expensive movies ever made at the time, costing $1.5 million to make (well over $20 million in today’s money). Much of this money went towards impressive sets of the ancient Egyptian world featuring multi-story wooden temples and dozens of statues depicting sphinxes, gods, and pharoahs. The story goes that the set was too expensive to move after filming, yet DeMille was paranoid it would be foraged by rival filmmakers, so he had it buried. Sand allows water to drain out, meaning they didn't "turn to mush", in the words of Jenzen. As such, many of the 95-year-old structures are in remarkably good condition.
In the 1980s, screenwriter Peter Brosnan and a group of young filmmakers set out to recover these artifacts of Hollywood history. Over the decades they have been met with some success, finding prohibition-era liquor bottles, makeup equipment, and tobacco tins.
It might not be your usual archaeological find, but even this discovery is revealing some fascinating insights into the lives of people from the past.