Nature Aided in the Creation of the Great Sphinx of Giza?

Nature Aided in the Creation of the Great Sphinx of Giza, Scientists at New York University's Applied Mathematics Laboratory Said.

Nov 15, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Nature Giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza. Via Adrijus Adrijus


Nature allegedly had a great role in the creation of the Great Sphinx of Giza. Egypt’s earliest known landmark is a triumph of science and craftsmanship. This is the monument which stands 66 feet tall and was cut out of a single limestone ridge. However, a recent study discovered that almost 4,500 years ago, the ancient Egyptians possibly benefited from some of the natural powers in the area.


The Nature’s Role in the Monolith’s Creation

great pyramid of giza, Nature
Photo of the Pyramids of Giza, via


Researchers at the Applied Mathematics Laboratory at New York University conducted experiments to simulate the climate of northeastern Egypt around 2,500 B.C.E. This was the time of the construction of the Sphinx. What was their goal? To determine how rapid winds blasting across rock layers could impact the monolith’s creation.


Specifically, the group replicated yardangs. Yardangs represent a ridged terrain caused by dust or wind scrapes. They also frequently lie in dry environments. The scientists think it functioned as a foundation upon which the Sphinx came into life. By inserting firmer, less erodible matter into piles of soft clay, researchers also managed to replicate similar structures.


Yardangs, or landforms shaped by wind erosion, in Egypt’s White Desert. Photo: Shutterstock.


The piles needed to seem like the Sphinx after being “washed” with a fast-flowing jet of fluid to simulate air motions. The statue’s head also evolved by the erosion of the more durable material. It also acted as a “wind shadow” that shielded the body, according to a presentation by the team. The wind’s “turbulent wake” shaped the monument’s other characteristics, including its back, neck, and paws.

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About the Process

great sphinx of giza pliny the elder
The Great Sphinx of Giza, Old Kingdom (circa 2558—2532 BCE), via Forbes


“Our laboratory experiments showed that surprisingly Sphinx-like shapes can come from materials being eroded by fast flows”, said Leif Ristroph, an associate professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, in a statement.


He added: “The work can also show as useful to geologists. Why? Because it reveals factors that affect rock formations. Namely, that they are not homogeneous or uniform in composition. The unexpected shapes come from how the flows divert around the harder or less-erodible parts”.


The lab Sphinx
The lab Sphinx the researchers created using soft clay. Dye used to visualize the erosion on the model. Photo courtesy of NYU’s Applied Mathematics Laboratory.


“Our work proposes a simple picture for how [yardangs] might form, and we were able to test and confirm the hypothesis in lab experiments”, Ristroph told Architectural Digest. “I find this thrilling, that we can bring such questions into the lab where we can replay over hours what takes eons to happen in nature. And that these experiments can perhaps give a little insight about such a cultural icon as the Sphinx is a beautiful bonus”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.