Archaeologists Uncover Giant Sphinx in Calif. Dunes

Cecil B. DeMille buried 'Ten Commandments' set in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2014 9:11 AM CDT
Updated Oct 19, 2014 8:31 AM CDT
Archaeologists Uncover Giant Sphinx in Calif. Desert
Cecil B. DeMille's silent movie "The Ten Commandments" came out in 1923.   (joe25Xcel)

Archaeologists parted the sands in California to excavate one of the last remnants of old-time Hollywood: a giant plaster sphinx from the set of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. The director buried props from the epic movie (the 1923 silent black-and-white version, not the 1956 Charlton Heston blockbuster) in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes after the film wrapped. Among the props: 21 plaster sphinxes that were 12 feet tall and weighed 5 tons each. Archaeologists in 2012 managed to unearth the head of a sphinx they uncovered. Short on time, they left the body behind, and hoped to pull it out of the sands this time. What they were able to retrieve came out in pieces, but they also happened upon a nearby and largely intact sphinx before the $120,000 dig ended on Monday, KCET reports; that sphinx will hopefully join the previously discovered head at a nearby cultural center.

DeMille went all out in building the "monumental" set, hiring 1,500 workers to toil for six weeks re-creating an ancient Egyptian metropolis, KCET notes. Leading up to the gates of "Pharaoh's City" were four enormous Ramses II statues, as well as the sphinxes. "This was all before the age of computer-generated images—you wanted a big city, you had to build a big city," says Peter Brosnan, a filmmaker working on a documentary about the legendary DeMille set. Archaeologists had to dig out the sphinx slowly enough so its surface would dry, but quickly enough so it wouldn't crumble from air exposure, the Lompoc Record reports. But why did DeMille bury the artifacts? Brosnan speculates the director didn't want the expense of carting everything out of the area, and that he balked at the idea of anyone else using the set after he left the dunes. (See what a sandstorm exposed in a Peruvian desert.)

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