Sunday, December 10, 2017

The California Sphinx

There's been a lot of exciting finds announced this week, Caesar's landing place in Britain, Iron Age human remains in Turkey, and a 3,000 year old tomb found in China. However, the most exciting (in my opinion) was the discovery of one of the lost sphinxes from the 1923 film set for the movie The Ten Commandments.

Image result for california sphinx
Aforementioned Sphinx
In 1923 Cecil DeMille set out on an ambitious black and white film entitled The Ten Commandments.¹ It was an enormous undertaking. DeMille hired thousands of actors, and built a lavish set in the middle of the Californian desert. The set was designed by the popular French art deco designer, Paul Iribe, and included more than 20 sphinxes.

The film was a hit, but an expensive hit. The Ten Commandments grossed about $4.2 million at the box office, but cost about $1.5 million to make. At the end of filming the set was too expensive to dismantle, and DeMille didn't want to leave it in the desert for another movie studio to poach. So, he did the reasonable thing, and decided to bury it.

Years passed, and the set was almost forgotten about. However, in 1980 film director Peter Brosnan started searching for the set. He was able to get a $10,000 grant from the US government to start archaeological work. In 1990 he dug up the very first sphinx, and the Californian desert has been churning out more pieces of movie set ever since.

One of the remarkable things about this find is how well it was preserved. The sphinx was made of plaster, and was mostly intact. The paint was a bit chipped, but otherwise looked as good as it did in 1923. 


¹He later remade an expanded, colorized version of this film in 1956

Sources

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