Archeologists Just Excavated a Sphinx in Southern California — and the Hollywood Back Story Is Weird and Fascinating

Archeologists Just Excavated a Sphinx in Southern California — and the Hollywood Back Story Is Weird and Fascinating

But the mystery remains: WHY?

By Kristyn Pomranz

You’re likely familiar with legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille. He’s the guy you summon when you’re ready for your close-up. The guy who made history with the world’s then-largest movie set, for his silent epic The Ten Commandments. The guy who then took that movie set, dismantled it, and then buried all of it in a bunch of sand dunes.

What’s that? You weren’t aware that the ridiculously huge and insanely opulent Egyptian set from The Ten Commandments — replete with a great wall, several hundred chariots, 20 sphinxes, and four 30-ton statues of Rameses — was just chillin’ underfoot in California? The more you know!

According to legend, DeMille decided that the set would be too expensive to move, so he instructed the crew to just bury everything in the giant dunes around them. That way, he’d incur no further costs — and no other filmmaker could use his custom-made pieces.

The "underground Egyptian city” was long considered a rumor, until documentarian Peter Brosnan decided to investigate. He spent 30 years fighting to for an archeological dig, but was waylaid by "permit people" and other logistics. Fortunately, he recently won the fight, and the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Association began excavation.

This past weekend, archeologists unearthed a 300-pound plaster sphinx, in near-perfect condition.

“Given that these objects have lasted 94 years, even though they were only built to last for two months during filming, it really speaks to the craftsmanship and the level of skill that the artisans could build,” Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center executive director Doug Jenzen told CBS News. "They would have used different pigments on the movie set in order to create shadows and light and depth and prevent this very solid look of one color, either black or white. So in the movie these are gray.” 

If all of this weirdness piques your further interest, check out Brosnan's 2016 documentary, The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.

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