Scientists in the United States have claimed that they have finally figured out how the Great Sphinx in Egypt was built more than 4,500 years ago. For decades, experts have believed that the detailed face of the iconic limestone statue in Giza was most likely hand-carved by stone masons. However, now, researchers at the New York University said that erosion can create Sphinx-like shapes.
"Our findings offer a possible 'origin story' for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion," said senior author of the study, Leif Ristroph. "Our laboratory experiments showed that surprisingly Sphinx-like shapes can, in fact, come from materials being eroded by fast flows," he added.
According to researchers, this now not only means that nature had a role in creating the iconic statue but the formation may have inspired Egyptians to turn it into a statue. "These results show what ancient peoples may have encountered in the deserts of Egypt and why they envisioned a fantastic creature," Mr Ristroph wrote in the study.
Further, to test their theory, the team of researchers analysed how wind creates and moves against unusual rock formations, called yardangs, found in deserts. They took mounds of soft clay with harder, less erodible material embedded inside to replicate the terrain in northeastern Egypt. They then washed these formations with a fast-flowing stream of water to act as the wind.
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In the end, the team at New York University discovered that the clay eventually resembled a Sphinx-like formation which was subsequently detailed by humans. This experiment resulted in a lion's "head", an undercut "neck," "paws" laid out in front on the ground and an arched "back," the researchers said.
"There are, in fact, yardangs in existence today that look like seated or lying animals, lending support to our conclusions," Mr Ristroph said. "The work may also be useful to geologists as 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 are diverted around the harder or less-erodible parts," he added.
The researchers also said that their experiment tested a theory initially proposed in 1981 by geologist Farouk El-Baz, who claimed that the Great Sphinx was originally created by wind eroding the sand.