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Colin Reader. Courtesy and copyright of Colin Reader.
In 1998, an English engineering geologist, Colin Reader, presented findings that also argued for an older Sphinx. Reader dated the monument to the First or Second Dynasties, only a few hundred years earlier than the conventional date. Reader's hypothesis attracted less public attention but also a more respectful reception from scholars.
Colin D. Reader, "Khufu Knew the Sphinx," (unpublished, dated October 1997, revised August 1999).
C. D. Reader, "A Geomorphological Study of the Giza Necropolis, with Implications for the Development of the Site," Archaeometry, Vol. 43, No. 1 (2001), pp. 149-159.
Stimulated by reports of Schoch's research, Colin Reader visited Giza and examined the geological evidence for an older Sphinx. Schoch had rested part of his case on comparisons of the Sphinx enclosure with Debehen's Tomb and other Old Kingdom structures some distance from the site, and critics had questioned whether the rock was comparable at these distances. Reader chose instead to examine more closely the strata inside the Sphinx enclosure. As part of his 1979 survey, K. Lal Gauri had correlated the strata on the southern side of the Sphinx with the strata on the opposite southern wall. There has been no disagreement over these correlations and Reader relied on them for his own analysis.
Reader observed that the erosion on the Sphinx was uniformly distributed along the length of its body (see Fig. 6.1 below). But the southern enclosure wall showed less erosion to its eastern half and more as it moved west, and the depth of erosion on the western end was greater than the depth of erosion anywhere on the Sphinx (Figs. 6.2 and 6.3 below). Behind the Sphinx, the western enclosure wall all along its length displayed the same deep erosion as the western end of the southern wall.
Fig. 6.1. The Sphinx viewed from the south. Erosion tends to be uniform along the length of the statue (lower portions are not visible because of facing stone). Courtesy and copyright of Jon Bodsworth.
Fig. 6.2. The southern wall of the Sphinx enclosure east of the major fissure (above), showing less degradation than the wall west of the fissure (below). Larger resolution image here (440 KB). Courtesy and copyright of Colin Reader.
Fig. 6.3. The southern wall of the Sphinx enclosure west of the major fissure, showing more severe degradation. Larger resolution image here (392 KB). Courtesy and copyright of Colin Reader.
If wind or the effects of daily atmospheric condensation were the only cause of weathering, thought Reader, the same strata on the Sphinx and the walls should have weathered in the same way. Burial under sand, if it caused weathering, also should have affected the same stone in the same way. Reader believed that the western wall and the western end of the southern wall had eroded more severely as a result of rainfall runoff that had entered the enclosure from the plateau to the west and northwest. The empty space around the Sphinx itself protected the statue from this runoff.
Reader went on to argue that the runoff must have predated Khufu. The plateau west of the Sphinx was originally bedrock with a cover of sandy soil. Rainwater would have saturated the ground quickly and flowed downslope as runoff. To build the Khufu and Khafra Pyramids, the Egyptians quarried the plateau to the west of the Sphinx (Fig. 6.4 below). It is not clear when the quarries came to be filled with sand afterwards. But even if the sandfill reached the elevation of the Sphinx enclosure walls, it would have been much more permeable to rainwater. The rainfall necessary to saturate the more permeable quarry infill would have occurred infrequently, if it all.
Fig. 6.4. The Giza pyramids showing the quarries. The Khufu Pyramid was built of limestone excavated from two quarries, one just west of the Sphinx enclosure and the other, the Central Field Quarry, to the south.
Reader concluded that if runoff was the best explanation of why the western enclosure walls were more heavily eroded, then the enclosure must have been excavated some time before the digging of the quarries behind the Sphinx.
Reader also observed that the northern terrace wall opposite the north flank of the Sphinx showed severe erosion, while the continuation of this wall to the east, opposite the north wall of the Sphinx Temple, showed very little erosion (Figs. 6.5 and 6.6 below).
Fig. 6.5. The western end of the northern terrace wall inside the Sphinx enclosure, showing severe degradation. Larger resolution image here (448 KB). Courtesy and copyright of Colin Reader.
Fig. 6.6. The northern terrace wall (left), opposite the north wall of the Sphinx Temple (right), shows very little degradation. Larger resolution image here (320 KB). Courtesy and copyright of Colin Reader.
To Reader, this discontinuity in the condition of the northern terrace wall was additional evidence of an earlier Sphinx. According to its leading scholar, Herbert Ricke, the Sphinx Temple was constructed in two stages, the second involving an enlargement outward of its north and south walls. The northern terrace wall opposite the temple was cut back to allow the northward extension of the north temple wall. Ricke did not specify the time between the two stages. Scholars believed that the northern terrace wall opposite the north wall of the Sphinx Temple dated to the Old Kingdom. Reader proposed that the northern terrace wall opposite the Sphinx, and the first stage of the Sphinx Temple's construction, dated to some time earlier.
Reader chose to date the original Sphinx and the first stage of the Sphinx Temple to the First or Second Dynasties (c. 3000-2800 BCE) to stay within the earliest known period of stone building in Egypt. Rainfall was heavier in the first half of the third millennium than in the second, and Reader thought that these centuries of heavier rainfall could have provided sufficient runoff to account for the erosion to the western walls of the enclosure.
Reader also proposed that the Khafra Mortuary Temple on the east side of the Khafra Pyramid may have had a two-stage construction. The western half of the temple resembled other Old Kingdom mortuary temples, but the eastern half of the temple was built of older-looking megalithic blocks. Reader named this eastern section the "Proto-Mortuary Temple" (Fig. 6.4 above). He argued that it may have been part of an earlier Sphinx complex.
The quarries used to build the Khufu Pyramid lie north and south of the ridge on which the Khafra Causeway now stands. The sparing of the rock foundation by Khufu's workmen was an unlikely accident, in Reader's view, and is better explained if the course of the future causeway already served as a path to link the Proto-Mortuary Temple to the Sphinx (and thus defined the angle of the southern wall in the Sphinx enclosure). Reader did not argue, however, for the existence of the Khafra Valley Temple at an earlier time. He suggested that the Sphinx, the Sphinx Temple, and the Proto-Mortuary Temple, all oriented to the rising sun, were an early form of a solar cult.
A.J. Shortland, C.J. Doherty, "Comments on 'A Geomorphological Study of the Giza Necropolis, with Implications for the Development of the Site'," Archaeometry, Vol. 43, No. 1 (2001), pp. 159-161.
T.A.H. Wilkinson, "Comments on C.D. Reader, 'A Geomorphological Study of the Giza Necropolis, with Implications for the Development of the Site'," Archaeometry, Vol. 43, No. 1 (2001), pp. 161-163.
Three commentators replied to the publication of Reader's last article in the same issue of Archaeometry. A. J. Shortland and C. J. Doherty of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford University questioned whether the western walls of the Sphinx enclosure might have weathered more severely from thermal effects since they were exposed to the rising sun every morning. The two commentators then asked (1) if there is similar vertical fissuring in other monuments or natural stone exposures at Giza that have clearly been subject to flash floods, and (2) if vertical fissuring is absent from post-Fifth Dynasty buildings that were also exposed to runoff.
The two commentators also asked if it is confirmed that the plateau to the west of the enclosure was in fact fully excavated by Khafra, so that runoff did not continue for some time afterwards. They also asked if there is comparative data on the flow of water over backfilled quarries on which to base a judgment about the susceptibility of such quarries to runoff.
T. A. H. Wilkinson of Cambridge University noted the paucity of pre-Fourth Dynasty remains at Giza. He cited the evidence against sun worship as part of the royal theology in Early Dynastic times.
C. D. Reader, "A Response to Comments on 'A Geomorphological Study of the Giza Necropolis, with Implications for the Development of the Site," Archaeometry, Vol. 43, No. 1 (2001), pp. 163-165.
In reply, Reader agreed on the need for more comparative studies at Giza. But he observed that runoff was not likely to have been significant after the quarries behind the Sphinx had been excavated, if it was generally accepted that sand and unconsolidated rock debris would be more permeable than intact rock. There was artifactual evidence to suggest that the quarries behind the Sphinx and north of the Khafra Causeway were excavated at least in part by Khufu. They were then worked as far as the causeway by Khafra.
Reader observed that the chest on the Sphinx, made of the same stone as the western wall, also faces east and was thus subject to the same heating from the sun. The chest does not show the deep fissuring of the western enclosure wall. Reader also observed that tombs cut into the western wall during the 26th Dynasty (c. 600 BCE) still show tool marks that should have disappeared if other forms of weathering alone were responsible for the condition of the walls.
In identifying an Early Dynastic Sphinx with a solar cult, Reader meant to imply no more than a local place of sun worship, not a basic element of royal theology. Some Early Dynastic remains near Giza found by the archaeologist Karl Kromer suggest that the area was inhabited at that time.
1. Herbert Ricke, "Der Harmachistempel des Chephren in Giseh," in Beitraege zur Aegyptischen Bauforschung und Altertumskunde (Wiesbaden, 1970).
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