Colossal in size, the sphinx, Live Science reported, was roughly 15 feet in height. All in all, there were 21 sphinxes made for the film. All lined the path that led to the Pharaoh’s City. Cecil B. Demille directed The Ten Commandments. Thirty-three years later, it was remade on the big screen with Charlton Heston featured as Moses. The film, this time around, was produced with sound.
The prolonged exposure to the harsh weather, as well as being buried in the dunes of California, had been responsible for quite a bit of damage to the plaster sphinx. The decision to unearth the statue was spurred by urgency, as the archaeologists feared they might not have enough time to excavate the piece if they waited much longer.
M. Colleen Hamilton, who is Historical archaeologist of Applied EarthWorks, stated it was imperative that the sphinxes be salvaged now, saying, “The site is basically being destroyed through erosion. It’s become more critical to try to salvage some materials before they disappear.”
Executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, Doug Jenzen, explained further. In 1923, when the department of special effects had yet to exist, everything had to be built from scratch. If the scene needed a tall building or palace, then they built a tall building or palace. This meant the sphinxes needed to be colossal in size. The façade of the Pharaoh’s Palace, too, was one of the biggest pieces for the movie. It stood at an estimated height of 12 stories, and it was 720 feet in width.
Movie producers did their best to make exact replicas to be sure audiences believed what they were seeing. Body parts of the sphinxes were built in Los Angeles, and then were transported to the set over at Guadalupe, travelling a distance of 165 miles. There, the parts were assembled into the giant and hollow statues. An extra sphinx, too, had been built so actors who were playing slaves, could be filmed as they dragged it along the dunes, Jenzen added.
When filming ended though, the statues were left behind to rot and decay in the sand. Jenzen said forays into the site had yielded a lot of interesting relics from the past, such as tobacco tins and cough syrup bottles, which must have been the crew’s alternative to alchohol during the 1920-1933 Prohibition Era. “What objects like that tell us is that there wasn’t a whole lot to do at the making of this movie. These guys had a lot of really good times before takes,” he said.
(Photo courtesy of Live Science)