Archaeologists working in sand dunes on the central California coast have dug up an intact plaster sphinx that was part of an Egyptian movie set built more than 90 years ago for Cecil B. DeMille’s epic “The Ten Commandments,” the black-and-white silent film released in 1923.
The 300-pound sphinx is the second recovered from the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes.
Dunes Center Executive Director Doug Jenzen tells Santa Barbara news station KEYT-TV that it’s unlike other items found on previous digs because most of it is preserved with the original paint intact.
“The piece is unlike anything found on previous digs,” Jenzen said. “The majority of it is preserved by sand with the original paint still intact. This is significant and shows that we’re still learning unexpected facets to film historical movie production such as the fact that objects in black and white films were actually painted extremely intense colors.”
After the construction of the lavish Egyptian-themed set in Santa Barbara County, which included more than 20 sphinxes designed by Paul Iribe, rumor has it that DeMille had them all buried in the dunes about 175 miles from Los Angeles. Some thought the reasoning was that the props were too expensive to move and too valuable to leave for other filmmakers to potentially scoop up.
The set of the 1923 movie included more than 20 sphinxes.
They lay undisturbed for decades before recovery efforts began. The newly recovered sphinx is expected to go on display at the dunes museum next summer.
Director Peter Brosnan, who set out in the ’80s with a group of filmmakers to find the dig site, chronicled the making of The Ten Commandments in his documentary The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille. This new sphinx head is the second sphinx to be discovered since excavations began.
Pharaoh statues and arching temple gates were also conceived for DeMille’s film, but so far prohibition liquor bottles, makeup, and tobacco tins are among the other items dug up. As Jenzen noted, dig permits are temporary and each project can cost around $135,000 to cover “the excavation, funding for two art restorers, and the administrative work.”