© Photo copyright Larry Orcutt
On 10 February 1997, NOVA conducted an on-line Internet question-and-answer session with the Director of the Giza Plateau, Zahi Hawass. At the time, Sphinx restoration was ongoing. Guy Stokes, of Fruitvale, B.C., asked:
Could the Sphinx have chambers inside it? How do you know that it doesn't have chambers? Have you tried x-raying it? And finally, does it have chambers underground? I hope you will be able to answer my questions.
Response by Zahi Hawass:
The work-in-progress at the Sphinx is concerned with the conservation and restoration of the Sphinx. At present, we are working on the north side. We have not found any chambers inside or outside the Sphinx, except for a passage in the northwest corner of the rump.
In 1980 I opened, in collaboration with Mark Lehner, a passage that opens at floor level on the northwest hind part of the Sphinx. This was reported to us by Mohammed Abd al-Mawgud Fayed, who had worked as a boy with the 1926 clearing of the Sphinx by Emile Baraize, engineer for the Antiquities Service. Mohammed went on to work for 40 years as an Overseer of workmen and guards for the Antiquities Service. Baraize found patches here and there where the ancient layers of repair masonry had fallen away from the lower part of the body, exposing the natural rock from which the statue was carved. One such patch was at the northwest corner, along the great curve of the base of the Sphinx rump. He remembered that the passage descended to the water table.
I had one brick-sized stone removed in order to check the story. Nearly half a century after he saw it, Mohammed picked just the right stone, for there was the passage. We documented it in maps, architectural profiles, and elevations, and these records have been published. One part of the passage winds down under the Sphinx before it comes to a dead end about 4.5 meters below floor level. The other part would be a open trench in the upward curve of the rump except that it is covered by the layers of ancient restoration stones. In 1980-81, we found that the lower part did indeed come to the water table, and just above this point the debris contained modern items -- glass, cement, tin foil -- evidence that Baraize had cleared and refilled the bottom of the passage before he sealed the opening by his restoration of the outer layer of masonry "skin." The passage is crudely cut, its sides are not straight, but there are cup-shaped foot-holds along the sides. It looks like an exploratory shaft.
For our Sphinx studies, the Centre Wladimir Golenischeff in Paris kindly lent us a series of some 226 photographs that were taken of Baraize's Sphinx excavation which went largely unpublished. A series of three photographs on the Sphinx's middle north flank show what could be a recess or grotto inside another place where Baraize found the overlying masonry fallen away. In these photographs, a workman seems to stand inside this recess -- or overhang to the bedrock -- just inside the masonry gap, with the floor level of the Sphinx coming about to his waist. Another workman stands outside on what appears to be floor level. Here, again, Baraize replaced the fallen limestone covering slabs using his tell-tale gray cement. This recess may be nothing more than the over-hanging natural rock which erodes into great recesses and projecting layers. Mohammed Abd al-Mawgud does not remember seeing another passage here. If we reopen the overlying masonry layers of this area, it will be in the course of the on-going restoration work and not to look for secret tunnels.
Florida State University, on behalf of the Schor Expedition, carried out a remote sensing survey around the Sphinx and elsewhere on the plateau for three weeks in April 1996. They claimed to have found "rooms and tunnels" in front of the Sphinx and running from the rear of the Sphinx. Several other projects have made similar claims:
SRI International did an electrical resistivity and acoustical survey in 1977-78.
In 1987 a Japanese team from Waseda University (Tokyo), under the direction of Sakuji Yoshimura carried out an electromagnetic sounding survey of the Khufu Pyramid and Sphinx. They reported evidence of a tunnel oriented north-south under the Sphinx, a water pocket 2.5 to 3m below surface near the south hind paw, and another cavity near the north hind paw.
In 1991 a team consisting of geologist Robert Schoch (Boston University), Thomas Dobecki, and John Anthony West carried out a survey of the Sphinx using seismic refraction, refraction tomography, and seismic reflection. The investigators interpreted their data to indicate shallower subsurface weathering patterns toward the back and deeper weathering toward the front, which they take to indicate that the back of the Sphinx and its ditch were carved by Khafre later than the front. They interpret their data to likewise indicate subsurface cavities in front of the front left paw, and from the left paw back along the south flank.
In 1992 Imam Marzouk and Ali Gharib from the Egyptian National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics carried out a study of the ground below the Sphinx using shallow seismic refraction. Their evidence indicated the subsurface rock is composed of four layers and no faulting. They report no evidence of cavities.
The techniques such projects use do not directly reveal chambers and passages. They only show "anomalies," that must be interpreted as chambers and passages. Faults and other natural features can also produce anomalies. We cannot give permission to dig into the natural rock of the Sphinx, or to drill into the Sphinx on the basis of anomalies, especially now that our highest priority is to conserve the Sphinx. Remote sensing programs should anyway be carried out elsewhere to test the techniques, and to demonstrate that it works before it is used to make sensational claims of secret rooms in the Sphinx.
Meanwhile, we struggle in our department to save the Sphinx and many other sites and monuments for future generations. We work hard to organize the site for tourism, so all can enjoy our monuments, and we try to balance tourism with conservation. If we found evidence of a civilization older than that of the dynastic Egyptians, we would not, and could not, keep it from the public. Nor do we try to stop reasonable research. The list of remote sensing surveys at the Sphinx proves that we have not prevented this kind of research -- and the list is even longer for those who have probed the pyramids. But now other priorities are far more urgent, and we cannot allow digging and drilling into the Sphinx on the off-chance that somehow we have missed the only evidence of a lost civilization!