Director Cecil B DeMille was known for doing things on a grand scale. For his 1923 film The Ten Commandments he had a large outdoor set built at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in California’s northern Santa Barbara County and when he was finished had the entire thing buried in the sands lest another filmmaker come along and use it. Now, nine decades later, the head from one of the 21 plaster sphinx statues has been recovered.
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Made from Plaster of Paris and weighing approximately 300 pounds, the head was surprisingly in tact after nearly a century buried in the sand.
“Given that these objects have lasted 94 years, even though they were only built to last for two months during filming it really speaks to the craftsmanship and the level of skill that the artisans could build,” said Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.
This is not the first sphinx statue to be unearthed at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. In 2012, archaeologists uncovered the first sphinx head to be found at the site. When they returned in 2014 to recover the rest of the statue’s body, they found that it had deteriorated too much to be salvageable. That expedition did find a second, more recoverable, sphinx head nearby.
Shot for the then astronomical budget of $750,000, The Ten Commandments‘s set was designed by one of the founders of the Art Deco movement, Paul Iribe. The set featured four 35-foot-tall statues of Ramses II flanking a 110-foot gate with the 21 sphinxes, each weighing approximately five tons, lining ane avenue leading up to the entrance. It took 1,500 workman approximately six weeks to construct.