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95-year-old sphinx prop from The Ten Commandments unearthed

Entertainment Weekly logo Entertainment Weekly 12/2/2017 Nick Romano
© Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center

Another piece of film history has been discovered in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in California. On Monday, archaeologists dug up a “perfectly intact” 300-pound sphinx head that was crafted as part of Cecil B. DeMille’s movie set for The Ten Commandments, the black-and-white silent film released in 1923.

“The piece is unlike anything found on previous digs,” Doug Jenzen, the executive director of the Dunes Center, said in a statement. “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.”

a group of people in an old photo of a man © Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

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.

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.”

The new sphinx is expected to be on display at the Dunes Center Museum in 2018.

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