Tonight on PBS: NOVA - Riddles of the Sphinx


So what's the story with the Great Sphinx? Who built it, when, and why? And what happened to its nose? Those are all riddles answered in tonight's episode of NOVA -- but there's much more interesting sphinx trivia in the program. Mark your calendars! It airs tonight, January 19, on PBS. If you miss the broadcast, check the PBS website as the entire program will stream for a limited time online beginning the day after it airs.

Discussed in tonight's NOVA episode: how the Great Sphinx was, for a time, painted in bright colors (primarily red); the controversy over which pharaoh the face represents; why there are additional layers of new stone added around the lower part of the body; why the upper part of the body is so weathered; what tools were used to carve the sphinx; and what it says on the stele sitting between the paws. I'll give you a hint on that last one: it's the story of how Thutmose IV restored the Great Sphinx, after it was buried in the sand. And he was just the first of many to do restoration work on the status; many cultures including the Greeks and Romans had a hand in resurfacing or restoring it over the millennia.

Further trivia of note: Napoleon's soldiers did not shoot off the nose; modern carvers estimate that it took roughly one million man-hours to carve the sphinx (thus, 100 carvers working for three years, plus a massive support staff to constantly repair the soft bronze tools they used); and the fact that some pharaohs were buried with lion bones -- the sphinx as a form is apparently a merging of a pharaoh (as evidenced by the pharaonic headdress) and a lion, a powerful symbolic combination.

I've seen my share of NOVA programs, and I recommend this one for anyone interested in Egyptology, restoration, construction, or watching a couple of gentlemen try to carve a scaled-down sphinx nose out of stone using ancient tools (what they learn: power tools are a whole lot faster).

Further viewing: check out Building Pharaoh's Ship (currently streaming online in its entirety) for more NOVA Egypt goodness.