Colin Reader :
“Giza Before the Fourth Dynasty” - III
Première partie : ICI
Deuxième partie : ICI
The age of the Sphinx temple
The geological evidence described above is not the only argument to suggest that the Sphinx pre-dates the 4th Dynasty. There is also evidence associated with the Sphinx temple.
A study of the distribution of fossils within the limestones at Giza has established that the masonry used to construct the Sphinx temple was quarried from within the Sphinx enclosure itself. (30) This indicates that the Sphinx and Sphinx temple were probably built at the same time. Given the geological evidence discussed above, this suggests that both features must pre-date Khufu's development of the site.
Let us consider the evidence cited in support of the 4th Dynasty construction of the Sphinx temple :
(a) Archaeological excavation undertaken within the Sphinx enclosure encountered three large limestone core blocks within a mound of material supporting one corner of the 18th Dynasty temple of Amenhotep II. According to Lehner and Hawass, these blocks were left by the ancient builders '... as they were dragging them over to complete the core work on the corner of the Sphinx temple. One block rested upon debris containing numerous pieces of 4th Dynasty pottery.' (31)
(b) A tall vertical face, has been quarried in the Member I strata, immediately to the north of the Sphinx temple. This quarrying begins at a point aligned with the eastern face of the temple, passes under the foundations of the Amenhotep II temple and extends westward to a position opposite the north fore-paw of the Sphinx. This quarrying has been dated by Lehner to the 4th Dynasty on the basis of artefacts (including hammer-stones and pottery) found in a number of removal channels above the quarried face. (32)
Although this would appear to undermine my argument for earlier activity at Giza, there is evidence to suggest that this 4th Dynasty activity represents only a limited phase of construction within the Sphinx enclosure and cannot be used to date the original construction of either the Sphinx or Sphinx temple.
According to Ricke, a 'seam' can be identified which runs through the masonry of all four corners of the Sphinx temple. (33) Ricke states:
... this (seam) marked the outside of the walls of the temple in its first building phase. The north and south colonnades of the temple ... were added after the interior of the temple had been largely finished with granite sheathing. For the addition, the middle part of the north and south walls were pushed back, and great limestone core blocks were added to the outside corners of the temple, which were never finished off.
Given that the abandoned core blocks discovered under the Amenhotep II temple were destined for the 'corner of the Sphinx temple' they are evidently part of Ricke's second building phase. On the evidence of the pottery found beneath the masonry, this second phase of construction (together with the limited quarrying to the north of the Sphinx temple described by Lehner) can be dated to the 4th Dynasty. Ricke has not speculated on the period of time which separated this 4th Dynasty activity from the earlier phase of Sphinx temple construction. However, on the basis of degradation of the limestones exposed within the Sphinx enclosure, it is evident that the two operations were undertaken under very different conditions of weathering and erosion and were probably separated by a significant period of time.
The limited 4th Dynasty quarry face, identified by Lehner (Figure 1), was excavated from relatively durable Member I rocks. Since being quarried in the 4th Dynasty, this quarry face has been subject to weathering and erosion (including the processes of chemical weathering and exfoliation) - yet it exhibits only slight degradation (Figure 9).
Fig. 9: The limited degradation of the 4th Dynasty cutting (left)
immediately north of the Sphinx temple (right).By contrast, the same Member I beds, exposed elsewhere along the northern terrace, are more intensely degraded. The contrast in the intensity of degradation at the western limit of the 4th Dynasty quarrying is striking (Figure 10), with the exposures beyond the limit of quarrying being heavily degraded. The abrupt change in the state of degradation of the Member I beds exposed in the northern terrace makes it clear that a 4th Dynasty cutting has been made into a pre-existing excavated face which, at some earlier time, had been exposed to aggressive weathering or erosion.
Fig. 10: The western limit of the 4th Dynasty cutting (A)
and the heavy degradation of the limestones beyond.
Under my revised chronology, the distribution of degradation along the northern terrace can be readily explained :
(a) The construction of the Sphinx and the first phase of the Sphinx temple took place before Khufu quarried the site, during an era when the exposed limestone was subject to periodic erosion by surface run-off.
(b) The Sphinx temple was subsequently incorporated into Khafre's 4th Dynasty mortuary complex, at which time it underwent a second phase of construction when modifications were made to the northern and southern walls of the temple, together with limited quarrying of the Member I limestones to the immediate north.
(c) Because these modifications took place after Khufu's quarrying of the plateau, the newly exposed Member I limestones were not subject to erosion by rainfall run-off and, therefore, do not show the same pattern of intense degradation which is apparent elsewhere within the Sphinx enclosure.
Site inspection has shown that for most of its length, Khafre's causeway runs along a ridge of exposed bedrock, with a masonry pavement present only towards the east. Bedrock exposed beneath this pavement, on the northern shoulder of the causeway, indicates that this masonry is only a single course thick and has been used simply to provide a constant gradient along the causeway.
The eastern end of the causeway runs along the top of the southern Sphinx exposure and, when viewed in plan, it can be seen that these two features share a common alignment (Figure 1). Experience suggests that such common alignments rarely develop by chance, raising the possibility that the two features were constructed at the same time. And so, if the Sphinx pre-dates Khufu, it logically follows that the causeway must also have been constructed some time before Khufu's development of the site.Further support for this conclusion is provided by the two quarries which were worked during Khufu's reign and discussed earlier in this paper (Figure 2). When dealing with the southernmost quarry, Lehner states 'At the north, the floor of the quarry appears to slope up to the Khafre causeway ...'. Later, when discussing the northern quarry he adds that the area 'contained dumped debris which apparently fills an extensive quarry limited on the south by the Khafre causeway and on the east by the Sphinx depression.' (34)
Under the conventional chronological scheme 'Khafre's causeway' did not exist at the time of Khufu's quarrying. If this had been the case, why was the extent of the quarrying limited by a feature (i.e. the causeway) which was only conceived in Khafre's reign ? The conventional sequence of development requires us to accept that Khufu's workmen went to the trouble of opening up a second quarry, leaving an intact limestone ridge - which we now know as Khafre's causeway - between the two quarries. Why did they not simply extend the northern quarry southwards by removing the linear body of limestone which, at the time, served no apparent purpose?
The positioning of the two quarries clearly suggests that, like the excavation of the Sphinx and the construction of the Sphinx Temple, the alignment of 'Khafre's causeway' was established some time before Khufu's work at Giza. Under this revised sequence of development, interpretation of the spatial relationship between the causeway and Khufu's quarries becomes quite straightforward, with the existing causeway limiting the extent of the later quarrying work.
Khafre's mortuary temple
'Khafre's causeway' links the Sphinx and adjacent temples in the east to Khafre's pyramid in the west. When considering a revision to the sequence of development at Giza, the king's mortuary temple is particularly interesting.
Firstly, this temple can be seen to consist of two distinct elements, characterised by different architectural styles (aerial photographs show a clear dislocation between these two elements). The remains of the western temple (closest to Khafre's pyramid) consist of low lying, moderately sized, well squared masonry (typically one or two courses) and, when viewed in plan, a large proportion of this part of the temple consists of open space. By contrast, the eastern end of the temple consists of large (cyclopean) masonry, each block being the equivalent of several courses high (see Figure 11). When viewed in plan, a large proportion of this section of the temple consists of masonry, with relatively little open space. In many areas the masonry is severely degraded, with much of this degradation continuing across the exposed faces of adjoining blocks, suggesting that the erosion has taken place whilst the masonry was in situ.
Fig. 11: Khafre's mortuary temple at the foot of the pyramid,
with the heavily eroded cyclopean blocks in the foreground.
In addition to the quite distinct architectural styles, the cyclopean portion of the temple appears to be constructed on an elevated site, with ground levels falling away sharply to the east and less steeply to the west (towards the foot of Khafre's pyramid). These observations have been confirmed by reference to survey drawings which show that ground levels in the vicinity of the mortuary temple reach the highest point at the western limit of the cyclopean masonry. (35)
When viewed from the east - from the area of the Sphinx for example - the cyclopean section of the mortuary temple can be seen to have been built on one of the most prominent points on the western 'horizon' at Giza. The elevated site even obscures the base of Khafre's pyramid. This dominant position on the western 'horizon', the distinct and ostensibly more primitive architectural style of the cyclopean portion of the mortuary temple, and its clear association with the causeway (and consequently the Sphinx), might indicate that this structure - the proto-mortuary temple - also pre-dates Khufu's development of the site.
This suggests that (as was the case at Sakkara where the earliest part of the necropolis was built on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the valley) topography was one of the primary influences upon the layout of the pre-Khufu structures at Giza. It therefore follows that the alignment of 'Khafre's causeway' may have been established simply by directly connecting the prominent sites of the Sphinx and the proto-mortuary temple with a ceremonial way.
Rock-cut foundation walls
|Temples, Sphinx et chaussée de Khéphren|
There is one other feature which adds some weight to this pre-Khufu grouping of these structures - a feature shared by the Sphinx temple and proto-mortuary temple and, to my knowledge, by no other temple at Giza.
The floor of the Sphinx temple is some 3m lower than the floor of the Sphinx enclosure - the two being separated by a vertical cutting which forms the western wall of the temple itself. In addition to this western wall, some of the internal walls at the rear of the Sphinx temple are also carved from the in-situ limestone, rather than having been constructed from masonry (as is the norm elsewhere).
At the eastern end of the proto-mortuary temple, this same unusual architectural feature can be seen. Again the lower courses of the walls appear to have been cut from the bedrock as the general ground levels were intentionally lowered to produce a level floor. (36) As with the Sphinx temple, the full height of the structure was achieved by placing masonry on these lower rock-cut walls.
The Khafre valley temple
I have already set out my reasons for linking the Sphinx temple and the proto-mortuary temple - but what of the Khafre valley temple ? How does that fit into the development of Giza ?
I do not include the Khafre valley temple in the pre-4th Dynasty development at Giza. First, the work on the detailed fossil assemblages in the limestones at Giza (undertaken by Thomas Aigner ) was unable to establish the source for the valley temple masonry. This source, to my knowledge, has still not been fully established.
Second, there are also a number of marked differences in style and structure between the two temples. The main points are :
(a) The two structures are architecturally quite different. The Khafre valley temple consists of massive walls assembled from large blocks placed many courses deep, which surround quite minimal internal space. The Sphinx temple, by contrast, consists of a large open space enclosed by comparatively thin walls, just one masonry block thick.
(b) The columns in the valley temple are granite monoliths, those in the Sphinx temple are of local limestone.
(c) The valley temple is in much better condition than the Sphinx temple, with the walls having survived to a greater height and more of the granite casing remaining in situ. That the New Kingdom temple of Amenhotep II was built over the north-western part of the Sphinx temple (Figure 1) suggests that, even at this relatively early time, the Sphinx temple was already in an abandoned or ruinous condition. This suggests that it is not just the more robust construction of the Khafre valley temple which has led to its better survival.
(d) As discussed above, the second phase of the Sphinx temple construction, identified by Ricke, included the moving of the north and south walls of the temple outwards and adding extra masonry to the corners of the structure. Figure 1 shows the south wall of the Sphinx temple and the adjacent north wall of the Khafre valley temple both aligned with the causeway. The similarity in size of these temples and the alignment of the walls is taken as an indication that the two temples were built at the same time - in accordance with a unifying theme. This view is persuasive until it is noted that only in its second (4th Dynasty) phase of construction was the south wall of the Sphinx temple aligned so as to be parallel with the causeway and adjacent wall of the valley temple. In its original pre-4th Dynasty form the Sphinx temple walls were all aligned to the four cardinal points.
Towards an absolute date
The evidence presented so far only provides the most general relative dating for the construction of the pre-4th Dynasty Sphinx complex.
The use of stone in monumental architecture in Egypt is known from the Predynastic period. However, this usage was largely restricted to monoliths (e.g. Nabta Playa and the Coptos statues). The use of stone masonry for the Sphinx complex suggests a later era with a more developed method of stone construction.
It is generally thought that the oldest stone structure in ancient Egypt is the 3rd Dynasty step pyramid of Djoser. This is a misconception. The Palermo Stone attributes construction in stone to the last pharaoh of the 2nd Dynasty - Khasekhemwy. This date was consistent with the earliest known stone masonry in Egypt - from the Gisr el-Mudir at Sakkara (provisionally dated to the mid- to late-2nd Dynasty ). However, recent research undertaken at an archaic stone temple in western Thebes (Thoth Hill) has suggested that the structure may be dated (through alignments with the star Sirius) to c. 3000 BC.
These early dates for stone masonry in Egypt have been confirmed by recent excavation at Helwan near Cairo, where true masonry was used in tomb construction. The excavation team's report contains the following, passage:
The Early Dynastic tomb at Helwan is the product of a mastermind who had considerable experience in designing a monumental stone structure ... the quite secure date of Tomb 1 to the late 1st or early 2nd Dynasty consolidates the already previously acknowledged but never widely accepted existence of a school of stone masonry in the Memphite area which enabled kings and elites of this period to employ megalithic stone construction ... hundreds of years before the construction of the pyramids. (39)
So there was an established stone-working capability in Early Dynastic Egypt. There is, however, nothing in the archaeological record to indicate the working of large scale masonry before this time. The known use of stone masonry - beginning in the Early Dynastic period - thus provides a terminus post quem for the construction of the early Sphinx complex.
An additional consideration is that Khufu appears to have respected these pre-existing structures during his own quarrying operations, which indicates that they had some religious or other significance. On this basis, a possible sequence of development for Giza can be considered in which the origins of the Sphinx may lie at the transition between the Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods.
At this time the east- facing hill on the edge of the plateau - from which the Sphinx was later carved - perhaps resembled the head or face of a lion and was seen to greet the rising sun. In the Pyramids of Egypt, Edwards states :
In Egyptian mythology the lion often figures as the guardian of sacred places. How or when this conception first arose is not known but it probably dates back to remote antiquity. Like so many other primitive beliefs it was incorporated by the priests of Heliopolis into their solar creed, the lion being considered the guardian of the gates of the underworld on the eastern and western horizons. (40)
|Cliché Kurohito (Wikimédia commons)|
In the 4th Dynasty, it was the established association of Giza with sun-worship which led Khufu to select this location as the site of his mortuary complex. This may explain the name given to Khufu's pyramid - 'the pyramid which is the place of sunrise and sunset'. (41)
The choice of Giza as the site of Khufu's pyramid complex came at a time when the sun-god Re was rising to national prominence. Khufu's son and successor, was given the name Djedefre ('Enduring Like Re') (42) which perhaps indicates the importance of the sun-god to Khufu at this time. Contrary to the views of some commentators, (43) the use of the name of the sun-god in royal names did not begin with the 4th Dynasty. The use of 'Re' in the pharaoh's name, first appeared in the early 2nd Dynasty - the name 'Nebre' having been translated as 'Re is my Lord'. (44)
Later, in the 4th Dynasty, as part of the construction of his pyramid complex and to strengthen his association with Re, Khafre decided to incorporate the existing solar-cult monuments into his own mortuary complex - building his valley temple adjacent to the existing Sphinx temple (which he modified). Khafre then constructed a covered processional way along the existing causeway and incorporated the proto-mortuary temple into his own mortuary temple. Khafre may also have been responsible for the Old Kingdom masonry placed on the body of the Sphinx and for re-carving the Sphinx's head into that of human form (although work by police forensic artists has shown that this was not undertaken to produce a likeness of Khafre). (45)
Having proposed an Early Dynastic date for the construction of the Sphinx, there is one other issue which needs to be addressed. Is the more intense degradation of the western Sphinx enclosure walls and the western part of the northern terrace consistent with an Early Dynastic date for the construction of the Sphinx ? In other words, does this sequence of development provide sufficient time for the more intense degradation to have taken place ? I believe the answer to this question is yes, for the following reasons.
In the western part of the Sphinx enclosure, periodic erosion from run-off would have removed much of the weathered mantle - the result of chemical weathering which dominated conditions between rainfall events. This would have exposed comparatively unweathered strata from beneath. Given the increased soluble component of these newly exposed rocks, it follows that the effect of this seasonal erosion will have been to promote renewed phases of chemical weathering and exfoliation, thereby accelerating the degradation process.
Under these particularly aggressive conditions of weathering and repeated erosion, the more intense degradation of the western Sphinx exposures could quite easily have developed over a period of time which, in geological terms, was relatively short.
30. M. Lehner: 'A Contextual Approach to the Giza Pyramids' in AO 32 (1985), pp. 136-58.
31. M. Lehner and Z. Hawass: Archaeology (September/October, 1994), pp. 32-47.
32. M. Lehner, op. cit. .
33. M. Lehner, op. cit. , pp. 136-58.
34. M. Lehner, op. cit. .
35. V. Maragioglio and C. A. Rinaldi: L'Architettura delle piramidi Menfite V (1965).
36. I would like to thank Dr. John Dixon for the observation in relation to the Khafre mortuary temple walls (October 2000).
37. M. Lehner, op. cit. , pp. 136-58.
38. I. Mathieson et al. 'The NMS Saqqara Survey Project 1993-1995' in JEA 83 (1997), pp. 17-54.
39. E. C. Kohler: 'Excavations at Helwan - New Insights into Early Dynastic Stone Masonry' in BACE 9 (1998), pp. 65-72.
40. I. E. S. Edwards: The Pyramids of Egypt (Penguin, 1961), p. 122.
41. J. Baines and J. Malek, op. cit. , p. 140.
42. P. Clayton: Chronicle of the Pharaohs (London, 1994), p. 50.
43. T. Wilkinson: “Comments on C. D. Reader, "A geomorphological study of the Giza Necropolis, with implications for the development of the site"' in Archaeometry 43:1 (2001).
44. T. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt (London, 1999), p. 84.
45. J. A. West: Serpent in the Sky (revised edition, 1993), pp. 230-32.