WATCH: Giant sphinx unearthed in Cali. desert, a Hollywood time capsule

The enormous, elaborate set of Cecil Demille's 1928 silent film epic is finally being excavated, and it's a sight to see.

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November 27, 2017 11:49
2 minute read.

The unearthing of Cecil DeMille's "10 Commandments" set (Quartz)

The unearthing of Cecil DeMille's "10 Commandments" set (Quartz)

 
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A giant sphinx is being unearthed after nearly a century of being buried... in a California desert 150 miles from Los Angeles.

The giant relic is just one piece of the enormous film set of director Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 silent film epic The Ten Commandments, which tells the story of the Exodus and a modern tale parallel to the Torah lore. After filming finished, DeMille ordered that the entire hulking, elaborate set be dismantled and buried on the spot in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, The Dunes Center of Guadalupe relates. Most of the set still lies there, and has become known to film buffs and adventurers as the "Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille."

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Rumor has it that DeMille hid the set away to prevent rival directors from using it to create similar films for a lower budget. Or, perhaps, there simply weren't funds to properly store and dismantle the masterpiece.

"There were about 3,500 staff people, extras and actors who worked on this film, so a small industry town popped up here in the dunes," Executive Director of the Dunes Center Doug Jenzen told KSBY, a local California NBC affiliate.

Now, archaeologists are painstakingly extracting the set pieces from nearly 100 years of burial in the sand. Jenzen told Outside Online  at the time of an earlier excavation that, much like the real Egyptian desert around Giza, the Guadalupe dunes have geographical attributes that preserve objects buried within. "You know how when you order something mail order and it comes with silica packets? The sand actually acted as a natural desiccant that preserved the plaster for the statues."

"The original movie set has 12-story tall buildings, lined with 21 sphinxes, so what we are attempting to do is excavate one of the sphinxes," he said.


According to Outside, the set also included a massive Egyptian temple, eight giant lions, and four 40-ton statues of Ramesses II. The set building required more than 1,500 carpenters and 25,000 pounds of nails. A line in DeMille's autobiography, published after the director's death, reads "If 1,000 years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization... extended all the way to the Pacific Coast."

The unearthing process is slow-going, because the sphinxes are made out of very thin plaster. "It's a really fragile medium, you have to excavate it really slowly, let it dry and then continue and do that in gradual steps," Ryan Wendel, the Historical Archaeology Field Supervisor of the site told KSBY.

It took over 12 days over the last few weeks to uncover just the face of one 10-foot-tall, 15-foot-long sphinx.

Writer and director Peter Brosnan first tried to excavate the site in 1983, but he was rebuffed by the government because the area was a protected habitat of the snowy plover. Funding also fluctuated, with various stakeholders in Hollywood and American history wavering in their commitments. One sphinx was partially exhumed in 2012, with more recovered in 2014, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Many of the uncovered artifacts are now on display at the Dunes Center, giving fans a glimpse into Hollywood's glamorous past. The center hopes to unveil the newly excavated items in summer of 2018.

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