Friday, January 10, 2014

Answer: What's missing from the sphinx?

Dan's picture of the Great sphinx of Tanis, currently at the Louvre.
As most people found out, this wasn't as difficult a challenge as it might seem.  The only tricky part was figuring out which sphinx this one is.  My preface said "Here's a picture I took of a sphinx in the Louvre..."  so it's pretty clear that this is a sphinx that will fit into a museum.  A few people wrote in with answers about the Great Sphinx of Giza.  That's a fantastic sphinx, but it's in Egypt, and a bit more than 75 meters (241 feet) long.  

So the simplest way to start this search is probably to figure out which sphinx is in my photo.  A quick Image search query of: 

     [ sphinx Louvre ] 

gives a grid of images, and from there it's short work to figure out that the picture is of the Great Sphinx of Tanis (aka the "Tanis Sphinx").  It's located at in the Egypte pharaonique, room 1: Crypt of the Sphynx. 

Pro tip:  Be careful to always check the name of the sphinx that you're searching for--there are multiple different sphinxes associated with Tanis.  Be sure you're discovering information about the pinkish granite one currently in the Louvre. 

Then, to answer the challenge ("What's missing from the forehead?") the fastest solution was to ask about sphinx foreheads in general: 

     [ sphinx forehead  Egypt ] 

(I added the word Egypt to avoid all of the sphinx moth hits.)  

With this query, you quickly learn that sphinxes typically have a headdress (called nemes, that striped cloth worn on the head in a gentle triangle), and an animal headband called a uraeus.  

A search for: 

     [ ureaus ] 

leads to a bunch of articles about this device--typically a cobra which is a symbol for the goddess Wadjet, one of the earliest Egyptian deities, and a symbol of the sovereign, royal, and divine status of the wearer.  

Interestingly, the uraeus was typically a cobra, but later, at the time of the unification of Egypt, the image of Nekhbet (represented as a white vulture; the symbol of Upper Egypt) joined the image of Wadjet on the uraeus.  

Since this particular sphinx is at the Louvre, I decided to search THEIR website for information.  

    [ grand sphinx ] 

Which leads to a pretty authoritative museum description of the sphinx.  From that web page we read, 

"This one was successively inscribed with the names of the pharaohs Ammenemes II (12th Dynasty, 1929-1895 BC), Merneptah (19th Dynasty, 1212-02 BC) and Shoshenq I (22nd Dynasty, 945-24 BC). According to archaeologists, certain details suggest that this sphinx dates to an earlier period - the Old Kingdom (c. 2600 BC)." 
 It was found in 1825 among the ruins of the Temple of Amun at Tanis (the capital of Egypt during the 21st and 22nd dynasties), so it was in the sand for at least 3000 years or so.  

Unfortunately, the record doesn't mention whether or not there was a uraeus on the forehead or not, but given the age of the sphinx, it clearly would NOT have been a double, cobra/vulture uraeus, but just a single cobra.  

There was some discussion in the comments about whether or not there really was a uraeus.  But if you look at these images, it's pretty clear something has gone missing... other than the nose.  

Tanis sphinx. Image from Wikimedia.
Tanis sphinx.  Image link to

And if you zoom in: 

Zooming in on the Louvre's image

Zooming in on one of Dan's photos of the
Tanis sphinx

It certainly seems as though something--the uraeus, the cobra emblem of divinity and right-to-rule--is missing.  

FWIW, the color of the stone is much closer in the first and last photos (the ones I took) than in the others.  (I don't know why people don't white balance their pictures when shooting.  It's not that hard!)

Search lessons:  First, be sure you're searching for the right sphinx!  If you do a quick orientation check, you'll quickly learn that there are a LOT of sphinxes in the world.  Be sure your searches are for the right one.   

Second, visually checking images is a great strategy--it's easy to scan through a bunch of thumbnails, identify the one you're looking for, then dive in and get the details. 

Lastly, using the site:operator is a great way to get instantly to the original source content.  I used it above to scope out the Louvre site.  Note that I searched in English because I knew that the Louvre supported multiple languages.  (Other museums that aren't quite as well funded might require that you search in their language.  Translate your query before searching.)  

Searching on, like an Egyptian! 

No comments:

Post a Comment