Traditional Egyptology maintains that the Great Sphinx was carved around the same time that the Great Pyramid was constructed. I am relatively new to Egyptology but it seems clear that the base of the Sphinx (beneath the restoration masonry), the enclosure walls, and the blocks of the Sphinx temple are notably more eroded than the blocks of the pyramids. What explanation is given for this assuming these structures are made of the same type of stone? Especially as the pyramids are much taller, shouldn't they be exposed to more wind erosion, not less?

Is the Sphinx carved of softer stone? Is it because the pyramids were once covered by harder cover stones which protected them for much of their history?

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    Two speculations on top of @Semaphore's excellent answer. 1) The shape may also have something to do with it. When you pile up rocks they form a pyramid shape, not a Sphinx shape. 2) Scale may also matter. The Sphinx is 5-10 times shorter than the famous Pyramids. Large scale hides imperfections. Zoom in on a high res image of a pyramid and you'll see a lot of degradation otherwise hidden by its scale.
    – Schwern
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 20:30
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    @Zibbobz - That's a myth: the nose was documented as being gone long before Napoleon was born. However, its removal does appear to have been human-aided, not natural erosion.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 17:57
  • areas suspect to gravity + materials used = lengthOfTime Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 18:08

4 Answers 4


The Giza pyramids originally had a white outer shell of polished limestone. In other words, what you are seeing is not the eroded remnants of the original surface, but rather the underlying structure behind the casing stones. To get a sense of the past splendour of these monuments, look at the remaining stones in the upper portions of the Pyramid of Khafre.

enter image description here

While almost all of them are gone today, most of these casing stones were apparently still intact until just centuries ago. Wikipedia mentions that the Great Pyramid lost much of its casings in a 14th century earthquake, and was mined for the rest in the 19th century. Likewise, the Pyramid of Khafre retained a complete outer shell at least until 1637, when John Greaves remarked that:

the sides are sooth, and equal, the whole fabric (except where it is exposed to the south) seeming very entire, free of any deformed ruptures, or breaches.

So it's no wonder that the now-exposed stone blocks underneath show less signs of erosion than the Great Sphinx. The latter had been subjected to the elements for much longer.

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    Perhaps also worth mentioning that wind wasn't the only factor. Back in the 1990s, the Getty Institute did an analysis of the Sphinx & its bedrock, concluding that salt crystallisation had been a significant factor in the erosion they observed on the Sphinx. The Great Pyramid is built on higher ground and, as you say, was covered for much of its existence. It would therefore suffer less from this type of erosion. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 12:10
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    In the latest Assassin's Creed video game you can see this veneer, it's set in the 1st century AD. The producers tend to do their research with this game series. iamag.co/features/itsart/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/…
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 20:21
  • @Zebrafish I sincerely doubt that the apex, the pyramidion, survived until 1-100 AD, especially if it was coated with electron, a gold-silver alloy. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 22:01
  • @Thorsten S. Apparently "The game is set in Egypt near the end of the Ptolemaic period (49–47 BC)." Not sure if that's an error. This time period is the earliest the series has covered.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 0:58
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    Apparently, the apex was present around 200 BC (Agatharchides) but missing by 60 BC (Diodorus Siculus) Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 17:36

The base of the Sphinx is soft stone, and has been eroded. But is it really so much worse than the Pyramids? It’s much smaller. A chunk of equal size falling off the Sphinx will seem more damaging than if it fell off a pyramid.

Also, the Sphinx has a damaged face due to vandalism.

Plus, as pointed out, the Pyramids originally had a gleaming white outer shell.

  • The base is living rock, in a pit susceptible to scour. It includes the layers of seabed that a quarry would discard for even the inside of a Great Pyramid. Sphinx - How it was "made"
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 23:33

The slopes of the two buildings are different. When wind hits the two buildings, the pyramid's design makes the wind slide on its façade while the Sphinx faces the wind frontally. These characteristics makes the stone from the pyramid less vulnerable to the pressure inflicted by the wind.

In addition to that, despite the erratic characteristic of rainfall in the region, the slope of the pyramid helps running off water faster than the flat design of the Sphinx.


According to geologist Robert Schoch, PhD, the serious erosion on the enclosing walls of the Sphinx were formed by centuries of heavy rainfall, which weather hasn't been present at any point during the currently accepted time-frame within which the Sphinx was carved. From a purely geological perspective, the Sphinx or at least the enclosing walls must have been carved sometime at the end of the last ice age, at least to have endured that level of rain erosion.

As we see with some South American pyramids and other megalithic structures, ancient architects, engineers, and builders would build newer structures on top of preexisting structures, such as pyramids that were built on top of and integrated older pyramids. There are a few spots in the Giza plateau that have clearly visible different strata of masonry of vastly distant age; masonry with erosion comparable to the currently visible erosion on the New Kingdom buildings directly atop masonry that is centuries if not millennia older and is extremely eroded and worn. The point here is that while we might date the exterior of the Sphinx, pyramids, or other structures, if we don't verify a continuity of age throughout the structures, we might be incorrectly assuming X site is entirely Y years old because of dating done on the most recent masonry or other construction/refurbishing at the site. Many people are convinced that the Giza plateau is vastly older than we currently accept and that the current construction is mostly rebuilding or refurbishing on top of an older site.

Here's Dr. Schoch's brief page about it on his site: http://www.robertschoch.com/sphinx.html

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    Note: from the wiki page on Schoch : These conclusions do not have consensus in the scientific community.
    – justCal
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 13:58
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    I myself once subscribed to the fringe theories of Schoch and the likes of Graham Hancock when I was younger, and more naive. But there is not a shred of archaeological evidence to be found anywhere in the Giza plateau of a civilisation older than 5,000 years. No pottery, no animal bones, tools, etc. Whilst I remain open to the theory that the original monument which came to be known as the Sphinx may very well pre-date the reign of Khufu, the notion that any civilisation capable of quarrying the enclosure could have existed before the end of the ice age is frankly laughable. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 14:00
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    No disrespect intended towards your answer. It is good to share alternative theories and contradicting ideas. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 14:01

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