RESPONSE TO THE RECENT PAPERS WRITTEN BY ROBERT SCHOCH AND DAVID BILLINGTON CONCERNING THE AGE OF THE SPHINX
© Ian Lawton Mar 2000
The debate over the age of the Sphinx has received a fresh impetus of late. Chris Ogilvie-Herald and I covered it in some depth in Giza: The Truth; geological engineer Colin Reader's paper Khufu Knew the Sphinx has gained increasing visibility, partly through my publishing it on my web site; and geologist Dr. Robert Schoch and independent researcher David Billington have both recently published detailed critiques of Chapter 7 of G:TT. As a result of all this new activity, and in the interests of moving the debate forward in a balanced way, we invited perhaps the three most prominent members of the "orthodox" camp on this issue to respond to the new evidence and arguments. Egyptologist Dr. Mark Lehner and geologist Dr. K. Lal Gauri have as yet not responded to this initiative, but geologist Dr. James Harrell, who came into the debate with his "wet-sand" hypothesis via KMT magazine back in 1994, kindly prepared a new paper for us to publish here. Colin Reader has also prepared a new paper for us in order to respond to all the foregoing, and we are now pulling all this together and doing the same. Our thanks go to all of the above-mentioned researchers for their constructive attempts to help this important and high-profile debate to move forwards. (Note: all references in this paper to the work of these authors are to these most recently published papers, unless otherwise stated.)
In his response Robert Schoch has deliberately stuck to a critique of the hardback version of G:TT published last August. In doing so he has deliberately overlooked the fact that we have updated our stance somewhat since this time, and are now prepared to allow for the possibility that the Sphinx predates the 4th Dynasty. (We did make him personally aware of this in a private email to John Anthony West copied to him dated 16 December 1999, and also made open postings about this both on my web site and on the Daily Grail.) In order that we do not waste our own or other people's time on elements of the debate about which we do not necessarily disagree with him any longer, we would initially like to explain the reasons for this change which are summarised in the updated paperback version of G:TT (due out in April this year), before turning to various dating and other issues.
Anyone who has followed this debate closely and read our recent public statements will know that we have given the bulk of the credit for this change of stance to Reader and his new evidence (albeit that as we will see we do not necessarily agree with the entirety of his analysis and dating). This is deliberate, for reasons we will explain shortly, but let us state at the outset that to the extent that we do not now necessarily disagree with Schoch that the Sphinx may predate the 4th Dynasty, we do not attempt to remove any of the credit from him, or for that matter West, for having initiated the debate in the first place and having performed the pioneering work. So why the change, when we were so clearly opposed to their hypothesis in the original version of G:TT? Reader came up with four new pieces of analysis which in our view fundamentally alter the position, and we will briefly examine each in turn.
The first is Reader's rebuttal of the chemical and "overlaid" weathering hypothesis put forward primarily by Gauri, which we previously regarded as sufficiently sound that the orthodox dating did not need to be questionned, or certainly not on geological grounds. He homes in on the discrepancy between the weathering patterns on the sub-vertical joints as they appear on the western wall of the Sphinx enclosure as against how they appear on the rump of the Sphinx. In the former they are deeply incised with a rounded profile, more so at the top than the bottom, and on the latter they are hardly noticeable. By contrast with the comparisons usually made by Schoch and others with other structures on the Plateau, in this case we are unquestionnably comparing like with like. We therefore accept that the weathering on the enclosure walls requires some other agent to be at work, and that this agent can only be water run-off.
It has been suggested that we had not read all of the relevant literature, and it is certainly true that we have not read everything Schoch has published about this issue. However nothing we have ever seen of his has come remotely near to having the clarity of logic in rebutting Gauri's arguments as this new argument of Reader's. If Schoch has expressed this point with the same clarity before, then we apologise for not having picked it up, but certainly it does not appear in any of his mainstream articles, and his rebuttal of Gauri even in his recent response still omits this vital point. As far as we can tell the closest he gets is to point out the discrepancy between the relative lack of weathering of the eastern end of the southern enclosure wall as against its western end, and as against the western wall itself. But this has nowhere near the same power of argument as discussing the weathering on the same joints at different places but only a few metres apart.
Indeed, Schoch tends to confuse this issue, for example in the following statement from his response:
I do not believe that there has been enough rainfall in the area over the last 5000 years to account for the tremendous degradation of the actual limestone bedrock as seen on the western end of the Sphinx enclosure, much less to account for the extreme weathering and erosion seen on the core body of the Sphinx itself. The latter is an important point, because in the case of the body of the Sphinx only the back (top) of the Sphinx serves as a catchment area for any subsequent runoff. [my italics]
It is precisely the fact that the Sphinx's body does not show any significant evidence of run-off erosion that makes Reader's analysis so powerful.
In any case, lest we be accused of being biased against Schoch, there is another essential point to be made here. That is, even if we had been totally persuaded by Schoch's geological analysis that rainfall run-off was the only explanation for the weathering patterns seen in the Sphinx enclosure, we would most likely still have tended to side with an orthodox date because of the amount of rain that we know has fallen in short bursts since the onset of the supposedly "arid" conditions c. 2350 BC (and for which we provided significant evidence in G:TT). It took a further piece of Reader's evidence to invalidate this piece of the orthodox jigsaw…
The Khufu and Khafre Quarries
The second of Reader's points concerns the Khufu and Khafre quarries immediately to the west of the Sphinx enclosure, which extend almost all the way to the Second Pyramid. (See my web site for a diagram.) He contends that even after these were backfilled they would be sufficiently more porous than the original bedrock that for surface run-off to occur would require massive and persistent rainfall - and that even then the dip which still remains in the topography of the site where backfill is not to the original plateau level would thwart any serious run-off into the Sphinx enclosure. Once again, this is an issue we have not seen raised anywhere else, and certainly not in mainstream articles. But of course its significance is huge, because if no run-off was possible after the quarrying even if there was plenty of sporadic heavy rain, the weathering would have to have occurred pre-Khufu.
A new twist to this analysis has however emerged recently. In some recent correspondence with us Egyptologist David Rohl mentioned that back in the early 90's he had seen a "torrent of water cascading into the enclosure during a rain storm". At first sight this appeared to scupper Reader's argument about the quarry. However further discussions with both parties revealed some telling points. For a start Rohl pointed out that the run-off he witnessed was confined to the south-western corner of the enclosure only, just by the causeway. Clearly if it only manages to run-off at the corner in modern "post-quarry" times this cannot explain the vertical weathering further along the west and south walls. We therefore suggest that anyone who visits the Plateau during a rainstorm should take fresh observations to see if the run-off ever extends over a wider area.
However in any case Reader was able to counter further. He points out, as have others before him, that there are a number of tombs cut into the rock-face of the western enclosure wall that date to the Saite period or 26th Dynasty c. 600 BC - and that just inside the entrances to these tombs, where the limestone is still sufficiently exposed that you could expect it to be weathered by water run-off if it occurred, the original chisel-marks of the tomb-cutting are still in evidence. Although photographs of this would be useful, the logic of the argument is that if run-off has been insufficient to significantly erode these entrances in the last 2600 years (or arguably the 800 or so years that we estimate the enclosure to have been free from sand during this period), then it cannot have had a significant effect in the previous 1750 years (or arguably the 450 or so years that we estimate it would have been clear during that period) - because this takes us back to a date of 2350 BC which everyone seems to acknowledge marks the start of the more arid climate at the Plateau. In other words, if the climate has been the same during this whole period, then the quantity and effects of run-off would be expected to be the same throughout. Consequently Reader is confident that his assertion that run-off only occurred significantly in pre-quarry times still stands.
As an ancillary, Reader also argues that since these tombs do not exhibit any significant weathering, other agents such as wet-sand and chemical weathering cannot have been as aggressively active in modern times as, for example, Harrell and Gauri suggest.
The third issue raised by Reader is that of the causeway leading to the Second Pyramid. He points out that the foundations thereof are undisturbed bedrock, and that the Khufu and Khafre quarries on either side have been developed so as to leave the causeway's foundation intact. Unless one argues that the entire layout of the Plateau was known in advance, this indicates that at least the foundation of the causeway was already in existence, and important enough to be preserved, when the quarrying began at the start of Khufu's reign. By implication the same would be true of the Sphinx because, in Reader's view, they are both part of the same complex (see below). We have already argued against a master plan for the Plateau in refuting the Orion Correlation theory (this other debate is also on my web site), and one must also consider the intervention of Djedefre between Khufu and Khafre, which suggests that Khafre's complex layout would not have been pre-approved during Khufu's time.
The fourth issue which played a major part in our new stance was that of the Valley Temple, and the source of the limestone blocks from which its core is constructed. It is ironic that one of Schoch's few credits to us is that in the original version of G:TT we suggest that these came from the upper strata of the Sphinx enclosure, while those for the Sphinx Temple came from the lower ones, and needless to say Billington toes his line. But in fact further discussion of this point with Reader has revealed that the most detailed study of this issue, that performed by geologist Thomas Aigner in the mid-1980's and reported by Mark Lehner in "A Contextual Approach to the Giza Pyramids", Archiv fur Orientforschung, 32 (1985), p. 136-58, whilst confirming the source of the Sphinx Temple blocks as being the Sphinx enclosure, leaves the source of those in the Valley Temple open to question. This of course means that, whilst the Sphinx Temple must be contemporaneous with the carving of the Sphinx, the Valley Temple does not have to be. This is a fairly crucial point - precisely because of an issue which we raise in G:TT (p. 331):
However the most damaging evidence against the 'two-stage construction' argument lies in the layout and design of the Valley Temple itself, elements of which are so clearly contrary to the theory even to the casual observer that we are amazed that the issue is not raised in any of the papers we have consulted. During our research trip we noticed that in the western entrance which leads onto the Second Pyramid causeway, a huge granite lintel forms the top of the doorway but is intricately worked into the surrounding limestone blocks, and especially is surmounted by a limestone block so massive that it must be one of the largest in the edifice (see Plates 33 and 34). Furthermore there is a set of recessed chambers off each side of the passage on the north side leading to this doorway, each of which display an integral granite lining. Therefore, apart from the fact that the a granite-lining on a limestone core is typical of Old Kingdom temple style, we find it impossible on a practical level to conceive that these granite elements could have been added as part of a second-stage construction.
Schoch makes a brief reference to this in his response, but avoids tackling such a major piece of evidence head-on, and continues to support a two-stage construction of the Valley Temple. Billington ignores it completely, preferring instead to concentrate on the issue of whether or not the limestone core blocks underneath the granite facing are already weathered - Schoch saying yes, and Lehner saying no. Billington even has the gall to suggest that we "do not try to sort out this dispute by specifically reporting evidence that one or the other contention is right". Whatever this criticism is supposed to mean, he clearly is unaware of an issue which makes this just another red-herring, which is why we prefer to concentrate on the evidence of the door-lintels and passages which he ignores. And that is the obvious fact that, granite being much harder than limestone, any attempt to add facing blocks to a limestone core would predicate cutting the limestone to fit the contours of the granite, and not vice-versa. In this way, even if they existed, any substantial weathering patterns on the limestone cores would have been cut back and removed. That this is not only the most practical but the actual method used by the Ancient Egyptians is proved by some unfinished facing work in the Third Pyramid's mortuary temple (see Plate 18 in G:TT).
In any case, the effect of all this on our stance is that although we remain pretty much convinced that the Valley Temple is an entirely 4th Dynasty construction because the use of granite casing is a style associated with that epoch, it is no longer necessary to regard it as being contemporaneous with the Sphinx. This of course frees up the date of the monument, and of the Sphinx Temple. We have never had a major problem with regarding the latter as a two-stage construction, and Reader presents a detailed archaeological and geological analysis in support of this theory - again something which neither Schoch nor anyone else has previously done. He also goes further and provides a compelling argument that the eastern section of the Second Pyramid's mortuary temple, which he refers to as the "proto-mortuary temple", was erected at the same time to form the western element of an east-west Sun-cult complex with the Sphinx and Sphinx Temple as its eastern counterpart, the two being joined by the foundation of what is now the Second Pyramid's causeway.
There is one other issue which should be raised while we are discussing the temples, and again it is one which is not regularly discussed. We are still unable to explain in conventional terms how the 200-tonne blocks used in all of these temples were erected high into the walls, and there is only one other edifice on the Plateau (at least still standing) which uses the same huge megaliths for its core and has not so far been mentioned - and that is the Third Pyramids' mortuary temple.
Must this be regarded as of similar age to its counterpart - and if so, why would these early builders place another temple off to one side which does not appear to fit into, for example, a solar cult complex? Reader argues that this temple is laid out very differently to the Sphinx and proto-mortuary temples, in that these latter have a large open central courtyard, while the former contains multiple chambers, and this may be a fair distinction. Of course the use of such huge blocks at any time is in my view intriguing, but were one to have to argue that they were used first in, for example, pre or early dynastic times (in the Sphinx and proto-mortuary temples), and then again in the 4th Dynasty (in the Valley Temple and Third Pyramid's mortuary temple), and only at Giza, then surely the argument becomes more convoluted again?
By contrast those researchers like West, Schoch and Billington who do continue to argue that the Valley Temple, or parts of it, are contemporaneous with the Sphinx, tend to suggest that all these temples are earlier structures if they bother to mention them at all. This does get over the problem of the megaliths being used in two distinct eras. However not only does the evidence argue against a two-stage Valley Temple but also, unlike Reader, these researchers provide no context for why these various structures are placed in the layout they are, especially the Third Pyramid's mortuary temple. Whereas both mortuary temples are easy to place in the context of conventional 4th Dynasty pyramid complexes.
Consequently it seems to us that the proponents of a pre-4th Dynasty Sphinx need to tighten up their arguments about the temples. In our view further research into these structures and how they fit into a potentially revised chronology is crucial.
Having we hope properly recapped the new evidence which has led us to conclude that "the age of the Sphinx remains an open question", let us move onto the remaining issues on which we still disagree with Schoch. Of course this primarily involves his dating mechanism.
The Seismic Data
Readers will be aware from all the previous posts that Schoch uses Thomas Dobecki's seismic survey data to estimate a two-stage excavation of the Sphinx enclosure and an earliest date for the first excavation, based supposedly on the sub-surface weathering profile.
We stand accused of misrepresenting Schoch's arguments in this area, although even the highly critical Billington states in his paper: "Schoch's sub-surface findings are the most misunderstood aspect of his work and I must confess to having misunderstood them until recently…" - so it looks like we are in good company. Schoch says in his paper:
Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald fail to understand the nature of subsurface weathering. Subsurface weathering is essentially a mineralogical and petrological change in the rocks that proceeds once the rock surface is exposed to the air or atmosphere (such as occurred when the core body of the Sphinx was excavated), no matter what the climate is like…
This is something of a change from his previous stance, however. For example, as Reader points out, in the paper Schoch co-wrote with Dobecki for Geoarchaeology in 1992, a wide range of sub-surface weathering agents are considered including dissolution and karstic development. Furthermore in his self-published paper of the same year entitled "How Old is the Sphinx" he says (p. 18) "...how could we account for this deep subsurface weathering given the prevailing arid conditions on the Giza Plateau since New Kingdom times..." (my italics). Perhaps our confusion is justified.
In any case we are still of the opinion, as is Reader, that to suggest that rain running across the enclosure floor and seeping down into the bedrock would have no effect is astonishingly simplistic. Consequently, given the normal consensus - whether we are discussing sub-surface or surface weathering and erosion - that multiple agents interact, we still maintain that Schoch's attempt to use a comparison of supposed weathering in the west of the enclosure as against the rest as a dating mechanism is deeply flawed.
But there is an even greater question mark hanging over this analysis. Both Harrell and Reader, geologists who come from different sides of the argument, question whether the seismic surveys have picked up sub-surface weathering at all, or something quite different. First off they are unanimous in their condemnation of Schoch's use of the seismic surveys for dating. They both report that such geophysical methods are fine as prospecting tools, but that conclusions can only be drawn by intrusive methods. Indeed, in G:TT we reported the extent to which such surveys have been proved to be misleading in great depth, in relation to the multiple surveys of the Plateau which have been conducted looking for undiscovered chambers and passages (see for example G:TT Chapter 6). But Harrell and Reader are also unanimous as to what the seismic surveys are really picking up. First Harrell:
The low-velocity layer is probably just a reflection of the original bedding in the limestone... I therefore think it quite likely that the bottom of the low-velocity zone corresponds to the base of the shoal-reef facies. Schoch interprets the higher velocity zone in the lower part of his seismic profiles as "sound limestone", but most likely what he is actually seeing is the less porous "nummulite bank" limestone facies that Aigner says immediately underlies the shoal reef facies. The direction and angle of dip for the limestone beds in the Sphinx enclosure are about south 45 degrees east and 2.5 degrees, respectively. The enclosure is oriented due east-west and so the limestone has an apparent bedding dip of about 1.2 degrees to the east and this easily accounts for the increasing depth of Schoch's low-velocity zone from west to the east across the enclosure.
And Reader confirms this:
If these depths [of seismic lines S1 to S4 and S9] are plotted on an east-west section through the Sphinx enclosure and Sphinx temple, they closely parallel the dip of the strata. Schoch’s ‘weathered zone’ may, therefore, be a function of the structure of the Member I rock - reflecting the bedding of the limestones beneath the Sphinx enclosure.
Therefore, in our view, Schoch's indignation at our treatment of this aspect of his work is proved to be misplaced, as is Billington's support for his position. So what else can help us to judge the age of the Sphinx?
Weathering to the Sphinx Itself
We have already noted that Schoch and West make great play of the extent of weathering and erosion on the Sphinx's body itself, as opposed to the enclosure walls. There are two aspects to this which need to be investigated anew. First, what is the cause of this weathering? We stated at the outset that the body displays no obvious signs of the rounded sub-vertical joints which are associated with run-off erosion, and that Schoch and West are wrong to suggest that it does. But if this is the case, then in fact their arguments are to some extent strengthened. Reader has described eloquently how chemical weathering of a newly exposed surface progressively stagnates as the soluble salts near the surface are leached away. However, if rainfall run-off is also present, as on the enclosure walls, the chemically-weathered and therefore more flaky rock is rapidly eroded by the water run-off, thus exposing new salt-rich surfaces for chemical weathering to act upon in a repeating cycle. Clearly this is going to cause significantly faster weathering than if run-off is not present, as on the body, so an equal depth of weathering on the body would take much longer to occur.
Unfortunately this is where we run into unknowns again. Schoch and West also make great play of the extent of the weathering underneath the oldest repair blocks on the rump of the monument. West even repeatedly quotes a figure of up to three feet, but as Reader points out none of us have been able to find any published measurements to support this contention (for example in Lehner et al's 1980 ARCE report, which would be the most likely place) - and it appears that West may be confusing this with other data for the walls. The truth is that, as far as we can tell at the moment, noone has proper data for the extent of this original weathering to the body.
Furthermore there are two more reasons why turning to this issue to date the monument is fraught with complexity: First, because it is almost impossible to tell whether the earliest repairs were carried out in the Old or New Kingdoms (we have always admitted that this could go either way, but tended towards the latter previously because it appeared to best fit the rest of the evidence available to us at the time); and second, even if all these other aspects were resolved, it is still impossible to make definitive judgements about age because absolute, as opposed to relative, rates of weathering are simply unknown - and will remain so.
Nevertheless, in urging that all available avenues for resolving this controversy should be explored with due diligence, we do suggest that, first, the Egyptian Authorities should release any further data about the weathering to the body which may have been collected during the surveys of the last 20 years which could shed further light on the situation; and second that further limited-intrusion surveys by geologists, as proposed for example by Schoch, should be given serious consideration.
It is perfectly clear that we cannot determine the true age of the Sphinx from geology alone. Consequently one other area of study is that of comparative weathering on other structures of well-established date. The most oft-quoted example is Schoch's comparison with the mud-brick mastabas at Saqqara which date to c. 2800 BC, and have not been appreciably weathered or eroded. Schoch therefore concludes that this is far too late a date for the Sphinx. However Reader appears to satisfactorily counter this argument by indicating that, unlike the Sphinx, the mastabas are not set in a hydrological position in which they would attract rainfall run-off. Consequently all we can conclude from their relatively healthy state of preservation is that rainfall on its own (as opposed to surface run-off) has not been a "significant agent of degradation in Egypt".
As with most other topics connected to this debate, as yet at least there are no easy answers to be had from comparisons. There is however one other aspect from which conclusions have been drawn…
In recent postings on his own website and on The Daily Grail, West has criticised us mercilessly over the issue of the Sphinx's face because we dared to place a different interpretation on Frank Domingo's reconstruction work. It is interesting to see how he loves to insist that one must not under any circumstances question the judgement of an expert in their field (Domingo) on the one hand, and then switches effortlessly to suggesting that his own expert (Schoch) is substantially in error about the age implications of the weathering seen on the Sphinx and its enclosure walls (more on this later). Still, we all know that some people of incredible intuition and esoteric vision are simply on too high a level to have to abide by the same rules of consistency as us mere mortals.
In any case, let us put this in perspective - something that many of the contributors to this debate seem incapable of doing. We discussed the fact that the Sphinx's face might be deemed to actually rather resemble Khafre's originally when we supported the orthodox view, and we are still prepared to leave it as an item for discussion now. We are perfectly aware that if we now come down on the side of a pre-4th Dynasty Sphinx then, if the former observation is true, one must argue that the head was recarved by Khafre. We have always presented the argument in this way since our change of stance, and for West to suggest that either our minds or our presentation is confused on this matter is plain ridiculous. However it is our view that this is in fact something of a side issue compared to the other far more important aspects of this debate, precisely because of the extent to which the possibility of recarving blurs the argument.
Nevertheless, let us just take a few moments to clear up some of the detailed issues raised. West insists on applying forensic and orthodontic levels of accuracy in making his comparisons. All we are saying is, hang on, is it likely that a sculptor would want to adopt this same mind set (with this degree of pedantry about accuracy, perhaps the roles of bean-counter and Hermeticist are being interchanged here)? The extent to which ancient Egyptian sculptors, as highly skilled as they were, would have pursued detailed accuracy at all costs is at minimum a highly contentious and unresolved issue.
Meanwhile, we seem to have created uproar by the simple expedient of tilting one profile slightly so it matches that of the other. West exclaims: "You cannot compare faces when one is looking straight ahead and the other at its own feet!", while Billington confuses even more with the following gem: "It is not clear that the authors accurately depict the side view, which shows a protrusion in the jaw. Only if the Sphinx head was tilted up already (viewed from the side) (this would be clear because the eyes would be looking up at the sky instead of straight ahead) could it be tilted down for comparison to the museum statue, which looks straight ahead." Hmmm, if anyone can interpret that little lot, please let us know.
In the meantime, let us be perfectly clear about how the comparison images on my web site were created. All four came from West's Serpent in the Sky, Appendix II, pp. 230-1, which in turn came from Domingo. The frontal view pair in our recreation, nos. 1 and 2, correspond to the right hand drawing in Domingo's D2 and his D4 respectively, and - since they have not been altered at all seem to cause no problem. The lateral view pair, our nos. 3 and 4, correspond to the left hand drawing in Domingo's D1 and his D3 respectively. All we have done is to tilt the entirety of the latter through of the order of 15 degrees forwards - there is no other manipulation or distortion as implied by our critics. Anyone at home can achieve the same results in minutes. The important point here, which West and Billington seem to miss by harping on about looking at the sky and the ground, is that all this does is bring, for example, the line of the nose of the two drawings into alignment (and since West points out that these are both based on the same nose, this is surely all the more valid); and both are still quite clearly looking straight ahead.
We continue to maintain that this exercise is perfectly valid and an interesting viewpoint to contrast with West and Schoch's. We are certainly not guilty of the subterfuge and manipulation of which we are accused - especially since we do not consider this to be an essential piece of the jigsaw in any case.
The evidence for a pre-4th Dynasty date for the age of the Sphinx is certainly mounting up. However we have already seen that the geologists who have pioneered this work do not agree about how long before the orthodox date of c. 2500 BC it was built. Reader favours the latter half of the early dynastic period (which could take one back as early as, say, c. 2800 BC) based on archaeological context, and then concentrates on defining the mechanisms by which the degree of weathering seen on the body and the enclosure walls could have achieved this rate of weathering in the time available, given the wetter climate pre-2350 BC. By contrast Schoch believes the extent of weathering cannot begin to fit this limited timeframe, and favours a date of anywhere between 5000 and 7000 BC based on the seismic survey data, then citing the example of Jericho in the Near East in his attempts to provide a degree of archaeological context.
Perhaps geologist David Coxill, in positioning himself somewhere between the two, has the most appropriate answer at present: "Absolute dates for the sculpturing of the Sphinx should be taken with extreme caution and therefore dates should be as conservative as possible - until more conclusive evidence comes to light." Nevertheless, whilst we fundamentally disagree with the methodology of Schoch's dating, we are not prepared at this stage to write off the possibility that new evidence that the Sphinx may be as old as he suggests could emerge - for example, as a result of more work on the extent of weathering under the earliest repair blocks.
There is of course one main advocate of an even earlier date for the Sphinx, and that is West. Based on what we have already seen is possibly a misrepresentation of the evidence about the extent of weathering of the monument's body under the earliest repair blocks, he argues that even Schoch is too conservative by far. Instead he prefers to invoke precession and a Leo correspondence to make a date (a correspondence which is still attacked as nonsense by Egyptologists, who maintain that the ancient Egyptians did not recognise the Leo constellation which we now associate with a lion until very late on).
But it gets better… research by Schoch himself (in his book Voices of the Rocks) has completely scuppered West's original date of c. 10,500 BC based on the last precessional age of Leo (and originally, for fine tuning, Edgar Cayce's readings, although these tend to be no longer mentioned), because evidence suggests that at this date the entire planet had been engulfed in catastrophic upheavals for some time. So in his recent postings West has now amended his position and gone back even further to supposedly the previous precessional age of Leo c. 36,000 BC. Even he seems to adopt a semi-apologetic tone when he proposes this, and his change of stance is sufficiently recent that his close colleagues Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock have yet to respond - especially in terms of what this means for their theory about zep tepi, or the "first time", and the layout of the Giza Plateau to reflect Orion's belt c. 10,500 BC.
We have actually stated many times that we do not rule out the possibility that, one day, definitive evidence will emerge that this planet was home to highly advanced civilisations in great antiquity. We do not object to West's dating on principle. However we do object to him plugging away at the only set of dates which could force us to reconsider mankind's prehistory - which is of course his primary objective and always has been - purely on the basis of such difficult to interpret and possibly (in his case) mis-interpreted geological evidence. As the old saying goes "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". West has nothing like this level of geological proof, and no contextual support whatsoever.
As a supposedly "independent" observer, David Billington has this to say about our work:
But the difficulties the authors have in chapter seven result from their basic approach to evidence and arguments. The authors do not take into account all of the published responses of West and Schoch to their critics. More importantly, the authors do not in their own analysis challenge each side of the Sphinx controversy to the same degree. Lawton and Ogilvie present both sides and at times recognize that some criticisms on the orthodox side are unwarranted. But they do not ask whether the other criticisms are valid. That they needed to be balanced in their skepticism follows from their decision to pass judgment and not merely serve as reporters of the two sides.
In order to examine whether these accusations are reasonable, let us examine the line of reasoning that we developed on this particular issue. We started out impressed by Schoch and to a lesser extent West's arguments, but then alarm bells started to ring. There had clearly been far more rainfall in the modern era than Schoch and even more so West tended to let on, and we located a number of references to ancient and modern reports of flash floods. The seismic data arguments struck us then, as now, as highly flawed. We were unhappy with the contextual arguments, especially in relation to what we had seen with our own eyes in terms of the likely single-stage construction of the Valley Temple. And the "comparison" arguments about the other monuments at Giza and elsewhere, and also those concerning the face of the Sphinx, struck us as confusing and sometimes misleading. When we then read Gauri's work, and realised that it was certainly possible for chemical weathering to produce a rounded profile, and also the extent to which different types of weathering interact and overlay to render attempts at dating therefrom almost impossible, it struck us that there was insufficient a priori geological evidence to question the orthodox dating of the Sphinx. Everything else followed from this point - for example, whilst accepting that no-one knows when the first repairs were made to the Sphinx, we postulated that the New Kingdom date was most likely given the rest of the arguments.
Having explained our original position, let us now see if Billington passes his own test. Just like us, he has his preference based on the research he has performed, and although he also attempts to report both sides of each argument, he too is not without his bias and prejudice. A fine example of this is his simplistic acceptance of Schoch's seismic data as a dating mechanism, but there are many others which would take too long to detail. In fact this element of bias is inevitable whenever anyone, rather than holding themselves up as an independent and objective journalist, is prepared to get off the fence and state their position, and is not to be sneered at.
Billington is clearly very proud of the fact that he has scrupulously read and referenced everything that has ever been written on this subject. He is therefore undoubtedly in a position to criticise us for not having done so - even though he mentions and is well aware of the deadlines we were under in writing this book, and that we were having to provide an in-depth analysis of every single one of the major theories about the Giza Plateau, not just the age of the Sphinx (and he admits that he has not read the rest of our book - is he himself perhaps being a little too quick to judge others on restricted evidence?). We should certainly take it on the chin that the omission of geologist David Coxill's papers in Inscription was an oversight - although we are not convinced it would have made any difference to our main conclusions, given the line of reasoning we have already explained. But let us now look at some other examples of the work we supposedly have not read and referenced:
Lawton and Ogilvie also neglect two critical events in Sphinx archaeology of the late 20th century: the 1979 photogrammetric survey by Lehner, reported in the 1980 ARCE Newsletter.
Not true - although we may not have referenced it, we were perfectly well aware of it.
… and the two radiocarbon surveys of 1984 and 1995 by Robert Wenke and his colleagues. The 1984 survey included two samples from the Sphinx Temple that indirectly date the Sphinx enclosure to the third millennium BCE (the 1995 results are not yet complete but so far broadly confirm the results of the 1984 survey). These samples are not without problems of their own but they are basic data that no chapter on the Sphinx controversy can leave out. Lawton and Ogilvie say nothing about them in their chapter.
Well, unfortunately this is what happens when you don't read everything people have written. If Billington had read G:TT, Chapter 2, pp.123-6, he would realise we discuss the matter thoroughly and argue that these samples are interesting but unreliable other than to possibly obtain a very approximate date, if the sample is large and varied enough. Incidentally, for what it is worth the 1984 Sphinx Temple samples give an average date of 2416 BC, so quite why it is so important to Billington, as a supporter of a significantly earlier date, that we supposedly omit them we are not sure. In any case, he is clearly very anxious to be published on a subject over which he does not feel he has been treated correctly by us, and to which he has dedicated himself for some time, and we wish him every success in this endeavour.
It is undoubtedly the case that when faced with a subject of this complexity, where the majority of the pieces of the argument cannot be ruled upon with anything like 100 per cent certainty, it is entirely possible that one new piece of evidence can tip the balance from one position to the other. This is exactly what happened to our thinking when Colin Reader sent us his paper after the hardback of G:TT was published - it was immediately clear that there were a number of new pieces of evidence here, as we have described above. Over a period of time this led us to change our stance on the age of the Sphinx to a more open one, and the Epilogue to the paperback was amended accordingly. West accuses us of back-tracking, although exactly what motive we would have for doing this is not made clear. We had already changed our stance way before he started directing his continuous stream of invective at us, so it can hardly be as the result of his masterly and persuasive reasoning, or even his high-handed admonishments. The truth is, of course, that it is the result of a genuine and honest reappraisal in the light of new evidence by independent researchers who have no patch to protect.