The Great Sphinx of Egypt, at Giza, is one of the wonders of the ancient world – a mysterious monument built next to the Great Pyramids. The sphinx has the head of a man and the body of a lion. The Great Sphinx’s body is carved from the limestone bedrock itself, but then has had limestone blocks added to the rock to make the body shape. The head is made of harder rock.

And there are so many mysteries about the Great Sphinx. No one knows exactly how old it is, or who built it. Despite being famous throughout the ancient world of Europe, there is no mention of it in any ancient Egyptian records, and the monument has no inscriptions on it – this is very rare in Egypt. It is the biggest statue ever found in Egypt, and yet no-one in ancient Egypt ever mentioned it at the time it was supposed to have been built. This is very strange.

And even the name is a mystery. The statue is named after a creature in ancient Greek mythology, but the Greek stories of their sphinx are at least 1,500 years after the Great Sphinx was built.

Most archaeologists will tell you that the Sphinx was probably built by the Pharaoh Khafra, who reigned 4,500 years ago and who built the second pyramid at Giza. But this is guesswork and is highly disputed. A much later Pharaoh did say that Khafra built the sphinx, but this was 1,500 years after Khafra had died, and this is the only reference, so it could be a guess for the same reason that modern archaeologists say Khafra built it – because it is near to a rock causeway that leads to Khafra’s pyramid and temple.

Another mystery is the head of the Sphinx, which is carved from much harder rock that the rest of the Sphinx. Many people think the head was added later and that the body of the Sphinx is much older. The head can be dated because of the style of the head-dress, but the body of the Sphinx is badly eroded and must be much older than the head. An increasingly popular theory is that the head was added by a Pharaoh about 4,500 years ago, but this was just putting a new head on an already old statue (putting new heads on old statues is quite common in ancient Egypt).

A body eroded by water – in a desert?

But the biggest mystery about the Great Sphinx is the erosion on the body.

If you look at the body, which is carved out of the rock itself, it has been very heavily eroded. Some say that this is from desert winds but looking at other monuments made from the same stone, that are also 4,500 years old, they do not have this heavy erosion. The Great Sphinx has erosion marks different to any other monument – and when geologists see the erosion, they all say the same thing: the rock has been eroded by lots of water flowing over it. Look at this picture

This sort of erosion damage does not come from wind blowing against the rock – it is the sort of erosion that can only come from centuries of heavy rain falling onto the rock and the torrents of rain forming channels in the soft limestone rock.

How can a statue built in a desert have erosion from heavy rain? Deserts do sometimes have large rainstorms, but this sort of erosion can only come from a time when heavy rain was regular – and that means the body of the Great Sphinx must have been carved while this part of Egypt was not desert. In fact, north Africa and this part of Egypt was not desert 10,000 years ago, but was 5,000 years ago, so the body of the Great Sphinx must be more like 10,000 years old too!

This astonishing date destroys all arguments about the Sphinx being built by ancient Egyptians, because there was no Egyptian civilisation 10,000 years ago. Historians says there was no civilisation anywhere in the world that long ago.

Our researchers have studied all the evidence, and they believe that the body of the Sphinx, the lion, was carved at least 10,000 years ago, and that the human head we see now was added much later by ancient Egyptians.  They think the monument had a different head – either human or even that of a lion (to match the body). But they are certain the original monument was carved by a civilisation that later fell and has been wiped from the annals of history. The obvious candidate is a civilisation known in stories in the eastern Mediterranean much later – Atlantis!

New mysteries – two other Sphinxes found that historians can’t explain

In Greek legends, the Sphinx used to ask riddles for men to answer.

But to modern archaeologists, the Sphinx also asks awkward questions that they don’t know the answer to.