10/15/2014 03:57 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

Archaeologists Are Digging Up Sphinxes in...California?

If you’re in search of sphinxes and pyramids and mummies, you may not have to go as far as you think: archaeologists in California have just finished excavating a giant sphinx. While it may not be an ancient Egyptian artifact, the story behind it is still super rad. It’s actually the remains of one of America’s most elaborate (at the time, at least) silent movies -- Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.

Photo via Dunes Center.

Only a short part of the 1923 epic, which was inspired by a contest that allowed members of the public to suggest the next movie idea for DeMille, features the scenes about Moses and the Biblical story of the 10 Commandments, but those scenes were easily the movie’s most magnificent. They were filmed in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in Santa Barbara, because the rolling, sandy hills look strikingly similar to the Egyptian desert. 

After the movie was finished filming, DeMille ordered the “Pharoh’s City” sets blown up with dynamite and buried in the dunes, where they remained, their location a closely guarded secret. It wasn’t until 1983 when a group of “determined film buffs” used cryptic clues from DeMille’s posthumous autobiography to find the location of the set.

“The Lost City of DeMille”, as its known, has been under excavation since 2012. There are 21 sphinxes in the dunes, each 12 feet tall and weighing 5 tons. The head of one sphinx is already on display at the Dunes Center, and the original plan for this dig was to exhume the body and reunite it with the head… but things didn’t exactly go as planned. According to executive director of the Dunes Center Doug Jenzen in a Lompoc Record article:

“"Last week in a preproject survey, we found the wind had blown the sand off, and it pretty much imploded," Jenzen said. "But the wind also uncovered another piece 20 feet away that turned out to be another sphinx, and it's in much better shape.”

The sphinxes from the dig, which ended Monday, will be on display at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex, along with a “a unique and fascinating exhibit featuring a variety of artifacts from the both the set and the people who were working on the production. We feature a short film on the recovery effort of the set, the people involved in that process and have information, including a booklet focused on the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes film history.” Film buffs and Egyptomaniacs alike should go check it out!

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