May 1, 2018

Raiders of the Lost Sphinx - a “Tail” of Archaeological Proportion, Part 1


One of the most popular exhibits at the Dunes Center showcases artifacts from Cecil B. DeMille’s original 1923 silent epic, The Ten Commandments. People from miles around come to see the amazing pieces left behind in the dunes after filming – but how did we get our paws on them in the first place?

Rewind to the spring of 1923.

Guadalupe is a small ag town on Highway 1 that’s about to get the visit of a lifetime from Cecil and his crew.

This is not the first time Hollywood has paid a visit to our small town (check out The Sheik featuring Rudolph Valentino!), but this time DeMille has big plans.

And we’re talking BIG plans.

DeMille and his crew took to the dunes of Guadalupe to build the biggest movie set in Hollywood history – a 12-story tall, 800-foot-wide Egyptian temple complete with 21 sphinx statues weighing around 60 tons all together in their plaster, sphinx-y glory.

When filming wrapped in June of that year, the set was left behind in the dunes to become the stuff of local legend.

Fast forward to the 1980s.

A totally bangin’ decade full of big dresses, even bigger hair, and… archaeological quests? You heard right: enter Peter Brosnan, a man described as Captain Ahab to our Lost City’s white whale.

Peter decides to unearth pieces of the Lost City, but, like his literary counterpart, is met with trials and tribulations along the way.

It wasn’t until decades later, in the fall of 2012, that all the pieces fell into place and the Dunes Center went out with Peter and a team of archaeologists to embark on the first excavation of the movie set site.

We start to dig.

And dig. And dig some more. And, after days of digging and sifting through sand (both in 2012 and again in 2014) we end up with amazing sphinx artifacts now on display right here at the Dunes Center.

But wait, there’s more!

The team was at it again this past fall for another excavation turning up some of the most impressive pieces yet.

The 300-lb sphinx head recovered in 2017 is being restored and set to become a part of a brand-new exhibit at the Dunes Center in July 2018.

We're excited to welcome yet another piece of the Dunes Story told through cultural discovery.

Check out next week’s post for Part 2 – a peek at where we are with the project and a closer look at how these historic treasures are educating students here on the Central Coast.

Do you remember hearing about DeMille coming to town? We love hearing local stories about ties to the movie set and filming of The Ten Commandments. Share yours below!


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