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Sphinx Fragment In Israel Hints At Former Egyptian Connection


People have been puzzled by sphinxes, at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. And now, we can count another riddle of the mythical Egyptian creature that is part-lion, part-human. The feet of a sphinx - with a telling hieroglyphic inscription - have turned up in a dig in northern Israel, near the ancient city of Hazor. The find suggests an Egyptian connection at a time, with a place, that was previously unknown.

Joining us from Jerusalem is archeologist Amnon Ben Tor of the Hebrew University. He's the lead archeologist at the Hazor excavation site. And, first, what does your find look like, and what does the inscription say?

AMNON BEN TOR: Well, it looks like the front part of a sphinx. It weighs some 40 kilos. It's quite heavy, and it bears an inscription which identifies the king to which the sphinx belonged and the place in which it was originally placed in Egypt itself.

SIEGEL: So how do you understand or how do you theorize how the sphinx made it from Egypt to the north of Israel?

TOR: That's a wonderful question for which I don't have an answer. All I can do is speculate. And there are only three options. The first one is that it arrived in the time of this particular king, the King Mycerinus, one of the builders of the Giza pyramid, who reigned in the middle of the third millennium B.C., sometime around 2500. This is one option, but it's very, very unlikely because in his time there were absolutely no relations between Egypt and southern Canaan.

We're left with two other options. One is sometime in the late 17th and early 16th century, lower Egypt was ruled by a Canaanite dynasty, and those Canaanites did all kinds of terrible things. They set fire to the temples. They robbed the tombs, and maybe this is how the sphinx arrived in our country.

SIEGEL: So that's theory number two.

TOR: That's theory number two. But theory number there, which to me seems more likely, is that it arrived some 200 years later, during the 15th, 14th and 13th century, when the Egyptians ruled this part of Canaan.

SIEGEL: Now, it's impossible that, say, much later on, some Greek or Roman brought a trophy up from Egypt and brought it to Hazor?

TOR: That's definitely, definitely, definitely impossible, and I tell you why. Hazor ceased to exist in the year 732 B.C.E...

SIEGEL: Uh-huh.

TOR: ...a long time before the Greeks or the Romans or anyone else of those regimes played any role in our part of the world.

SIEGEL: What do you think happened to the rest of the sphinx? Where's the upper part of him?

TOR: Well, we have some 15 fragments of Egyptian statues of various kinds, and we have a 200-acre site. Have patience.


SIEGEL: OK. By the way, judging from the size of the feet, the paws of the sphinx that you've found, how big would the entire sphinx be if it were intact?

TOR: Well, we can reconstruct on the basis of what we have. We have a piece of about 60 by 60 centimeters. The sphinx must have been anyway - anywhere between 1 1/2 to 1 meter 80 in length and about a little bit less than a meter, about 80 centimeters in height, which would make it something weighing about half a ton.

SIEGEL: So it would be about 6 feet long and about 2 feet high.

TOR: About, yes.

SIEGEL: Well, congratulations on the find and thank you for talking with us about it.

TOR: Thank you. Thank you very much. All the best.

SIEGEL: That's archaeologist Amnon Ben Tor, who's professor of archaeology at Hebrew University, talking about the part of the sphinx that was discovered at the excavation site in Israel at Hazor.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.