Carving a Nose for the Sphinx /

October 2009

Napoleon viewing noseless Sphinx, by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1867

Napoleon viewing noseless Sphinx, by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1867

On a crisp fall day in October 2009, in Norwell, Massachusetts, Handshouse Studio and Egyptologist Mark Lehner began a project to replicate the colossal stone nose of the Great Sphinx of Giza. This project marked another joint effort between Handshouse's Rick and Laura Brown and Dr. Lehner to investigate a historical mystery of ancient Egypt. In the process, they and Providence Pictures created the film Riddles of the Sphinx for PBS/Nova.


It all began when Handshouse Studio was asked to bring together a team to carve a replica or scale model of the missing colossal stone nose of the Egyptian Sphinx. While no one truly knows what happened, the original Great Sphinx nose seems to have gone missing after someone pounded wedges that created deep groves down through the bridge of the nose and under the Sphinx's left nostril to snap it off to the left.

The model would be made at 65% scale using authentic carving tools like the ancient Egyptians would have used. The nose was scaled down from its original height of about 2.20 m (84”) to fit a large block of limestone about 75” inches high, delivered from Indiana to Handshouse Studio. As one of the foremost experts on the Great Sphinx and Giza Pyramids, Dr. Lehner would verify the authenticity of the tools and methods, as well as oversee carving of the nose. He produced the only known scale maps of the Great Sphinx, developed while he was Field Director of the Sphinx Project sponsored by the American Research Center in Egypt. Since 1988 he has been the Director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project excavations south of the Great Sphinx, and he is currently Director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA).
     Work for the film began with Rick Brown and Mass Art alum Jonathan Bechard demonstrating how to forge copper chisels and fabricate granite stone hammers lashed with leather straps to wooden handles. Rick Brown used authentic techniques to craft the stone hammers, hammerstones, and copper chisels, techniques similar to those the Great Sphinx builders used some 4,500 years ago. Mark, Rick, and Jonathan then employed these tools to start carving a hypothetical nose of the Great Sphinx. Stone hammers were used to rough out the nose, and copper chisels with wooden mallets were used for finish work.
     After demonstrating how the Egyptian tools would have been used for the camera and in the interest of time, the team changed to contemporary tools to carve the modern Sphinx nose in just over two weeks.
     In November, the Providence Pictures crew and Mark Lehner returned to Handshouse to complete the film and the experiment, and they were thrilled to see the finished nose. The carving demonstration compared time and labor using Old Kingdom Egyptian tools vs. contemporary tools, and determined how many man-hours were required to carve the full Great Sphinx using Egyptian tools. Mark Lehner, impressed by the calculations produced through the Handshouse Studio method of experimental archeology, requested Rick and Laura prepare a paper describing the experiment for publication in Aerogram, an archeology magazine dedicated to the Giza Plateau Mapping Project.

Mass Art students, alumni, faculty and staff all helped with the carving. Mass Art Faculty included Rick Brown, Laura Brown, Judith Hansen, Chuck Stigliano.  Alumni included Jonathan Bechard, Jason Loik, and Nick Farnham. Mass Art Students included Brett Woodward, Mina Ha, Emily White, Corinna D’Schoto, Richie Marin, James Lentz and a like-minded friend Angela Lovergina.

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