'Answer' found to riddle of Sphinx

The riddle of the Sphinx has confounded generations of tourists and experts alike. Who built it, why, and what does it mean? Now a leading Egyptologist believes that he has pieced together the puzzle.

The riddle of the Sphinx has confounded generations of tourists and experts alike. Who built it, why, and what does it mean? Now a leading Egyptologist believes that he has pieced together the puzzle.

After researching the pyramids of the Giza Plateau and their imposing half-human, half-animal guardian for 20 years, Vassil Dobrev of the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo has concluded that the Sphinx was the work of a forgotten pharaoh.

For many years, it has been held that Khafre, a king of the Fourth Dynasty whose pyramid sits behind the Sphinx, built the monument in his own likeness.

But Mr Dobrev believes the Sphinx was in fact created more than four and a half thousand years ago by Djedefre, Khafre's half brother and the son of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

When Khufu died, the people of ancient Egypt were weary, having spent decades building pyramids, says Mr Dobrev. He argues that Djedefre, who succeeded Khufu as pharaoh, built the monument in the image of his father, identifying him with the sun god Ra, as a piece of propaganda to restore respect for the dynasty.

In a documentary for television channel Five, Secrets of the Sphinx, to be shown next Tuesday, Mr Dobrev challenges the accepted version of the origins of the Sphinx and the reign of Djedefre, who came close to being written out of ancient history. "This is the first time it has been proposed that the Sphinx has been built after the death of Khufu by his son Djedefre," said Mr Dobrev.

While Khufu and Khafre constructed towering pyramids at Giza, Djedefre built a smaller pyramid several kilometres away at Abu Roash.

This led the American archaeologist, George Reisner, who excavated the Giza Plateau in the 1930s and wrote the definitive book about the site, to portray Djedefre as an outcast who murdered his elder brother, the heir to the throne. "We have absolutely no evidence to support this, but it was written in a very famous book - and slowly it became the rule," Mr Dobrev said.

Unlike modern-day tourists, who approach the Giza Plateau from the east, from Cairo, ancient Egyptians would have come to the site from the south from Memphis, the capital of the old kingdom, Mr Dobrev argues. From this direction, it is seen in profile, with Khufu's Great Pyramid behind it.

Djedefre was the first pharaoh to insert the name of the sun god Ra in his own cartouche, supporting the theory that he built the Sphinx to represent his father as the deity. Mr Dobrev also believes that the discovery in 1955 of two dismantled wooden boats, buried beside the Great Pyramid beneath stones bearing Djedefre's name, show that he was an important and long-lived ruler who wished to ease his father's passage through the afterlife.

"I think some scholars will have mixed reactions," Mr Dobrev said. "People will be surprised that we can still have something new to say about Djedefre. His reign has to be completely reviewed. It was a longer reign and a more important reign than we thought."

Robert Partridge, the editor of Ancient Egypt magazine and a lecturer at Manchester University, believes that while Mr Dobrev puts forward a logical argument, there is insufficient evidence to prove his theory.

"The fact that Djedefre's name is found at Giza is not surprising. It was the duty of a son to complete the burial of his father," Mr Partridge said. He favours a theory published in the latest edition of Ancient Egypt by the geologist Colin Reader, who argues that the Sphinx was built before the Great Pyramid and therefore could not be the work of Khufu, Khafre or Djedefre.

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