NYU researchers have verified that wind played an important part in shaping the Great Sphinx of Giza, supporting a theory presented by geologist Farouk El-Baz forty years ago. The study focused on replicating the environment from about 4,500 years ago.

Leif Ristroph, a senior author at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, explained that erosion can create sphinx-like shapes in materials, as laboratory experiments demonstrated that materials can take on such forms. The research team used clay models resembling yardangs, natural sand formations shaped by wind in exposed desert areas, and exposed them to a swift stream of water to simulate the effects of wind erosion. By adding harder, non-erodible elements within the soft-clay mound, similar to the composition of the Great Sphinx, they observed the formation of a lion-like shape. Ristroph pointed out that some naturally occurring yardangs in the desert look like seated or reclining animals with raised heads, sometimes earning them the nickname “Mud Lions.” These experiments help us understand how yardangs are formed and provide insights into how wind might have influenced ancient iconic structures.