Farouk El-Baz, a renowned geologist and distinguished space scientist acclaimed for his expertise in desert exploration, posited more than four decades ago that wind played a pivotal role in shaping the Great Sphinx of Giza before the ancient Egyptians added intricate embellishments. Recently, a study conducted by the Applied Mathematics Laboratory at New York University (NYU) substantiated this hypothesis. Researchers at NYU aimed to recreate the conditions of the landscape approximately 4,500 years ago, during the presumed period of the limestone statue’s origin. Their objective was to explore the potential impact of wind on the formation of rock structures.

Leif Ristroph, a senior author of the study and an associate professor at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, explained that the findings put forth a plausible explanation for the emergence of sphinx-like shapes through erosion. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that materials can indeed adopt sphinx-like forms under the influence of rapid currents. The research team fashioned clay models resembling yardangs, natural compact sand formations sculpted by wind in exposed desert regions. These models underwent a swift stream of water to simulate the effects of wind erosion. By incorporating harder, non-erodible elements within the soft-clay mound, mirroring the composition of the Great Sphinx, the researchers observed the manifestation of a lion-like form. Ristroph emphasized that certain naturally occurring yardangs in the desert bear a resemblance to seated or reclining animals with raised heads, occasionally earning them the moniker “Mud Lions.” He contends that these experiments enhance our comprehension of yardang formation.