An NYU study supports Farouk El-Baz’s hypothesis that wind played a crucial role in shaping the Great Sphinx of Giza, a theory proposed four decades ago by a geologist and space scientist. The NYU researchers aimed to recreate landscape conditions from approximately 4,500 years ago, during the presumed period of the limestone statue’s origin, to investigate 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 offer 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. Using clay models resembling yardangs, natural compact sand formations shaped by wind in exposed desert regions, the research team subjected them to 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 highlighted 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.” These experiments contribute to our understanding of yardang formation and offer insights into the potential influence of wind on iconic ancient structures.