Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 biblical epic The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston left a long-lasting impression as one of the most iconic movies in history. But before that, DeMille created a black and white version of the story in 1923 which left behind a legacy — as well as a sphinx head which has been unearthed from the central California coast.
Long before the days of green screen, motion capture, and CG, DeMille had Paul Iribe, a designer known for his spectacular art deco work, to construct a massive set that was 12 stories high and 800 feet wide on the Guadalupe-Nipomo sand dunes. Like the film, the set was ambitious in scale, but as soon as the film wrapped DeMille realized it was too expensive too move and he didn’t want another filmmaker using it. That said, he had it buried.
Fast forward to 2017, and a part of one of the heads of the 21 sphinxes was dug up from the dunes by archaeologists. Made from Plaster of Paris and weighing approximately 300 pounds, the head was surprisingly in tact after nearly a century buried in the sand.
“Given that these objects have lasted 94 years, even though they were only built to last for two months during filming it really speaks to the craftsmanship and the level of skill that the artisans could build,” said Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.
DeMille’s 1923 version was a almost a lead in for his 1956 adaptation which went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for Best Special Effects.