Archaeological Dig Uncovers ‘Ten Commandments’ Movie Set

Actors playing overseers and Hebrew slaves on the set of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923). Photo: courtesy the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.
Actors playing overseers and Hebrew slaves on the set of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923). Photo: courtesy the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.

The Central California coast might seem an unlikely place to unearth lost Egyptian relics, but an archaeological dig in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in Santa Barbara County is doing just that, on the site of an old silent movie set, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

It all dates back to 1923, when filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille (as in, “I’m ready for my close up”) built 21 giant sphinxes and an 800-foot-wide temple for the set of The Ten Commandments. A classic of the silent film era, the black and white movie was a huge box-office hit, but its striking set pieces were abandoned, demolished, and buried after the shoot.

Now, the nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center has raised $120,000 to excavate the fragile remains of the plaster sphinxes. The project first started in 2012, but ran out of funds after unearthing only one sphinx. Part of that sculpture’s face was removed from the site and put on display at the center, but the rest of it became irreparably damaged after shifting sands exposed it to the elements during the break in excavation.

Luckily, returning archaeologists found the winds had also partially uncovered another Ten Commandments relic. “It was a really pleasant surprise when we found out it was almost a full sphinx,” Doug Jenzen, the center’s executive director told the Chronicle.

Archaeologists carefully removed the statue, first covering it in liquid to prevent cracking, and then wrapping it in cheesecloth. Sand inside the sphinx was replaced with foam. The body, which was missing its face, will be paired with the previously excavated face and displayed at the center.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of site,” excavation director M. Colleen Hamilton, a senior historical archaeologist with Applied EarthWorks, said to the Chronicle. “I’ve worked on sites all over the country, and I think this one could only happen in California.”

@sarahecascone on Twitter.


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