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Keeping Up the Ruins

Restored Sphinx unveiled May 25. But elsewhere, ancient Egypt is still crumbling fast.

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Egypt's enigmatic Sphinx may look formidable as it guards the pyramids at Giza, but restorers have been trying to save the man-lion from collapse for almost 3,400 years.

The latest work on the 4,500-year-old Sphinx was unveiled May 25.

After some monumental restoration mistakes in the 1980s caused a 300-pound chunk of the Sphinx's shoulder to fall off, the team that stepped in to correct the errors says its members did as little work as possible on the monument - only enough to preserve it.

"The Sphinx is a ruin and this creates the mystery and the magic of the Sphinx," says Zahi Hawass, the chief government archaeologist for the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids.

"If we add to the Sphinx, this will only damage the ruin and the magic of the Sphinx," says Mr. Hawass, who headed the restoration project.

So the head of the Sphinx remains without a beard and a nose, which fell off in the 14th century. During the laborious 10-year, $2.3 million restoration project, workers removed limestone blocks added in the 1980s that had made the Sphinx's northern flank look more like a wall than an animal. Scientists searched for limestone rock and mortar that would better suit the man-lion's fragile limestone body.

Referring to photographs of the Sphinx dating to 1841, and an intricate map showing each stone and curve of the animal's former shape, workers hand-cut limestone bricks in the exact size of the original ones and adhered them with a natural mortar of lime and sand.

But few of Egypt's other decaying monuments receive the loving care and lavish budget that were spent on the Sphinx, conservation experts say.

They charge that ancient temples are being rebuilt from ruins, irreplaceable materials and designs are discarded for new ones, and, more tragically, priceless testaments to the world's history are collapsing.


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