Essay Examples - Ancient Civilization Material Culture

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Thesis statement: The Egyptian Sphinx remains an eternal symbol of strength and power. It transcends both culture and socio-economic boundary. It simultaneously reveals how quickly a prominent and affluent society can become decimated.

While attending the UPENN Museum of Anthropology the object selected was a Statue of the Sphinx. According to the description underneath the collection, it’s a hybrid design with the body of a lion and the head of a man. This enabled the Sphinx to possess both human intelligence and the strength of a lion. It is made out of Red Granite, originally carved in the Middle Kingdom (1938-1759 BCE). Originating from Egypt it functioned as a protective guardian figure, located in front of temple complexes. It was exhumed from the temple of the god Ptah at Memphis Egypt (Penn Museum, 2015).

Other distinct features include a nemes headdress and a false beard. In addition to representing power and intelligence it was also symbolic of royal kingship. This is in stark contrast to the sphinx from Greek mythology which was symbolic of a malicious being (Penn Museum, 2015). This sphinx, the largest in the Western hemisphere weighs approximately 15 tons. Scholars contend that it was made out of a single block of Granite. Inscribed on the chest of this Sphinx are five names of Ramses II (Penn Museum, 2015). Also, the name of Ramesside the pharaoh of Merenptah, is added to the Sphinx. Some scholars purport that this was Merenptah’s attempt to connect himself to the virtuous acts of Ramses II (With Art Philadelphia, 2015).

Social and Historical Significance

To truly understand the significance of the Sphinx of Egypt, an examination of Memphis is necessary. Memphis is identified as the first province of Lower Egypt. It is notable that currently there are only ruins where Memphis used to be. This would appear to fulfill the prophesy of Jeremiah 46:19, which states “Make your baggage ready for exile, O daughter dwelling in Egypt, for Memphis will become a desolation; it will even be burned down and bereft of inhabitants. This is the idea purported by Philip Schaff in his book Through the Bible published in (1878).

This does not discredit or abate the centuries of grandeur climaxing during the period of the 6th dynasty. Throughout this period Memphis was recognized as the principal center of the cult of Ptah. An epigraphy found at Abu had the inscription, “At Memphis I have enlarged your house, I have, built it with much work, with gold and precious stone.” The author of that inscription according to scholars is Simbel Ramses II. During its heyday Memphis was also a booming chariot manufacturing site, which was a necessary industry due to Egyptian wars (ancient-egypt.info, 2013). One can assume that Ramses II never envisioned such a magnificent work eventually falling into ruins.

Also, there were individuals of every culture and nationality in the city, symbolizing its diversity. The temple of Ptah was important due to it being the place where pharaohs were crowned. The eventual decimation of Memphis is at least partially attributed to the rise and growth of Alexandria (ancient-egypt.info, 2013).

What kinds of status/identity might a person buying this object attach to it?

An individual purchasing a sphinx would most likely associate not just with the sphinx but with the classic images and culture of ancient Egypt. Given the enormity of the stone statue they would probably view it as a representation of grand power and intelligence. Given its magnitude and visual significance a visionary leader would inevitably be drawn to such a symbol. It is also probable that the individual would be a person of affluence. This is theorized based on the fact that the Sphinx adorned the house of Pharaohs. For example, Khafre, a Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh, ruled Egypt from 2520 BCE to 2494 BCE. His pyramid was built on the Giza Plateau near the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Daily Kos, 2010).

The soft sandstone came from bedrock discovered during the construction of the valley temple. Since the workers could not use this material for causeway’s they decided to carve it into a sculpture that would honor Khafre. It is also notable that prior to carving the sphinx workers had to isolate the bedrock block. They accomplished this by digging a deep, u-shaped ditch. It took approximately 1 million person hours using cooper tools to carve the sphinx. This means that approximately 100 carvers spent three years constructing the sculpture (Daily Kos, 2010).


The thesis statement identifies the Egyptian Sphinx as a symbol of strength and power. The historical information in this report affirms that fact. Additionally, an examination of Memphis Egypt reveals a society that was diverse, expansive, and affluent. The Sphinx was a way to eternally honor those who led with power and might. However, the Sphinx also provides a cautionary reminder of the fickle nature of social power and affluence. In the same way that Memphis eventually became decimated the royal palaces also were ultimately destroyed.

This could offer a poignant perspective for leaders who may either be affluent or aspire to extraordinary social status. There must be a balance in how intelligence and power are apt utilized. It is about investing in infrastructure but primarily about investing in people. People are the greatest asset that an organization possess. It is from the people within an organization that knowledge and ingenuity is stored. Even though museums have successfully preserved some ancient artifacts many have been ruined. Therefore let us draw a lesson from Abu and not simply focus on enlarging material and temporary houses.


Daily Kos. (2010, December 19). Ancient Egypt: The Great Sphinx. Retrieved from http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/12/19/930202/-Ancient-Egypt-The-Great-Sphinx#

Penn Museum. (2015). EGYPT (SPHINX) GALLERY. Retrieved from http://www.penn.museum/long-term-exhibits/egypt-sphinx-gallery.html

Schaff, P. (1878). Through Bible Lands: Notes of Travel in Egypt, the Dessert, and Palestine (Rev ed.). New York, NY: American Tract Society.

With Art Philidelphia. (2015). SPHINX OF RAMSES II. Retrieved from http://withart.visitphilly.com/artworks/sphinx-of-ramses-ii/

ancient-egypt.info. (2013, August). Memphis Egypt Facts. Retrieved from http://www.ancient-egypt.info/2013/08/memphis-egypt-facts.html

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