13-Tons of Penn Museum Sphinx Moved

A special bridge facilitated the move of Penn's 13-ton sphinx.
To move the 13-ton, solid-stone, half-man, half-lion sculpture of Pharaoh Ramses II across the Penn Museum complex and up two stories, engineers built a runway stretching through the building complex and across a large courtyard. The steel and wood plank path was capable of supporting 500 pounds per square inch of pressure.

Although the latest story of the 13-ton Penn Museum Sphinx begins with its move across the museum complex at a cost of $850,000, the real story of this artifact began 30 centuries earlier in the Nile Delta city of Memphis. One of ancient Egypt’s most holy places, Memphis was a sprawl of temples, massive monuments and grand tombs, most of which celebrated the era’s ruler, Pharaoh Ramses II. (See the sphinx now in its new location)

Engineers guide the massive sphinx in its move.
High-tech hover board-like air dollies were key to the sphinx moving project, lifting the huge weight but also increasing the possibility of it “floating” sideways on a runway that had only inches to spare. Workmen moved forward very slowly.
Engineers at work on the Penn sphinx bridge.
The moving process took three days and involved dozens of engineers and technicians. The steel and plank runway connected large holes ripped in the walls to enable the Sphinx to travel out of one building and into another.

Memphis’ most important religious structure was the temple complex dedicated to the god Ptah, and small wonder. Ramses, a military conquerer and prolific builder, erected more temples, cities and massive stone monuments to himself than any other pharaoh in Egyptian history — and Ptah was the god of craftsmen and architects — the people who accomplished these works.

Red granite from Aswan
Just inside the north gate of the walled Ptah complex, a sphinx sat as a benevolent guardian and symbol of the Pharaoh’s power. Its head was a carved likeness of Ramses, and its 13-ton leonine body was sculpted from a huge block of red granite that came from the same Aswan quarry as the stones of the pyramids.

But for all its glory in the earlier centuries of Egyptian history, Memphis had a fatal geographic flaw. It was located on the flood plain of a river that overran its banks annually. Each century, more silt was deposited on top of the existing ground. Over 3,000 years, more than 15 feet of silt and sand swallowed up Memphis and the city was eventually abandoned. Much of its above-ground stonework was carted away for constructions elsewhere; by the turn of the 20th century, what had once been one of the ancient world’s richest and most powerful cities was a swampy backwater littered with smashed stone rubble, some of which suggested where the wall of the once-great Ptah temple had been.

Penn's 13-Ton Sphinx in its previous gallery location
The Penn move began here, where the Sphinx sat undisturbed for 96 years as the museum’s premiere attraction. Construction on the Sphinx’s new location — just inside the main museum’s entrance — was completed on November 16, 2019.
Opening the Penn Museum Sphinx display 1926
(Penn Museum photo) In 1926, the Sphinx was set in place, and then had a new section of museum built around it based on the assumption it would never move again.

In 1912, an archaeological expedition team partially funded by Penn was digging near the remains of the north wall and found the buried Ramses II Sphinx. At some point in earlier centuries, the Sphinx had sunk into silt and sand up to its shoulders and remained that way as centuries more of wind-driven sand eroded its face.

The massive statue was shipped by freighter to the Philadelphia waterfront in 1913, traveling from there to the museum on a massive ox cart pulled by horses. In 1926 it was put into final position and the museum’s Lower Egyptian Gallery was then constructed around it.

Both survived the ages
It turns out both the Sphinx and its creator are still with us 3,000 years later. The mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II was discovered in 1881, unwrapped and now on display in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. You can still look directly into the incredibly well-preserved face of the man considered Egypt’s greatest, most powerful leader as well as the man who commissioned the Sphinx in his own likeness that is now Penn museum’s most cherished artifact.

The mummified head of Ramses II.
Photo- Wikipedia) The mummified body of Pharaoh Ramses II is on display in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.