Between the paws of the Sphinx stands the Dream Stela of King Thutmose IV, New Kingdom era ruler from 1400 to 1390 B.C. The tablet recounts the tale of young Thutmose, who fell asleep one day in the shadow of the Great Sphinx. In a dream, the Sphinx appeared to Thutmose as the sun god, Horus, and asked for protection from the encroaching sands. In exchange, the Sphinx promised Thutmose the Egyptian crown. Both held up their ends of the bargain, and the future pharaoh completed one of the first ancient restorations of the Great Sphinx.
Over time, the wind and sand of the Giza plateau mistreated the Sphinx, contorting its colossal face into a frightening, otherworldly visage. In fact, the Arabic name for the Sphinx is Abu-Hol, or Father of Terror.
This mystical nature of the Great Sphinx has attracted fringe theories about whether the creature has a more supernatural origin -- including a possible link to the Lost City of Atlantis. The Egypt-Atlantis connection has been around since Plato first wrote about the utopian civilization. Around the turn of the 20th century, American psychic Edgar Allan Cayce said he had a vision about a chamber beneath the Sphinx that held the secret to the whereabouts of Atlantis. Cayce, who died in 1945, claimed this chamber would be discovered in 1998 [source: Jehl].
No one's found the Atlantis chamber, but geologists and amateur historians haven't abandoned the notion by challenging the widely accepted age of the Sphinx. In 1996, a pair of controversial Egyptologists claimed that rain, not just wind and sand, caused significant erosion of the Sphinx; geologists backed up their claim. Considering that the region's moist prehistoric climate shifted to current arid conditions around 4,000 B.C., rain damage would indicate that the Sphinx was built well before Khafre's time.
The disparate style of the Great Sphinx compared to surrounding structures and the disproportionate size ratio of the head to the body have also led researchers to question the relic's age [source: Daily Mail]. If their theories are correct, a highly advanced society predated the Egyptians and disappeared from history without a trace.
Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, regards such conjectures as sensationalist nonsense. No other artifacts from the Giza Necropolis predate ancient Egypt, and seismic readings don't reveal hidden cavities below the Sphinx. For Hawass and other archaeologists, the only riddle of the Sphinx left unsolved is how to protect it against the literal sands of time.