DeMille’s City

DeMille’s “The City of the Pharaoh”

From my Archaeology at Random blog …


Who said archaeology and Hollywood cannot intersect with accuracy….

In 1923, legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille built an epic Egyptian dreamscape on California’s Central Coast for the silent black-and-white movie “The Ten Commandments.” For over 90 years the site had disappeared from the landscape.   In 1998 it was found. By 2012  cinematic history was being excavated…

A commemorative plaque was unveiled at the Dunes Discovery Center in Guadalupe, CA on March 21st, 1998 …. on it’s 75th anniversary 1923 to 1998


DeMille hired 1600 workers to create the largest movie site to that date (720′ width, 110′ height) at the unheard of cost of 1.4 million dollars, a small fortune in 1923.  The result was awe-inspiring film set comprised of numerous statues of sphinxes, pharaohs, and a massive gate.

Then at the end of the filming that lasted barely a month,  he had it dismantled and dynamited… then buried in the sands with bulldozers. Why? Well simply he did not want his abandoned set used by any other filmmakers creating cheap knockoffs of his movie.

The set remained hidden until 1983 when Peter Brosnan, a filmmaker set out to find DeMille’s city using clues in DeMille’s autobiography.   He found the location but lack the funding for a full scale excavation at the time. That lack of funds would be the thorn in the side of any excavation.


In 1990 with a grant Brosnan was able using ground-mapping radar to detect at least twelve of the sphinxes.  By 2012 an excavation was done revealing the statues unfortunately being made of plaster were in a dire state of conversation. Most of the city though still lies under the sand, and yes still decaying. Unfortunately that may be rapidly changing with the climate.  The area is being hit by more storms than before and the harsh winds have revealed parts of the plaster city.

Today the location of DeMille’s city is an official State of California registered archaeological site.  That means any artifact removed or tamper with is a federal felony.   However I have to tell you if I had known way way back before it was a official site, before I was born even, I can guarantee those artifacts would be in my house all safe and secure …

So for fun here is the original movie and then news articles/videos about the find in California… enjoy …. Archaeology can be right under your nose

Movie                                                                                                                                              … only found 67 minutes online.. the original whole movie is 136 minutes

The Ten Commandments (Cecil B Demille, 1923) [1/5]                  

The Ten Commandments – (Cecil B. De Mille, 1923) [2/5]              

The Ten Commandments – (Cecil B. De Mille, 1923) [3/5]                  

The Ten Commandments – (Cecil B. De Mille, 1923) [4/5]                  

The Ten Commandments – (Cecil B. De Mille, 1923) [5/5]                                      

Articles Online

The Cursed, Buried City That May Never See The Light of Day                                                  By David Ferry  (Outside Online) (Oct 8, 2015)

Demille’s Lost City                                                     

“Lost City” Pics                                                       

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes                               

Excavating the ‘Ten Commandments’ in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes (June 10, 2013)

DeMille artifacts unveiled at Dunes Center (June 15, 2013)   

Going back for more: The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes center completes its second excavation of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 Ten Commandments set (October 15, 2014) 

County permitting snafu stalls ‘Lost City’ excavation project  (October 12, 2011) 

Filmmaker checks ‘Lost City’ site for damage  (November 19, 2011)

Calif. Museum to Showcase Relics of ‘Ten Commandments’ Silent Movie (June 19, 2013)

Raiders of the Lost Set | Excavating Demille’s City of Pharaohs 1923-2014 (May 27, 2014)

The Lost City of DeMille, Buried in the Guadalupe Dunes (June 22, 2013)

Last chance for Dunes Center to dig up film history (April 14, 2014)

Discoveries: DeMille’s ‘lost city’ a feature of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center  (September 7, 2014)                     

Archaeologists in a California desert have dug up a giant plaster sphinx from the set of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 film, “The Ten Commandments.”   (October 16, 2014)

Giant Sphinx from ‘Ten Commandments’ Film Unearthed 91 Years Later (October 17, 2014)                                                                                       

Sphinx unearthed from 1923 Cecil B. DeMille movie set (Oct. 17, 2014)       

Mystery of the Hollywood sphinx: dig unearths Cecil B DeMille’s lost treasures (October 18, 2014)                                                                                      

Remains of 1923 DeMille sphinx recovered from dunes (October 18th, 2014)   

1930s Hollywood ‘sphinx’ uncovered in California  (October 19, 2014) 

Shifting sands reveal ‘Ten Commandments’ artifacts in Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes (October 23, 2014)                

Archaeologists Are Digging Up Sphinxes in…California?  (Dec.15, 2014)   

Hollywood Exodus  (December 15, 2014)                 

Archaeologists Uncover Giant Sphinx in Calif. Dunes  (Oct 16, 2014)


CNN news report about “lost city of DeMille” (April 15, 1993)          

No Place Like Home Guadalupe Dunes (Feb 16, 2010)          

Demille’s Lost Set Rough (Dec 16, 2008)                                    

DeMille’s Lost City of the Pharaoh (Jul 22, 2010)                            

Cecil B. DeMille’s-The Lost City–Mike Stuart w Peter Brosnan (Oct 20, 2010)          

Unearthing the Sphinx  (Oct 13, 2014)                                              

Huge Sphynx Unearthed in the California Desert Colossus Sphinx from 1923 Film The Ten Commandments  (Oct 18, 2014)                                                          

Footage Of Archaeologists Unearthing A 1923 Sphinx Movie Prop (Oct 19, 2014)            

Archaeologists uncover giant Egyptian sphinxes in California desert (Oct 21, 2014)            

‘Ten Commandments’ artifacts in Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes (Oct 23, 2014)            

California Crossroads Demille’s Lost City  (Jun 26, 2015)            


1923 photos                                                                                                                                     “The City of the Pharaoh”. Over 700′ wide, it towered 120′ over the rolling Nipomo Dunes north of Santa Barbara, CA. A half-million feet of lumber and 75 miles of reinforcing cable anchored the structure. And 500 tons of magnificent Pharaonic statuary adorned its walls and grounds.



pharoahs     the-ten-commandments

Twenty-one of these 5-ton sphinxes were built for the film. Over a dozen are believed buried and awaiting recovery



Remnant of Sphinx                                                                                                                   Members of the Nakamura family of Guadalupe standing on a beached sphinx set piece from Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”   Date ?         

 Only Two of the sphinxes  were removed from the dunes following the shoot.  These  were installed at the Santa Maria Country Club. A postcard image from 1932 shows the Santa Maria Country Club (now Broadway in Santa Maria).



Ramses face                                                                                                                                     Built under the direction of French artist Paul Iribe, a founder of the Art Deco movement, 1,600 craftsmen worked on a temple 800 feet wide and 120 feet tall flanked by four 40-ton 35-foot-tall figures statues of the Pharaoh Ramses


 Sphinx being built                                                                                                                       Set builders working on the sphinx set piece for ‘The Ten Commandments’.  Twenty-one sphinxes guarded the entrance to Cecil B. DeMille’s City of the Pharaohs.   The former movie set is registered archaeological site, removing items is a felony.

                    Sphinx head half-thumb-580x625-52628

Survey                                                                                                                                               The 1990 survey. Using Ground Penetrating Radar, renowned geophysicist Lambert Dolphin, PhD, and his support team discovered the probable location of 12 buried sphinxes.

laserdrag   ngI4O.AuSt.76

and the Sphinx found under that radar



Archaeologist Paul Chace  points out pieces of plaster statues.


Santa Barbara-based art conservator Glenn Wharton has worked on restoration projects around the world. He believes these “lost city” artifacts can be recovered and preserved.    Glen Wharton with a fragment of Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments” set.



Project archaeologist John Parker, PhD, ponders the mystery of the sphinx.


Site pictures                                                                                                                                  

moredig (1)       arti4

Chariot driver’s horse                                                                                                 

This six-foot wide horse’s head once graced the walls of Pharaoh’s City. To orientate you the horses’s eyeball is at left center and a nostril in the upper right with the man’s hand in the horse’s mouth.


The plaster of a chariot driver’s foot and leg

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The Artifacts at the Museum

Hollywood Heritage art conservator Amy Higgins prepares the “Pharaoh’s Face” for the museum .


Spectators including Frances Romero and Cecilia DeMille-Presley, in a white blouse, the granddaughter of Cecil B. DeMille look at a huge artifact from the Cecile B. DeMille silent classic “The Ten Commandments” that was unveiled.

51bbffc49e477.preview-620   51bbffe8c3934.preview-620

51bbffd9ebda3.preview-620   LU3Od.AuSt.76

photo_(65)        FYth3.AuSt.76

Hand                                                                                                                                                         hand drY10.AuSt.76

   Sphinx Face    


Sphinx Paw                                                                                                                                     



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