The Secret Egyptian City Buried In The California Desert

“If 1,000 years from now archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization[. . .]extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America.” —Cecil B. DeMille, filmmaker

In A Nutshell

After completing filming of his biblical epic The Ten Commandments in 1923, Cecil B. DeMille buried the entire movie set in the California desert. The massive set, which included 21 plaster sphinxes, has remained buried there ever since. A documentary filmmaker has found the location and is trying to secure funding to uncover the entire set, but is keeping the exact location a secret to prevent looting and vandalism.

The Whole Bushel

Cecil B. DeMille was one of the biggest movie directors in the early days of Hollywood. He was known for his gigantic productions; he constructed massive movie sets and he had casts of thousands of people. He paved the road for directors of big-budget blockbusters like James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg. His most famous films are Cleopatra (1930) and The Ten Commandments (1953).

Another popular movie of DeMille’s was the earlier, silent version of The Ten Commandments which was produced in 1923. After getting the financing of $750,000 (a significant amount of money for the production of a silent film), DeMille hired 1,500 workers to build a City of the Pharaohs in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, which is on the central coast of California near San Luis Obispo, a few hours north of Los Angeles.

It took them six weeks to make the massive set. There was a temple that was 240 meters wide and 36 meters tall (800 ft by 120 ft). There were four 10.5-meter (35 ft) statues of Rameses II which stood in front of a 34-meter (110 ft) gate. Then there were the astonishing five-ton sphinx statues made from plaster, 21 in all, that lined the entrance into the city.

After shooting the film, a problem arose as to what to do about the set. It was too big and would cost too much to take the set down. They had already spent an exorbitant amount of money creating the set and they hadn’t released the film, so they had no idea if they were going to make any of their money back. The other problem was that they couldn’t just leave the huge set there. One major ploy of making a movie like The Ten Commandments was the sheer spectacle of seeing the City of Pharaoh alive on the screen. They couldn’t just leave their glorious work of art so anyone could swoop in, shoot a film, and release it before the studio released The Ten Commandments. It would be devastating to the movie.

In the end, DeMille bulldozed the set into a 90-meter (300 ft) trench and then covered it with sand.

Then the story was essentially forgotten. In film school classes, it was told as a legend. The story was crazy and many people thought it was just an urban legend from the grandfather of blockbusters. That is what 30-year-old New York film school graduate Peter Brosnan thought when a former roommate told him the story in 1982. Then the roommate showed him DeMille’s autobiography and confirmed he did have a giant movie set buried in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes.

Shortly afterward, Brosnan decided to make a documentary about trying to uncover the movie set. In June 1983, they were able to locate the set, with pieces of Neptunian art sticking up out of the sand. However, Brosnan needed to raise $175,000 for an archeological dig to uncover the entire set. He has raised some and has been able to recover some pieces which have been displayed in the Dunes Center in an exhibit called “The Lost City of DeMille.” But most of the set still remains buried.

Show Me The Proof

Artbound: Excavating the ‘Ten Commandments’ in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
LA Times: Digging up a piece of Hollywood history

  • Hillyard

    Good article. Early urban legend turns out to be true. I hope they’re successful in uncovering it.

    • OC

      Fits. (1) Waste of everyone’s time (2) Waste of money. No. You can dig up real human bodies at one of the “orphanages”. Especially in the Deep South.

      • lbatfish

        Personally, I’d find excavating the DeMille set to be more my kind of fun.

  • Nathaniel A.

    Seems like this would be a good practice dummy for archaeology students. You know, instead of excavating something very breakable or one that has significant cultural value, just dig up this.

    • Robert Grimminck

      That’s what I thought too. I can’t believe that it’s been there for 90 years and no one has done anything, ever!

      • Andy West

        ‘…and nobody has has done anything, ever!’ for 90 years.

      • OC

        Some plaster and paper mache from a movie set.

    • Hillyard

      That is an excellent idea. Not only would the stuff be excavated but the local archaeology students would gain some ‘real world’ OJT. You’re elected, make it happen.

    • OC

      Hilarious!

  • Check

    Fascinating! That’s great how something meant to represent an ancient, cultural area eventually ends up being an excavated relic of cultural importance itself. Love it! Great article!

  • OC

    Example of Hollywood’s arrogance, and America’s love affair with waste. They really could not have recycled or donated the materials? Well this was the high-rolling, freedom-loving, roaring ’20s. Hmm. And what happened shortly after? Wha . . . ? The Great WHAT?

    • Joseph

      You sure do like to whine.

      • OC

        Oh thanks!

        • Joseph

          That’s nice.

    • Justin is an economist

      Who cares!

  • inconspicuous detective

    back when movies were good and practical effects trumped the overuse of CG…

    • P5ychoRaz

      And Charlton Heston

      • lbatfish

        On the topic of Charlie, was anybody ever able to pry his firearm out of his “cold dead hands”? Or is it still there, waiting Excaliber-like for the next “true King” of NRA to do the deed, and claim his rightful throne?

        • OC

          Sadly he has Alzheimer’s. He is a good man though. I just disagree regarding the type of military weaponry that can fire 200 rounds a minute and any nutcase can have one.

          • P5ychoRaz

            Thanks Buzz

    • OC

      I’m not giving up my digital HD and CG for Nobody.

    • OC

      OMG Seriously I read a bio of one of the older actors of the Spencer Tracy era, because he described John Wayne as wildly bigoted — and they did EVERYTHING. Build the sets, set things up, pack things up, tore things down — talk about hands-on! Especially when they were on the road doing theater. And I remember being stunned at how little they earned. It was amazing.

  • Andy West

    I do the same thing when I’m in the park chasing squirrels, if I catch one I bury it alive after shouting at it.

    • OC

      Do sociopaths and potential serial killers have nightmares like the rest of us?

      • lbatfish

        Do you REALLY want to know? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • asda

    that shit is just fucking dumb. thats why i dont like most movies because they are fake as shit and they directors are fucking so greedy they wouldnt even leave the place for other movies. he could have charged em to rent the place but no the dumbshit had to go and bury them. i dont consider him a great person in the movie indusrty. just a dumbshit idiot.

    • OC

      But the Ten Commandments is really riveting. Yul Brenner, Charlton Heston, The one who played Joshua and Queen Neffertiti. All those “slaves”. The parting of the Red Sea. Everybody talking in Poetry, their slow motion movements.

    • Maria Padilla

      Oh what movies are fake???? You fuckin think?

  • BlaineMcgruder

    which type of Mysterious for the secret of Egyptian city?
    http://safercolonadvice.com/

  • Eric Polk

    Slight problem with this article and its title. The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes are not in the desert. They are coastal sand dunes located along the beach. The area near the dunes is known for its wine so it is hardly a desert. Map of the dunes

  • Eric Polk

    Slight problem with this article and its title. The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes are not in the desert. They are coastal sand dunes located along the beach. The area near the dunes is known for its wine so it is hardly a desert. The lead quote from Cecil B. DeMille even alludes to this:”extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America.” Map of the dunes