City Travel

California’s Buried City May Never Be Uncovered

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In 1956 Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments was released. The movie set was the largest of its time and was eventually buried by the sands of California’s central coast, just 150 miles north of Los Angeles. The once “City of Pharaoh” transformed into lifeless sand dunes until Peter Brosnan caught wind of the rumor of the buried movie set, which included an Egyptian temple, a dozen plaster sphinxes, eight mammoth lions, and four 40-ton statues of Ramses II. He began chipping away at the surface.

The film was the largest and most expensive to date and nearly ruined Demille. The set alone required 1,500 carpenters and used more than 25,000 pounds of nails. To ensure that no competing directors benefitted from his set, he strapped dynamite to the structures and collapsed the mock Egyptian city.

Brosnan had thirty miles of sand dunes to search through, but luckily a storm revealed a bit of Plaster of Paris statuary peeking through a dune. Low and behold, Brosnan had just stumbled upon the oldest existing movie set.

As Brosnan’s plan to excavate the city and create a documentary continued, he fought the constant struggle between having enough money and having the permission to dig. Eventually in the mid-1990s he gave up.

The mystery of this story is that the sand dunes, which formed 15,000 years ago, have been able to keep parts of the set perfectly intact. Rivers swept mineral-dense rocks into the sea, creating fine grain sand. The minerals in the sand are the reason for such preservation. The sand acts as a natural desiccant that preserves the plaster for the statues.

While people continue to visit the ruins and dig around, the set may not last more than eighty more years. Recent storms have shifted the sands more so than ever before, leaving more of the set exposed. This means the sand isn’t there to protect it, and it is being uncovered by natural force, not the delicate hands of an excavator. Researchers say the set is disappearing rapidly. We can only wonder if we will ever get to see the Egyptian city completely uncovered.

Kate Wilke is the content manager at 301brands, and she's the editor of, and the lifestyle editor at When she's not paddle boarding or skiing, she's informing someone about global warming (or cats) over a local double IPA. Follow her on Instagram — @kateewilke

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