Epic Excavation
No Description Available | 6/20/2013
Driving along the main street of flat, sleepy Guadalupe—population less than 8,000, according to the most recent census reports—there’s little evidence that gilded chariots driven by film extras once raced up and down the town’s thoroughfare. And walking along the timeless stretches of sand Guadalupe boasts of in its motto, “Gateway to the dunes,” you could be forgiven for overlooking the mammoth pharaoh heads and sphinxes sleeping in their bed of sand.

The exodus scene in The Ten Commandments called for more than 2,000 extras and 3,000 animals, many of which were hired from the local area.

But if Indiana Jones has taught us anything, it’s that things aren’t always what they seem, and historic treasures can turn up in the unlikeliest of places, often after patiently biding their time for centuries or even thousands of years.

And while the organizers behind most archaeological excavations hope to unearth ancient or prehistoric artifacts, a local project is casting its gaze back a mere 90 years. Thanks to a cryptic passage from the posthumously published biography of Cecil B. DeMille—often considered to be the father of American cinema—the artifacts from a historic movie set from the silent film era have been identified, painstakingly recovered, and are now on display for anyone who can make the trek to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.

While the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston is a well-known movie, it was actually a remake of DeMille’s earlier, silent version of the epic Biblical story. Unlike the later film, which DeMille shot in Egypt, the silent version used Guadalupe for its scenes depicting the Jews’ now legendary exodus from Egypt led by Moses.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center is playing host to the findings of a private excavation; the effort involved several archaeologists, but was spearheaded by filmmaker Peter Brosnan, who’s working on a documentary. Literally decades in the making, the film is about the find and the excavation, with the excavation proving much more challenging than the filming process for a number of fiscal and bureaucratic reasons.

A public unveiling of the newly recovered set pieces—which have been conserved by art restoration experts at the Hollywood Heritage Museum—took place at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center on June 14. The event was speakeasy themed, celebrating the era in which the historical film was made.

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