ACRA is celebrating the work of its member firms through this new series highlighting 2020 projects. To be featured, submit your project here.
The Lost City of DeMille
Applied EarthWorks, Inc.
Applied EarthWorks, Inc (Æ) Historical Archaeology staff, under the direction of M. Colleen Hamilton, M.A., RPA, completed excavations at the Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent movie set for the prologue of the classic film The Ten Commandments. The data recovery excavations at Lost City were not the typical cultural resource management project. Rather, the work was performed in cooperation with the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, the County of Santa Barbara, and featured in Peter Brosnan’s documentary film The Lost City of DeMille. Brosnan’s production debuted at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 2016 and won multiple awards at the Archaeology Channel International Film Festival in 2018. Media coverage following the 2012, 2014, and 2016 field excavation performed by Æ attracted international attention.
Æ’s investigations at the DeMille’s site focused on the discovery of statuary from the film set including a nearly whole sphinx; one of 20 statues that lined the road into the pharaonic City that DeMille’s recreated at Guadalupe Dunes. The set was designed by Paul Iribe, the father of Art Deco, possibly after an oil painting by Sir Edward John Poynter titled Israel in Egypt. DeMille’s City of the Rameses was set in the Egyptian Desert from which the Israelites fled persecution. The Guadalupe Dunes provided the vast sand dunes reminiscent of desert scenes and has been featured in multiple Hollywood films (The Sheik (1921); Son of the Sheik (1926) and Morocco (1930)). Between 2012 and 2020, Æ staff also searched for Camp DeMille where 2,500 film stars, extras, set workers, cooks, and 3000 livestock resided during the five months it took to build the set and film the movie.
This project is a fascinating example of conservation by a private entity, with the majority of funding for the project coming from the Dunes Center. Additionally, it brings a new lens to an industry that is still considered relatively new by historical standards. For more information on the project, be sure to view The Lost City of DeMille, available on Amazon.
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