Some of the many Egyptian statues that are missing their noses

Why are Noses Missing from so Many Egyptian Statues?


One of the most common questions you will hear within art history’s circles is “Why are the noses missing from so many ancient Egyptian statues?” Is it just a coincidence, or could it possibly be a conspiracy?

Natural Erosion Has Played a Role  

Several archaeologists have suggested erosion could be one of the main reasons this happens to many ancient statues. Harsh winds, shifting mud and sand dunes, the flowing of water, and thousands of years of feet and hands pitter-pattering over relatively delicate materials such as marble and stone will most likely have a pretty damaging effect. Many of these ancient statues have been exposed to these elements for a very long time, while others have been buried under tons of mud and sand for centuries, it's usually the extremities, such as arms, legs and noses that get damaged the most and eventually disappear.

Statues of a young Tutankhamun and his consort Ankesenamun outside at Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt.

Statues of a young Tutankhamun and his consort Ankesenamun outside at Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt. (Ad Meskens/CC BY SA 3.0)

Human Intervention is Definitely Another Major Factor  

Vandalism could be another major factor as to why this phenomenon appears so frequently. A recent example, not in Egypt, is the statue of the famous philosopher Aristotle, which is welcoming visitors at the entrance of the ancient Assos site, in Turkey. The statue of Aristotle, known as the founder of the first philosophy school in history, was erected in 2009 by the Culture Ministry of Turkey at the entrance to the ancient Assos site in the Ayvacık district, but in 2015 it was vandalized after its right arm was removed, while severe distortion was noted on the statue’s face as well.

Who or what damaged this statue of the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Haremheb as a scribe? Did vandals take his nose?

Who or what damaged this statue of the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Haremheb as a scribe? Did vandals take his nose? (Aryeh Shershow/CC BY SA 3.0)

It has also been noted before that several archaeologists during the late 19th and early 20th century, lacking the finer instruments and procedures we have today and in a hurry to be the first to discover the "next big thing", were responsible for some of the most hideous damages ever committed against classical sculpture.

Of course, religion has also played a huge part, even though extremist Muslims aren't the only ones who have been caught in the act as many people falsely believe today. Christians, Jews, and many other known religions have also taken part in the shameful act of vandalism throughout the centuries and are responsible for the de-nosing and dismembering of many cultural and historical treasures.

Video at: http://splash.abc.net.au/home#!/media/1567326/who-broke-the-sphinx-s-nose-

Could it be Racism?

According to some scholars, there was a deliberate attempt by early Egyptologists to deny and hide that Ancient Egypt was an African culture. According to the written account of Vivant Denon, a French artist, writer and archaeologist who etched the image of the Sphinx of Giza around 1798, the facial features of the famous monument appeared to be of African origin,

...Though its proportions are colossal, the outline is pure and graceful; the expression of the head is mild, gracious, and tranquil; the character is African, but the mouth, and lips of which are thick, has a softness and delicacy of execution truly admirable; it seems real life and flesh. Art must have been at a high pitch when this monument was executed; for, if the head wants what is called style, that is the say, the straight and bold lines which give expression to the figures under which the Greeks have designated their deities, yet sufficient justice has been rendered to the fine simplicity and character of nature which is displayed in this figure.

The Great Sphinx in 1867. Note its unrestored condition, still partially buried body, and man standing beneath its ear.

The Great Sphinx in 1867. Note its unrestored condition, still partially buried body, and man standing beneath its ear. (Public Domain)

However, this theory fails to explain why so many ancient Greek and Roman statues are de-nosed and dismembered as well. Noses on the vast majority of ancient Greek and Roman stone sculptures are missing too. While some of these have inevitably broken off accidentally, it’s pretty evident that an overwhelming number of them have been deliberately targeted. Since it’s historically, archaeologically and scientifically proven that the ancient Greeks and Romans were of European (Caucasian) origin, in this case racism wasn’t likely to have been a reason for the intentional de-nosing of those statues.

Humiliation

It has been recorded that later Egyptian dynasties would often deface statues of past monarchs in order to erase or diminish their legacy. In these cases the removal of the nose would be accompanied by other, more extensive facial disfigurements, as well as the destruction of inscriptions and symbols of office.

Busts of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.

Busts of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. (kairoinfo4u/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

In conclusion, the suggestion that the statues had their noses removed specifically to “hide” the race of the individuals they depicted is definitely not a theory to fully dismiss, but it’s only a theory for now, with no solid archaeological proof and evidence verifying it. So, for one to answer with confidence the question why so many Egyptian statues are missing their noses, they should be able to explain with certainty why the same happened with so many statues of Greek, Persian, and Roman origin as well.

Top Image: Some of the many Egyptian statues that are missing their noses - Neferure and Senenmut (CC BY SA 3.0), Great Sphinx of Giza (Diego Delso/CC BY SA 3.0), 'Green Head' of a statue of a priest (Society for the Promotion of the Egyptian Museum Berlin), Head from a female sphinx (Brooklyn Museum), statue of a Man (Public Domain), and Senusret III  (Public Domain).

By: Theodoros Karasavvas

References

Bradley, M. (2015) Effaced: the missing noses of classical antiquity. http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/argonautsandemperors/2015/10/23/effaced-the-missing-noses-of-classical-antiquity/

Kemet Expert (2016). Why are the noses missing from Egyptian statues? http://kemetexpert.com/why_are_the_noses_missing_from_egyptian_statues/

SAFItech (n.d). Why No Noses On Statues? http://www.eastart.net/no-noses-statues/

Comments

I am particularly interested in Archaeology of the Middle Ages and the Ancient World. I believe there is more to history than what is in history books.

William Bradshaw's picture

You are correct. Much of history has been rewritten to hide many facts and to show a certain group of people in a better light. If you wish to know the truth about human civilization then read Secrets of the Pink Kush.

http://secretspinkkush.zappersoftware.com/

William H. Bradhaw, Dipl. T, CPIM
http://SecretsPinkKush.ZapperSoftware.com

That's quite the alphabet soup after your misspelled name.

I just filled out this section, but I guess I will try again. As I said before, I am particularly interested in the Archaeology of the Middle Ages and the Ancient World. I believe there is more to history than is written in history books.

I enjoyed your post.

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Artist’s representation of Vanaheimr.
In a realm of nine worlds, one might assume that the gods would be satisfied with one. One world where they could live away from humans and watch over their antics as one might watch a TV show. In the mythology of the Norse, however, one world for the gods is not enough because the gods themselves are divided.

Myths & Legends

Artist’s representation of Vanaheimr.
In a realm of nine worlds, one might assume that the gods would be satisfied with one. One world where they could live away from humans and watch over their antics as one might watch a TV show. In the mythology of the Norse, however, one world for the gods is not enough because the gods themselves are divided.

Ancient Technology

An Ulfberht sword displayed at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany
Ulfberht was like a Medieval luxury brand for swords—but unlike your Gucci purse, the swords were of such high quality they were almost … mystical. Dozens of these swords—made with metal so strong and pure it’s baffling how any sword maker of that time could have accomplished it

Ancient Places

Potala Palace in the winter.
Potala Palace is an ancient palace located in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. This palace once served as the winter palace of the Dalai Lama, as well as the Tibetan seat of government. Additionally, Potala Palace is considered a symbol of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as its traditional theocratic system of government. Potala Palace is the highest palace in the world.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article