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:!/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.


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


Bradley, M. (2015) Effaced: the missing noses of classical antiquity.

Kemet Expert (2016). Why are the noses missing from Egyptian statues?

SAFItech (n.d). Why No Noses On Statues?


The story of Napoleon shooting the nose off the face of the Sphinx is an 'unproven Legend. The Sphinx at the time was covered almost to its ears in sand. Had Napoleon shot the nose off why didn't they find any cannonballs when digging the Sphinx out of the sand? Someone would have found it during the excavation because I doubt he would have retrieved The Cannonball for any reason because once it it's been shot and dented it becomes pretty much useless and indeed would have been dented shooting at solid Stone. I'm not denying whether or not Napoleon could have been racist I'm simply putting as fact because there is no proof that if Napoleon had truly shot the nose off the Sphinx they would have found the Cannonball buried beneath the sand because it was 60 years later when they decided to dig the Sphinx out from the sand.

The nose was missing long before Napoleon visited the Sphinx, the legend that his troops used it for target practice is false. The nose was destroyed in 1378 by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr—a Sufi Muslim from the khanqah of Sa'id al-Su'ada, because he found locals making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest.

Napoleon shot the nose off the Sphinx because he couldn't believe the pyramids were created by Africans and in contemporary times the director of Egyptian antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has done the same even going so far as to paint over teh pictures and white wash them, so there is your answer. Blatant racism

Cousin_Jack's picture

Knowing nothing about Egypt, maybe it was a form of rebellion? Maybe a war between the Egyptians led to the nose being amputated as a sign as to what someone thought of the rulers gods? Maybe a ruler had an accident with his nose and people decided to do the same to the statues? The reason could relate to something that has happened in Egypts past. Maybe Egyptians simply had an habit of picking their noses and tried to climb inside some of the bigger statues noses? Then I guess you’d smash the noses off the smaller statues just to show that they’re Egyptian and/or old? Maybe yet explorers still have to find a trench full of amputated noses...

In Anglia et Cornubia.

I agree that quite a bit of history has been lost. I too have noted the absence of noses but the theory of hiding nationality is a new one to me and bears some thought. I’ve always assumed it represented one section of society (either religious or national) making certain their new subjects understood their place.


Next article