Archaeology & History
Why do Egyptian statues have missing noses ?
By T.K. Randall
March 19, 2019 · 11 comments
What happened to all the noses ? Image Credit: Walters Art Museum
Tomb robbers may have deliberately defaced statues and artwork to prevent spirits from seeking revenge.
One of the most curious things about ancient Egyptian statues is the absence of the nose in the majority of cases. While it might be easy to chalk this up to age-related deterioration, the selective nature of the damage and the frequency at which it occurs seems to suggest that there may be an alternative explanation.
According to Edward Bleiberg, a curator for Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian art galleries, the removal of the nose was actually a deliberate and purposeful act of sabotage.
The key to this defacement lies in the ancient Egyptian belief that such sculptures contained the souls of the deceased and that statues, paintings and other depictions represented a 'portal' of sorts between the world of the living and the supernatural realm.
For tomb robbers looking to protect themselves from divine retaliation for their acts of thievery, removing the nose effectively 'killed' the spirit by stopping it from being able to breathe.
"The damaged part of the body is no longer able to do its job," said Bleiberg.
For this reason, there is a long history of Egyptian artefacts being deliberately defaced. Even when Christianity arrived, icons of Egyptian deities were damaged to prevent 'demons' from resurrecting.
"Imagery in public space is a reflection of who has the power to tell the story of what happened and what should be remembered," said Bleiberg.
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