The Egyptian Sphinx is perhaps the largest statue missing a nose. Experts theorize that Egyptians deliberately broke the noses of pharaoh statues. Learn why below. Credit: Shutterstock

Unwritten Mystery: Why Do Statues of Egyptian Pharaohs Have Broken Noses?

What is the purpose behind the deliberate breaking of the noses of pharaoh statues according to scientists?

Scientists have noticed that many ancient Egyptian pharaoh statues lack noses. At first, it was attributed to the fact that the nose is an outstanding part of the face, the statues, as a rule, are more than one thousand years old, and during this time if anything could leave its usual place, it was the nose.

However, the nose turned out to be more complicated.

As Adela Oppenheim, curator of the Egyptian department of the Metropolitan Museum in New York found out, the Egyptian pharaohs were deprived of their nose quite deliberately. The fact is that according to the ideas of the ancient Egyptians, and not only them but each statue also possessed vitality and could thus influence what is happening in reality.

Hatshepsut, circa 1478–1458 BC. Credit: Brooklyn Museum
Hatshepsut, circa 1478–1458 BC. Credit: Brooklyn Museum

The statues received this power together with the breath, that is, through the nose, respectively. If you deprive the pharaoh statue of the nose, then their influence in the afterlife – and the fact that it was there, no one doubted – would not spread to the real world.

Interestingly, the life force appeared in the statue, thanks to a special ritual of “revitalization”, the ritual of “opening the mouth” – this is when eyes, eyebrows, mouth were painted on the face of the sculpture, nostrils were drawn. From that moment, it was believed that the statue of the pharaoh was fully present in the world of the living. And it remained there, of course, even after the death of its owner.

Granodiorite statue of Pharaoh Senurset III, again with a broken nose. Credit: British Museum
Granodiorite statue of Pharaoh Senurset III, again with a broken nose. Credit: British Museum

Who could have dealt with this abuse? Who could get in the way of the nose? Obviously not the contemporaries of the pharaohs. Imagine, for example, a subject of Ramesses II suddenly being caught in front of the statue of his master with a hammer in his hands.

Amunhotep, Son of Nebiry, ca. 1426-1400 B.C.E. Limestone, pigment. Credit: Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour FundAmunhotep, Son of Nebiry, ca. 1426-1400 B.C.E. Limestone, pigment. Credit: Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund

Scientists suggest that the desecration of the statues is the work of seekers and thieves of treasures that have been digging in the Egyptian pyramids from time immemorial. Moreover, this was done not for the sake of pampering, but just so that the life force of the dead pharaohs did not interfere with filling their pockets with gold jewelry. The Tomb Raiders believed that the ancient kings and gods looked at them condemningly and that the looted wealth would not bring any benefit. So, they broke the noses of

However, some went further and knocked their heads off at the statues. To be sure.

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Sources:

Cascone, S. (2019, March 21). Ever Wonder Why Egyptian Sculptures Are Missing Their Noses? The Answer Will Surprise You. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/why-noses-are-missing-from-egyptian-sculpture-1494550

Geggel, L. (2019, March 26). Why Are the Noses Broken on So Many Ancient Egyptian Statues? Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.livescience.com/65071-why-egyptian-statues-have-broken-noses.html

Wolkoff, J. (2019, March 21). Why do so many Egyptian statues have broken noses? Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/egyptian-statues-broken-noses-artsy/index.html

 

 

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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