It has been an unsolved mystery for several decades. Experts and enthusiasts of ancient Egypt wonder. What are the Egyptian statues without noses? It’s not just the passage of time, it’s systemic work. Who was it?
The most credible answer at this point is summed up in one word: iconoclasm. That is, «breaking pictures». For the ancient Egyptians, statues were the point of contact between divine and earthly beings.
They believed that images could hold supernatural power. It is explained by Edward Bleiberg, curator of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum. Cubes for the word “sculpture” literally mean “something made for life”. Whereas a sculptor is “someone who gives him life”.
Objects representing the human form could be occupied by a god or a deceased person. So they could act in the material world. Once occupied, the images had powers that could be activated through rituals. And they could also be disabled through deliberate damage.
But why? The reasons were varied. It could be anger and resentment towards enemies who wanted to be hurt in this world and the next. Or the horror of the dead man’s vengeance felt by grave robbers. Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten ruled between 1353 and 1336 BC. He wanted the Egyptian religion to revolve around a god, Aten, a sun deity. He was faced with a powerful being: the god Amun. His weapon was the destruction of images.
Not only the gods who could inhabit the pictures, but also the deceased people. That could be worrying. Especially when you are someone in power and you don’t want the past to overshadow you. And power struggles often leave scars.
The destruction of representations of deities or people was very common. According to the Egyptologist Robert K. Ritner, this was a constant concern in ancient Egypt. A royal decree of the first interim period (about 2130-1980 BC Chr.) Confirms it.
Anyone in this whole country who does something harmful or evil to their statuesMy Majesty does not allow your property or that of your parents to stay with them. Neither do you join the ghosts of the necropolis. Nor that it stays among the living.
The mutilations should then limit power. And that could be accomplished in a number of ways. You could prevent the people depicted from making urgently needed offerings to the gods. How? Take away the arm that was commonly used for such a task: the left. If you preferred that the god not listen to them, you removed the ears of the godhead. Do you want to interrupt communication? Separating the head from the body was a good option. But perhaps the most effective and quickest way to accomplish your needs was to remove your nose.
«The nose was the source of breath, the breath of life. The easiest way to kill the inner spirit is to suffocate it by removing your nose, ”explains Bleiberg.
A few hammer and chisel blows and problem solved. This explains the noseless Egyptian statues.