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Now, if your question has to do with "deliberate" damage to a statue or

relief painting, then you are asking a question about the culture of ancient Egypt.  

In a number of tombs, sculptures and relief paintings do show deliberate

hacking about the nose, mouth, and eyes of the subjects.



Writings of Runoko Rashidi


Introduction to African Civilizations / African Presence in Early Asia / Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations


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Those Missing Noses in Kemet Ancient Egypt Sculpture

Letter from Runoko Rashidi Okello


12 May 2010

Dear Family,

I have been asked to comment, to throw in my two cents' worth, about the seemingly significant amount of Ancient Egyptian statues with the noses either missing or badly damaged, and offer some sense of direction about African-centered research on the subject. First, I do not think that as a Black person you can visit Egypt and/or view Ancient Egyptian statuary and art and not notice it.

I first began to think about the missing noses on Ancient Egyptian statues more than thirty years ago and it may have been stimulated from reviewing Dr. Chancellor Williams' text the Destruction of Black Civilization. Dr. Williams suggested that the disproportionate numbers of Ancient Egyptian statues with missing or badly damaged noses was the result of foreign occupiers in Egypt showing their contempt for the African features of the native builders.

Not content to rest with that, or perhaps looking for an affirmation of such, I asked a prominent Egyptologist, Dr. Rita Freed of the University of Memphis, her opinion. She told that me that the Kamites (Ancient Egyptians) believed that the seed of life was contained in the nose and thus knocking off the noses on the statues was something done by the Kamites themselves. Other scholars later told me the same thing and that a certain set of priests were indeed responsible for at least some of it. And, obviously, these are mighty old statues, thousands of years old, and some of the damage must have been accidental, through the course of time.

I believe that the missing and badly damaged noses are the results of all three of these factors and probably other factors as well that perhaps have not even been taken into consideration.

As you probably know, I am a travelera world travelerand I began to notice over time the sizable amount of statues with otherwise African features that were not from Egypt, where the noses were missing or badly damaged. I noticed it in Cambodia with the artifacts from ancient Angkor and I noticed it on some of statues of the African Severan Dynasty in Rome. So I began to wonder if it was a global thing, a kind of conspiracy to deface African features on statues around the world. 

So where do we go from here, how do we do research to find out exactly what happened? I have been calling for somebody to do this for years, perhaps as a doctoral dissertation or a master's thesis or just a group of hardworking people with time on their hands and looking for a way to make a significant contribution to the reconstruction of the history of African people. A note of caution here, this is serious work and should not be lightly undertaken.

Now, let me clear, for starters, this is how I think that it must be done. It is not for the fainthearted. Tell me what you think:

To begin with, develop a data base. Compile a list of every available image of a statue or bust or head or face from Kmt. Then make a count. Then check to see amount many of the noses are missing or badly damaged. This includes examining books, photos, utilizing the Internet, going to the museums and going to the sites. Make the project as exhaustive as possible. Do the same thing with art from the other parts of Africa and the African (Black) world. Do the same thing with the art of Europe and Asia, especially with Greek and Roman art. Compare the results.

That is how I would start. Of course, for many people this kind of comprehensive and detailed study sounds crazy. It is a lot of work. But I don't think that we can get around it if we are really serious.

If that is too daunting for you a smaller, but very interesting and important, project would be to pin down exactly what happened to the face of Herumakhet (The Great Sphinx), once and for all. Review every source on the subject. Put away "I heard" and "I feel" and "I believe" and buckle down and do some real research. Anybody can engage in idle speculation; I am talking about some real work! Don't our Ancestors deserve it?

So there you have it. You asked me. And that, I believe, is what must be done to begin to find out what happened to the missing and badly damaged noses on the statues from Ancient Egypt.

In love of Africa,

Runoko Rashidi Okello

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Another View

Is there an answer to why all of the Egyptian monuments I see  have had the noses broken off or mutilated.—Thanx, Roy

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For one, I am not aware that "all" Egyptian monuments have their noses mutilated.  I can cite quite a number of examples of non-damaged sculpture in the round and relief paintings, but as some of the most well-known examples of Egyptian art, let's cite the following as showing no damage:

The Narmer Palette—Cairo Museum [engraved relief] Triad of Mycerinus-Cairo Museum [sculpture in round]

Statue of Hatshepsut as Pharaoh - Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) [sculpture in round]

Statue of Ramses II as Pharaoh, Seated - Museo Egizio, Turn [sculpture in round]

The Bust of Nefertiti - Berlin Museum [sculpture in round]

Colossal Statue of Akhenaton - Cairo Museum [sculpture in round]


While it would depend upon which monument to which you are referring, the general answer as to the points of human sculpture may be the most simple:  as the nose is the most prominent projection upon the planes of  the face, movement of, or fall of, a monument in which the face of the sculpture hits a solid obstruction (wall, ground, doorway, etc), the most prominent projection, with little underlying or surrounding support, is surely going to have some damage.

Now, if your question has to do with "deliberate" damage to a statue or relief painting, then you are asking a question about the culture of ancient Egypt.  In a number of tombs, sculptures and relief paintings do show deliberate hacking about the nose, mouth, and eyes of the subjects.

In almost [all the] cases I can think of, this reflects damage from tomb robbers, who believed that to do so would prevent the deceased from haunting them later for the sacrilege to their tomb and remains.  Egyptian religion and art were closely connected, and if one "did away" with the representations of the deceased's nose and mouth to breathe/consume energy and the eyes to see, then a person might effect the death of the Ka and Ba of the deceased which (according to the ancient belief system) lived on within the tomb for periods and were revivified/existent in the temporal world for short periods by their representations.

Andrey O. Bolskhakov particularly discusses the importance of the "opening " of the mouth (and by figurative and literal extension, nose) for life and the eyes (to read and see objects) as a necessary feature of life to both the Ka and Ba in his Man and His Double in Egyptian Ideology of the Old Kingdom, Aegypten und Alten Testament, Band 17, Manfred Goerg [ed.], (Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, 1997), in Chapter 9, "Egyptian Notions of Light and Sight", §2-6, and §9.  He notes the importance of art representations of an "open" mouth/nose and eyes as being particularly significant.

For a general review of the needs of the Ba and Ka in terms of air to breathe, and sight as conditions of life to these afterlife entities, see also:  "Body and Soul", Idea Into Image: Essays on Ancient Egyptian Thought, Erik Hornung, Elizabeth Bredreck, transl. (Timken: New York, 1992) pp. 167-184.

Finally, if you are asking about the loss of the nose of the most famous monument of all, the Sphinx, I can attest that the act was deliberate and had as it basis a religious one.  

[The historian abu `Abbas Ahmad ibn `Abdullah ibn `Ali ibn Muhammad al-Husayni Taqi al-Din al-Maqrizi (died 1442 C.E/845 A.H.), wrote a book called al-Mawa`iz wa al-i` tibar fi dhikr al-khitat wa al-athar (edited by G. Wien. Cairo 1913). In vol. 2, page 157 of the Wien edition, al-Maqrizi clearly states that the face, including the nose and ears, of the Great Sphinx of al-Jizah (Giza) was demolished by a sufi from the khanqah (sufi "monastery") of Sa`id al-Su`ada, called "Sa'im al-dahr" (meaning "He who perpetually fasts"; i.e.,  an extremist), in 1378 C.E./780 A.H.

The reason that al-Maqrizi cites is that as late as this period, some Egyptians were still burning milk-thistle (shuka`a) and safflower (badhaward) at the foot of the Sphinx and murning a verse 63 times in hope that their wishes would be fulfilled; the extremist sufi took it upon himself to destroy the object of their idolatry. A later (17th century C.E.) tradition says that a mob killed Sa'im al-dahr and buried him ignominiously near the Sphinx.]

See also: Haarmann, Ulrich. 1996. Medieval Muslim Perceptions of Pharaonic Egypt. In Ancient Egyptian Literature: History and Forms, edited by Antonio Loprieno. Probleme der Agyptologie 10, ser. eds. Wolfgang Schenkel and Donald Bruce Redford.  Leiden, New York, Koln: E. J. Brill. 605-627.

[My thanks to Troy Sagrillo of the University of Toronto for the above [information and references]. Tom Holmberg, in writing his FAQ on this topic vis a vis the oft-repeated folktale that Napoleon's troops had defaced the Sphinx, also noted:

European visitors to Egypt prior to Napoleon's expedition had already discovered the vandalism to the Sphinx. In 1546, for example, when Dr.Pierre Belon explored Egypt, he visited "the great colossus." "The Sphinx," writes Leslie Greener in The Discovery Of Egypt (London: Cassell, 1966), p.38, by this time "no longer [had] the stamp of grace and beauty so admired by Abdel Latif in 1200." Greener goes on to say: "this exonerates the artillerymen of Napoleon Bonaparte, who have the popular reputation of having used the nose of the Sphinx as a target." The charge against Napoleon is particularly unjust because the French general brought with him a large group of "savants" to conduct the first scientific study of Egypt and its antiquities.


Katherine Griffis-Greenberg, Member

American Research Center in Egypt International Association of Egyptologists

University of Alabama at Birmingham, Special Studies

Source: Geocities

posted 12 May 2010

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Egypt in the Age of the Pyramids

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On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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