The untold truth about broken noses

If you look at ancient Egyptian architecture and sculptures, you’ll notice one very particular and odd detail: literally everything has a broken nose. (okay not literally literally, but there’s a lot of broken noses). Of course, there’s much more than just broken noses, and virtually every single Egyptian artifact that we’ve uncovered likely has some wear and tear. The question has been posed as to why so many of these works of art have such bad damage. If they were stored in tombs and temples, then surely they should have been well-preserved! Well I want to offer a solution so ridiculous that it just might be true. A solution to this unsolvable riddle that has plagued historians for generations. A solution that I doubt anyone with a reasonable grasp on reality would even remotely believe. That solution is: That these ancient works were deliberately vandalized as political statements against the establishment! Wait… that’s an actual theory? Crap.


So according to a Dr. Edward Bleiberg, the overseer of Egyptian, Classical, and ancient Near-Eastern artworks at the Brooklyn Museum, the reason that all of these ancient artworks have been so extensively damaged is because of vandalism motivated by self-preservation, religion, and politics. Those are oddly specific reasons, but the evidence is actually compelling.


To understand why these reasons are plausible, we first need to understand the beliefs of the ancient Egyptian people. To sum things up, Egyptians believed that an image held great power. The image of a deity could inhabit that very deity, giving them power to receive offerings as well as give them a physical form from which to act on Earth. The image of a dead guy could inhabit that dead guy’s spirit from the afterlife, so they could “feed” on the offerings of the living, as well as seek vengeance on tomb raiders. It was also believed that each body part on an effigy (statue) served a function for a dead person. So for example, a leg on a statue or image of a dead person would be needed for them to walk in the afterlife.


With all of that in mind, there are two very common occurrences in ancient Egypt: tomb robbers and regular changes of the political landscape. So a tomb robber would steal from the home of a dead person, but they would fear the deceased trying to seek revenge on them. In order to protect themselves from this, tomb raiders would break off the noses of statues, preventing them from being able to breathe in the afterlife and effectively kill that person for good. They’d also sometimes only break limbs so that those who had passed wouldn’t be able to do anything to them, even if they were still “alive.” Now the political part is kind of interesting if you are into that sort of thing, but basically ancient Egypt had a lot of changing of royalty. There were many many religious revolutions that kicked out gods and subsequently brought them back all in the name of appeasing the divine. Every time one of these revolutions happened, hired vandals would seek out images of the deity or old ruler that was being “targeted,” and destroy its essential parts. So wow, you’ve learned something new today.


There’s a great lesson to be learned here, never “Tut” your own horn or you’ll get your nose broken.