Many ancient Egyptian statues have one common and disturbing trait – they’re missing their nose. And the noses didn’t just get destroyed because they’re so old or because of being buried for so long, it was a deliberate act done by grave robbers.
Edward Bleiberg, who is the Brooklyn Museum curator, said that the destruction of the statues’ noses was done to prevent angry spirits from getting revenge against those who were robbing the graves. So why would the robbers destroy the noses on the statues? The answer is actually quite interesting.
Ancient Egyptians believed that the sculptures were vessels for the people who have passed away and that part of their soul could live in the statue, so that’s why they were put in the graves. Tombs and temples were the locations where the sculptures had the most meaning. “All of them have to do with the economy of offerings to the supernatural,” Bleiberg explained. In tombs, they “feed” the deceased person with food and gifts from this world so that they can enjoy it in the next world. In temples, it is the portrayal of their God accepting offerings from kings or others who were able to get a statue.
As for the grave robbers, they would destroy the nose on the statues so that they wouldn’t be able to “breathe” anymore. By doing that, they believed that the spirits that were inside of the sculptures couldn’t seek revenge against those who robbed them.
Several nose-less statues are scheduled to go on display from March 22 to August 11 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louise in an exhibit called Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt. During the exhibit, Bleiberg will go into further detail on the aggressive behavior conducted by the grave robbers that was “targeted” and usually “driven by political and religious motivations.”
The exhibit will also include the legacies of pharaohs Hatshepsut (who reigned from around 1478 to 1458 BC) and Akhenaten (1353 to 1336 BC). The exhibit will display damaged and undamaged pieces from the Hatshepsut and Akhenaten eras. In the description of the exhibit, it says that by doing this, it “will thus show how the deliberate destruction of objects, a practice that continues in our own day, derived at that time from the perception of images not only as a means of representation, but also as containers of powerful spiritual energy.”
Since the grave robbers broke the noses off the statues in order to make sure that the spirits didn’t come after them, it’s apparent that they didn’t consider the other potential consequence of their actions – if spirits were in fact living in the sculptures, they would become even more furious that someone destroyed their vessel, causing a much angrier spirit to seek revenge.