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Why Do So Many Egyptian Statues Have Broken Noses? (artsy.net)
161 points by longdefeat 43 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 131 comments

> Such a practice seems especially outrageous to modern viewers, considering our appreciation of Egyptian artifacts as masterful works of fine art, but Bleiberg is quick to point out that “ancient Egyptians didn’t have a word for ‘art.’ They would have referred to these objects as ‘equipment.’” When we talk about these artifacts as works of art, he said, we de-contextualize them.

this is very interesting and I have never thought about it in this way. One could really think of it as equipment, serving a real purpose (or having served and now makes a nice peace of a wall somewhere else).

I wonder what the acient egyptions would think of our appreciation of their statues?

We kind of don't have a word for "art" either.

Historically/etymologically, art means "skilled work" or just "stuff made by people" (as in artifact). The word/concept seems to have evolved gradually to its current meaning with all its complex connotations of beauty, metaphorical depth and existing for its own sake.

Even early modern and Renaissance art was probably seen differently to how we see it. A lot of the best statues and paintings had religious purposes, kind of like Egyptians.

> A lot of the best statues and paintings had religious purposes, kind of like Egyptians.

I think it's worth distinguishing religious works from religious tools.

As I understand it, religious works were generally made to glorify God in a cultural sense - mostly as commissioned works to make churches and cathedrals more impressive. That's substantially different than pieces with intrinsic religious significance, whether as a literal idol, a vessel for a soul, or an offering to a divinity. For instance, a relief of a Pharaoh might be considered significant while placed in a sealed tomb, even worth opening the tomb to deface, but a pietà shut up in a basement is largely irrelevant.

It's an interesting point, though, because the distinction can definitely get fuzzy. The Stations of the Cross can be performed by simply carrying a blessed cross, but it's hard to deny that the construction of actual stations is the creation of an artistic religious tool. (And of course, an archaeologist would find the stations, but not necessarily have a way to know about the practice without implements.) Rosaries and reliquaries are clearly functional art, and even devotional paintings become ambiguous when literacy and ownership of a Bible aren't standard.

I think there's still a worthwhile distinction here between artistic/instructional and instrumental works, but I'm not sure it would hold across faiths or larger time spans.

The History of Philosophy episode on icons and iconoclasm is relevant and, as with the rest of the podcast, excellent.


MP3 direct: https://hopwag.podbean.com/mf/play/h7m3vi/HoP_303_-_Don_t_Pi...

I've been thinking of our recent technological fetish for digital identity and identifiers as something of a modern cult of idolatry, grounded in many of the same aims, and subject to similar failures: digital IDs are representations through which we interact with the represented, but problems arise when we mistake the icon or idol with the archetype or ideal.

If you think it from a non-abrahmic perspective, most of the religious works were actually practical tools or stages to perform worship or sacrifices. Most of the statues were actively used for worship (albeit vanity must have played a role)

Also Abrahamic. The religion described in the bible is one centered around temple sacrifice, with very specific tools described (including the temple itself) for performing these "works," as they're referred too.

I don't think this is an valid argument. I think that "art", as understood now, is pretty much the word for "art". A language is an evolving thing and the usage defines the meaning. Many words change their meaning and new words emerge.

> Even early modern and Renaissance art was probably seen differently to how we see it. A lot of the best statues and paintings had religious purposes, kind of like Egyptians.

Nearly everything artists in the past produced was commissioned work, the dutch old-masters are no different and I would be suprised if the appreciation for arts emerged out of nowhere, it was (as nearly everything is) a gradual process. I am a bit suprised by my lack of knowledge how art evolved as a concept, so I can't really argue much here.

I would be surprised if it was entirely absent in Egypt too.

I didn't mean to imply renaissance people had no concept of art, just that the concept (not just word) was likely somewhat different to ours, which has evolved since.

The primary meaning of art is that a thing is both physically useless ("existing for its own sake"), and desired by the wealthy - therefore scarce and difficult to duplicate.

The other connotations assigned to art are just the ways that the wealthy think of themselves.

I was going to mention about Napoleon's troops shooting the nose off the Sphinx, but did a search to confirm:

> ...he face of the Sphinx was vandalized in 1378 A.D. by Mohammed Sa'im al-Dahr, a "fanatical sufi of the oldest and most highly respected sufi convent of Cairo." [0]

[0] https://www.napoleon-series.org/faq/c_sphinx.html

Obelix inaccurately gets the blame too sometimes. http://domenglishcorner.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-sphinxs-nos...

You see this in India at every temple that was raided by Muslims. The logic being that breaking the nose would make the "idol" unfit for worship.

There probably are a lot of examples in the North (they are now part of some "secular" Mosque complex), but it's very apparent in some of the Hoysala temples that were partially/fully destroyed (esp. Halebidu), and in Vijayanagara. It's really quite sad. Then again, I suppose this adequately reflects India's state as a civilization... so SNAFU.

You see this in India at every temple that was raided by Muslims. The logic being that breaking the nose would make the "idol" unfit for worship.

I find that interesting because when I was in Turkey it was common to see the ancient depictions of Jesus Christ on church walls with the eyes scratched off. The explanation given by the locals was the same as what you state for the statues in India.

Let's double-down on this and point out that the marauding Burmese desecrated temples of their neighbours -- knocking heads off Buddhas -- and they were of identical religions!

When Angkor Wat was being raided by art thieves operating out of Thailand, they knocked off heads off of buddha not to be disrepsectful per se, but because they wanted to loot and sell those heads on the black market. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat#History

I believe Muslims recognise Jesus as a prophet [1], so there was more going on there than different religions.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_Islam

Sounds pretty comparable to Christian iconoclasts tearing down images of saints. I.e. it was the "right thing to do" and they probably thought Jesus would be horrified to be part of an idolatrous image.

I can't say what happened when the Turks arrived, but that region was already known for iconoclasm while it was still under Christian leadership.


Well the other side of the coin is, Indian civilization survives. The same language, rituals, stories, music, food, imagery used, are all pretty much alive outside and inside thousands of temple even today. Those aspects of culture have somehow weathered invasion, natural disasters, famine, and drought. You can't say the same about Egyptian civilization.

> The same language, rituals, stories, music, food, imagery used, are all pretty much alive outside and inside thousands of temple even today.

Technically, it's not the same language, culture, etc. The living culture has changed considerably over the centuries both organically and via outside influences, including Islam.

The surprising thing about India is that it has kept around so much of the really ancient stuff while also adding a huge amount of new stuff along the way. Cultural hoarding, if you will.

It's like the cultural change process is sedimentary, with previous layers being preserved below, while the newer layers get added above, giving a kind of continuity, whereas in other parts of the world, it has often tended to be a more volcanic process, with the destruction of what preceded.

Also, Indian culture long ago accepted what to Western thinking seems like a contradiction of polytheistic icon based religious worship and the belief in a more abstract deity, or even atheism.

In the West, this resulted in the complete disposal of the previous pantheons, but in India, it was rationalized through a "many perspectives" lens where all the viewpoints could be accommodated.

How it was described by my Indian friends was that, at least in their households, the religious stories were treated more like 'campfire stories'; not practically real, but entertaining, and good for teaching morality (that's not to say that there aren't Hindus that take it very seriously). This is as opposed to how most westerners treat religion, in a very literal sense - Moses/Muhammed/Jesus DID exists and their teachings ARE the word of God, and they must be strictly adhered to.

Yes, that description represents my experience also. Even religious rituals were treated that way - as a means to develop focus and self-discipline.

That said, in the same households, people can still be very superstitious, because practically, sometimes being that way helps you explain otherwise difficult things that happen in life.

Hindus care about the actions and their effects rather than details such as the equipment used, the date it happened , place etc. The details may be important to "prove" something, but it doesn't really help the "listener" in any meaningful way. Hindus mostly care about how it helps the listener, what is that it must be learned from that experience. This is one of the reason why newer ideas don't replace older ideas for Hindus. As long as the old knowledge is meaningful and adds value, it will be in use. If the newer knowledge or idea, adds value it will be added with the old useful one. That's all. Hindus follow a simple and pragmatic system.

This is a bit of a rosy view of acceptance. Buddhists thats painstakingly built the Ajanta and Ellora cave complexes weren't accepted. They were wiped out by the Hindu Priesthood that felt threatened. Human beings are capable of great stupidity irrespective of what culture they have preserved.

There are great lessons in both, what they got right and what they got wrong.

I don't think that the process I described happened peacefully, or that nobody was wronged or injured in the process - I just observed that the result is a greater state of preservation of what preceded.

But even in the case of Buddhism, one outcome of the repression of Buddhism was the coopting of large parts of it, at least the parts that didn't threaten the Hindu social structure. Whether or not it is widely known today, Buddhism had a major reformatory impact on what we call Hinduism today.

There is no war or destruction caused by the Hindu Priests in the entire history of Hindus. They were neither trained in warfare nor they were taught to destroy/kill others. Most of these priests don't even touch meat or can stand the smell of meat. There is no way the priests can unleash violence.

Why are you using a throwaway account to post this?

I had the question, after visiting Rome, of why so many Roman statues lacked a penis. Found this. But I'm sure that in many cases it was just due to the fact that appendages on statues are more easily damaged - whether nose or penis.


I remember reading Da Vinci Code (awful book) and he (the protagonist) made this claim, that there was a "Great Demasculation" to remove penises from statues.

I tried looking it up but couldn't find anything to support that this was true. But this was 2003 so information on the web wasn't as plentiful or easy to find.

A simpler explanation is, as you say, that they are just more easily broken.

On one hand, it's well-established that the Catholic Church was uncomfortable with nude art, not only in Christian works but in Roman-era 'heroic nudity'. On the other hand, the reason that's well-documented is that we know a great deal of art, including statuary, was altered by adding fig leaves and other concealments to hide nudity.

I guess it's possible that lesser works were simply defaced instead of being altered, but given how much hand-wringing was devoted to altering statues, it's the sort of practice I'd expect to be well-documented, and I've never seen any evidence to that effect. I'd guess you're right: it's yet another case of Brown grabbing a random pattern and inserting meaning for it.

As illustrated by the Specsavers ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqOwg0dqApY

Yeah if you're going to break a thing, internationally or not... the parts that stick out just seem easier.

Damn it is sad to see old statues alterated for such a stupid reason.

On a tangent topic, if you have ever wondered why greek statues have so small penises : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8h8vvF7SDk

Our Vatican tour guide said they always joked that there is probably a room somewhere in there full of statue penises.

LOL. I did the "exclusive" Vatican tour last year. Totally the way to go. No waiting in line AND you get to see the pope's statue porn room. Made me realize that the best porn of the time was in marble. But no pile of penises did I see on that special tour. ;)

Not having a nose is ok compared to having a half of the head attached from another sculpture. This was the case in imperial Rome when the sculptors had to quickly retrofit works in progress to fit the new emperor. In some periods you had three emperors succeed each other, most certainly involuntarily, within a period of three years.

You don't need to go that far back in time, changing statues heads was a thing in USSR.

I'm not sure the hypothesis stands up to scrutiny (apart from being based solely off of conjecture, that is).

In the article, they link to the MOMA exhibit captioned "Yuny and his wife" [0], which depicts a male with a smashed-off nose seated next to, presumably, his wife with her nose very much intact.

If robbers smashed the noses off of statues so their likenesses would not live in the afterlife to seek revenge, why would only one of the two people depicted in the same carving have their nose smashed off?

[0]: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/unknown-egyptian-yuny-and-his-...

Because they were afraid of Yuni and not his wife.

Why would they spite someone they had no agenda against? It almost supports the opposite of your argument that one was left and one was not.

I don't know that I believe the article either mind you.

Edit: Apparently Egypt was more progressive than I thought. Women did have more rights than most ancient societies.

Women were considered property of their husbands. If the husband is dead the wife can’t do anything because she is masterless.

There's a lot of misunderstanding of ancient Egyptian culture due to the biases of early Egyptologists. I wouldn't call Egypt a matriarchy by any stretch, but women were in no way seen as property. They could own property in their own right, institute litigation, bear witness in court and travel freely unescorted. We have plenty of court proceedings and legal documents on all of this.

Furthermore there was no legal or formal concept of marriage in an official sense. Two people were married when they moved in and lived together and declared it, and divorced when one of them left and they divided their property. As a result, women could unilaterally divorce their husband. The state had no role in it.

Like other ancient Greeks, Herodotus was scandalised: "They Egyptians, in their manners and customs, seem to have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind. For instance, women attend market and are employed in trade, while men stay at home and do the weaving."

On the other hand, the grave robbers in later eras may not have belonged to that culture, but might still have been superstitious about ancient Egyptian curses. I don't believe the theory, but it's difficult to disprove.

Undowned for the edit, very gracious of you.

This is dead wrong. Property passed matrilineally and women had many rights in ancient Egypt.

A lot of ancient statues, not only Egyptian, have broken noses. Henry Fielding has a joke about it in A Journey From This World to the Next. The narrator, as is customary, pays his first visit in the next world to the disorder that killed him. Seeing the statues of famous victims, he imagines them antiques, but learns that, no, they are quite recent.

Sounds like a lot of guessing. Apparently nothing is written in stone as to why they did this. The explanation reminds me of english teachers trying to interpret poems.

It's also odd they mention removing the left arm has significance, but show pictures of statues with the right arms removed...

My guess is it is related to some common speech, like a saying, or a gesture of some sort. Like flicking of the nose is a 'fuck you', and so people chop off the noses of things to insult or show objection to the subject. But, like the article, just a guess.

From the article:

> In statues intended to show human beings making offerings to gods, the left arm—most commonly used to make offerings—is cut off so the statue’s function can’t be performed (the right hand is often found axed in statues receiving offerings).

So they do actually mention the right arm as well.


Religious flamewar is not allowed on HN. Please don't post like this, or like https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19389868, here.

In addition, would you please stop posting uncivil and/or unsubstantive comments? You've done it repeatedly, and eventually we ban accounts for that too.


"“The damaged part of the body is no longer able to do its job,” Bleiberg explained. Without a nose, the statue-spirit ceases to breathe, so that the vandal is effectively “killing” it. To hammer the ears off a statue of a god would make it unable to hear a prayer. In statues intended to show human beings making offerings to gods, the left arm—most commonly used to make offerings—is cut off so the statue’s function can’t be performed (the right hand is often found axed in statues receiving offerings)."

Just couldn't read because Page down, or down arrow doesn't scroll on firefox. Very weird behavior.

Reminds me of the movie Skins:


Statues (and sculpture generally) still have power and not always in a good way.

Wish I could read this. Unfortunately artsy.net shows a cookie consent popup on mobile with the label "Agree" next to the popup close icon, and on desktop it just straight out writes the cookies without asking.

Well, this not what I learned as a kid: https://youtu.be/Ea_9yGV61Dg?t=24

To stop the Goa'uld from getting in?


I wish Hacker News had a way to flag this post funny.

(Parent is a Stargate reference)

I’d always understood that particular ritual mutilation to be an ersatz penis. Noses protrude, too, after all.

Nose cut is a sign of being mocked

asked myself the same question few days ago.

Statues in general.

First guess, face hit during civil unrest.

The computer geniuses here at Hacker News have decided the main argument of this article are wrong. But among archaeologists ritual defacement is understood to be a regular thing that happens to art all over the world.

Roman coins defaced: https://www.coinsweekly.com/en/Defacing-the-past-damnation-a...

Teotihuacan icons demolished and destroyed by fire: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/sep/24/teotihu...

I had to collapse about 8 threads to find the first comment of someone doubting the argument (in a polite way).

Your comment is popular because you are fighting a "easy-to-hate" minority that is only relevant because you made it so.

You make fun of a kind of HN commenter that you find typical. But if your comment is the most popular (#1 now), and assuming that people are upvoting you because they agree that it is indeed typicial, it means that this type of commenter is not typical at all. It is an outlier, properly undervoted by the real typical commenter.

So your comment being upvoted disproves itself. Quite a paradox (or just irony?).

The character of a comment thread can change quickly here. I don't doubt the possibility that it was an overwhelming opinion when the parent decided to comment on it, even if no longer the case.

So maybe the flaw is to over generalize the gist of the thread early in its history.

And on top of that, if GP didn't post this comment, then it might still be the prevailing sentiment in the comment threads. This is a case where making the observation that something is the prevailing sentiment can change what that prevailing sentiment is.

I don't know if this is true in this case, but I've seen it happen in the past. In some ways what you'd really like is a feature to go "back in time" in the comment thread and see how it developed, otherwise it can be difficult to appreciate coming in later.

It is also very common that the first few people commenting on a thread have a very different profile than the people that come later.

It's quite common that the top comment asks "why is everybody saying X", as if X was a widespread opinion. But then you have to scroll three pages down to find the comments being referred too, and they are usually heavily downvoted.

Check the comments on stories related to diet. You'll see all sorts of crazy pseudoscience being peddled. There are a lot of smart people here, but even smart people can be led astray.

...because somebody pointed out that the opinion didn't make a damn lick of sense.

This whole comment is semantics and not even the good kind. It's arguing to find an argument. It's good ammo for OP's next snarky comment though so I approve.

So you're saying that if I disagree with the parent, I should upvote him, to break the paradox?

Maybe other voters have already noticed the paradox, and taken appropriate action!

The old creation of grievances in order to exploit them trick. "If we can reframe the past to support our current ideology", "if we can manufacture fake victims", etc.

I'm reminded of this quote:

    "To witness is to ignore as little as possible. Because a 
    judgment so often impairs the ability to notice what 
    doesn’t conform with it, the witness chooses for the time 
    being to keep judgment at a distance."
From this great article by Salvatore Scibona posted the other day: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/09/opinion/sunday/internet-s...

>The computer geniuses here at Hacker News have decided

Don't do this

Like all "smart" professions, the practitioners tend to think their smart extends beyond their domain of expertise.

It doesn't.

I find most "smart" professionals I interact with are people, mostly like other people.

The internet is different of course, but if you're painting people with a broad brush based upon internet interactions, there are bigger problems than "smart" professionals saying dumb things.

It's a generality and it's useful for describing a group of people.


Or economics-related. Or government-related. Or science-related.

Or, to be honest, computer-related.

Do more of this

Same with postage stamps, here are stamps of Bosnia defaced after WW I http://www.stampio.org/2019/01/the-revenge-of-yugoslavia-on-...

Downvoted purely for the snark. It's irritating when an active participant in a website puts down the community that... they choose to be part of.

And then there's the Sphinx's nose! That's the canonical example of Egyptian statue nose bashing.


It was actually part of the Law in Rome, so-called Damnatio Memoriae, but it was inspired by the Greeks and probably by the Egyptians themselves:


The great thing about the geniuses here is they don't seem to think that Dunning-Kruger applies to them.

Isn't the argument in the article not that they were defaced due to "ritual defacement" but that vandals thought that by breaking the noses off, they were effectively killing the person in the after life, thus not allowing them to seek retribution for robbing their grave?

Breaking the nose to placate concerns about a supernatural phenomenon seems like the very definition of a ritual (placate concerns about a supernatural phenomenon) defacement (literally removing a surface feature from the face of a statue)?

I see it more as the ancient equivalent of disabling a car alarm when you're stealing it. They were robbing the graves not preforming a ritual. Their beliefs may have been supernatural but at the time it seemed logical to "kill" the observer of the crime. It wasn't defacement to send a message, it was practical and tactical as far as the robbers were concerned (according to this article's premise).

I'm surprised that the article didn't mention another popular theory: that many of the Egyptian statues taken by Europeans had their noses deliberately broken to obscure their blackness.

As the theory goes, in order to make the statues seem like high art, it was necessary to make the culture seem more like the ancient Greeks and Romans. Removing their noses made it so the viewer could more easily read the statues as "like us," rather than the "primitive" countries of black people that Europe was busy exploiting.

This theory doesn't hold up not the least because the surviving representations of noses in statuary don't look particularly "black" (interpreted very narrowly as the west sub-saharan facial phenotype), which is the image of Africans around which most Eurocentric racism is built.

Look the statue in the article with an intact nose, and also the statues of the seated pharoahs at Abu Simbel. To my eyes, they just look a lot like egyptian people today, stylized for artistic purposes.

It's worth noting though that Arabs are not native to North Africa, so ancient Egyptians wouldn't necessarily look like many people today. They colonized the Maghreb around the 7th century. The indigenous people of that region are the Amazigh in the west and Copts in Egypt. Egypt today also has very light skinned people descended from European slaves the Turks brought in to aid their military.

Genetic testing on ancient Egyptian mummies showed they were most similar to modern day Arabs. Sub-Saharan African genes made up 6-15%, which is much lower than today's Egyptians.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_race_controve...

Interesting. I had mostly thought about the region in terms of language groups probably due to coming from a history background, which relies on written sources, rather than anthropology or archaeology.

Looking at the sources for that wiki article, this appears to be one of the largest and most recent DNA studies on ancient Egyptian remains: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15694.

Edit: To stay on topic, my textbook in a two semester art history survey ("Janson's") said that the defacement of Egyptian statues was due to religious iconoclasm without further specifics. I'm going to accept this as the mainstream academic consensus in the early 21st century. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this matches the general thesis of the parent article.

> the surviving representations of noses in statuary don't look particularly "black"

I think this says the exact opposite of what you want it to say. The fact that they survived, may be that they were sufficiently non-"black" looking to leave them alone. Phenotypes come in ranges especially for black people, so a "black" nose is anything from the nose of a random Scandinavian to that of a Sudanese persons.

Sure, that's another interpretation, and I agree that the notion of a single "black" phenotype is fundamentally incorrect, which is why I qualified it.

Anyways, the theory would be easily tested by finding examples of statues with the supposedly unacceptable noses that survive today, and see if they can be correlated with the ones Europeans took.

The other thing that doesn't make sense about the theory is that if the Europeans actually respected the Ancient Egyptian culture enough to want the statues, why would they deliberately damage the presumably very valuable artifacts?

It would would be like someone buying a Van Gogh painting only to destroy it.

The only reason there is any confusion about this is because the modern day Egyptian looks non African. And the only reason for this is because the indigenous population was displaced by Arab people during the spread of Islam.

Whether or not the noses were intentionally destroyed or not it is most parsimonious to believe that the indigenous people of Egypt were African people. Thinking they werent would be like looking at the population of The United States today and believing the Native Americans were white (and if we didn’t have photographic evidence of the natives we can be sure that would have been suggested, and if anyone suggested otherwise they would have been met with “what a crackpot theory!”).

In either case, the Europeans revered ancient Egypt for sure. But this is only because of their mention in the Bible and their interaction with the Ancient Greeks. But when Western Europeans got there, the people who lived in Egypt looked more like them than Africans. But this is only because of the displacement of the indigenous population serval centuries earlier.

> Whether or not the noses were intentionally destroyed or not it is most parsimonious to believe that the indigenous people of Egypt were African people.

Of course, Egypt is part of the African continent. But I suspect that what you mean by African here is a set of physical phenotypical features that we sometimes pin on that term today.

There no evidence to suggest that was the only phenotype in ancient Egypt. If anything, artifacts seem to suggest that the population was multiethnic, comprised of a variety of phenotypes. That shouldn't be surprising - it was the central metropolis and power of the ancient western world, like NYC or London today, so it attracted people from everywhere.

> But this is only because of the displacement of the indigenous population serval centuries earlier.

As referenced in another comment, recent genetic analysis of ancient egyptian remains have disproved this, and demonstrated that they weren't so different from other modern middle eastern populations, and were also related to sub-saharan populations.

Most of the people bringing the statues back aimed to sell them.

Even still, why would you deface something you want to sell?

I read that as saying the nose holes on the broken statues don't look "black."

I meant that statues from Ancient Egypt with intact noses don't look particularly "black" (with all my previous qualifications on the use of that term). They don't look particularly "white" (same qualifications) to me either, they just look ... Egyptian.

Probably because it's not a theory with any substantial evidence.

The only information I have on Egyptian noses is that, according to Asterix and Obelix, Cleopatra was famous for her nose.

It is clearly explained in this 1968 movie, how and why the Sphinx happens to lack her nose: https://youtu.be/RFnfR26jnzo?t=2033

she was Greek though so probably not a great example

she was born in alexandria, north africa, as daughter to the ruling pharaoh of the ptomelaic kingdom in egypt.

Yes, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Greek kingdom founded by Ptolemy I Soter, a companion and historian of Alexander the Great. He started the kingdom after the death of Alexander.

Yeah, and they didn't mention other crackpot theories either, like ancient aliens destroying the statue's faces with zero-point energy weapons.

I wonder why?

Why would it be a crackpot theory to suggest that for Western Europeans, whose civilization as we know it starts in the late 1400s, who convinced themselves of African inferiority for the purpose of justifying their theft, rape, and murder of those people, upon seeing Black looking people in Egypt from thousands of years before their civilization started, would want to erase signs of it? Sounds just about right to me.

It's described as a crackpot/fringe theory because it's an unsupported just-so story, and worse, it's not actually consistent with the data that inspired it. You're right that it's not hard to show motive for such a practice, but that skips past every other consideration, like motive, opportunity, or evidence.

A few things that this theory falls utterly short on:

- Reliefs that were never exported or even found by colonists are often defaced.

- Pharaonic texts specifically reference the practice of defacement and treat it as an act distinct from general vandalism or theft.

- Works show other systematic damage unrelated to racial issues (from the article, statues receiving offerings had their right hands removed, and those providing them had their left hands removed).

- Single reliefs show noses removed on some figures but not others, even when the preserved noses look substantially non-European (e.g. the article's last photo).

- Defacements aren't random, or tied to ethnicity; instead, politically inconvenient rulers like Hatshepsut are overwhelmingly erased while others (even close family members) are not.

- Where text accompanies figures, the names of the defaced figures are also defaced. Which requires knowledge of Ancient Egyptian, a motive to target specific historical figures, and a concern with matters unrelated to appearance.

- Weathering on in situ works commonly suggests noses were removed much closer to their creation than to the 1800s. (This is less clear for works brought to Europe, but that opens the question of simple fragility.)

All of that is above and beyond questions of evidence for the practice, or historical context that Egyptian statues with black features were actually convenient for some racist theories like Samuel Weston's. There's basically no racist practice colonists wouldn't have been willing to engage in, certainly. But advancing specific claims that are inconsistent with huge amounts of evidence is rightly considered a fringe belief.

That's a very "nice" narrative. The only problem is that it isn't grounded on archeological or historical evidence, therefore it's a crackpot theory.

Because it's unnecessary. To them these people looked so much inferior, that they even put them into zoos. Now ask yourself, if you found ruins indicating that [insert animal, maybe elephants] used to have an ancient civilization would you find that incredibly interesting or would you want to destroy evidence of that because it might affect the way we think of elephants today?

I think you underestimate the sickness of the people and culture of said people who would put people in zoos.

If you can do that, you can’t put anything past that person/culture.


But.. Europeans did put Africans into zoos and freak shows and display them, and European culture did consider them subhuman. Just study the history of Sarah Baartman, for an example. Mentioning that is neither dehumanizing nor defacing European culture, it's a statement of literal historical and cultural fact.

That said, I don't really buy into the theory being presented here. I would need to see some documentary evidence supporting it first, such as a common cultural association at the time of "broad noses" with "Africans" or an attempt to portray ancient Egypt as a Caucasian society. People knew where Egypt was. The pyramids, temples and other signs of civilization were still there. Knocking the noses off of the statues wouldn't hide anything.

novacole 42 days ago [flagged]

Putting people in Zoos is a good thing? It dehumanizes Europeans to say that it is sick to put people in Zoos?

Also, I never said anything about white people. I was talking specifically about the Western Europeans who put people in Zoos.

I think your comment perfectly illustrates the lengths people will go to and the ways in which they will contort their minds in order to uphold an strange idea that is dear to their hearts, however...

Please don't do tedious flamewars on HN. When you get to "Putting people in Zoos is a good thing?", you've long passed the point to stop.


>I think your comment perfectly illustrates the lengths people will go to and the ways in which they will contort their minds in order to uphold an strange idea that is dear to their hearts, however

Ironic that I was pointing out that you're doing exactly this.

>Putting people in Zoos is a good thing? It dehumanizes Europeans to say that it is sick to put people in Zoos?

Are you even going to attempt to argue in good faith?

>Also, I never said anything about white people.

Of course you didn't! Then your racism would be overt. But your anti European narrative is an increasingly common one that has infested academia and is creeping into industry.

We've asked you before to stop doing flamewars on HN. If you keep doing it we're going to have to ban you, so please don't.


Edit: it looks like you've been using HN primarily for ideological and political battle. We ban accounts that do that, so please stop doing that too.

>who convinced themselves of African inferiority for the purpose of justifying their theft, rape, and murder of those people

The Africans they encountered had virtually no technology and no government, and looked like different creatures. It wasn't something that required rationalization. There's far less malice in this than you'd like to see.

As far as I am aware, there is no credible evidence that Egyptians strongly represented south African phenotypes or had the same shade of skin. It is a modern internet meme. Lay off the propaganda.

Don't waste your time, his gender studies degree did irreparable damage you cannot fix.

We've banned this account for posting unsubstantive comments and flamebait to HN.

If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.


novacole 42 days ago [flagged]

>and looked like different creatures

These are your words. These are your thoughts.

altern8 42 days ago [flagged]

> These are your words. These are your thoughts.

He said those words. Word by word. Word. By Word.

Great contribution. Allow me to expand.

The known world to you consists of various tribes of humans who all share rather similar physical phenotypes (white skin, soft, slightly curly to straight hair, similar facial features), with reasonably similar technology (metalworking, beasts of burden, farming, government of some sort, written language, the wheel) and suddenly you discover a group of beings with none of these things - no written language, no cultivated land, no domesticated animals, no wheel, no metalworking, and on top of all this, they look totally different from anyone you've ever seen.

It did not take evilness or malice of any kind on the part of medieval Europeans to reason that these beings, if they were human, were less human than they were. Morality is cultural and relative, you cannot demonize historic cultures through your enlightened lense.

So no, these are more than just "my words," this is a rational sentiment for a medieval European in the historic context. Globalization is a modern phenomenon. Why do you think there was incentive to put these people in zoos?

Sub-Saharan Africans absolutely had agriculture, wheels, and domesticated animals. This was especially true in the kingdoms of western Africa which had the most contact with Europeans. It's a myth that the bulk of Sub-Saharan African lived purely hunter-gatherer lifestyles before the arrival Europeans. Some did, but most did not.

> Great contribution. Allow me to expand. The known world to you consists of various tribes of humans who all share rather similar physical phenotypes (white skin, soft, slightly curly to straight hair, similar facial features), with reasonably similar technology (metalworking, beasts of burden, farming, government of some sort, written language, the wheel) and suddenly you discover a group of beings with none of these things - no written language, no cultivated land, no domesticated animals, no wheel, no metalworking, and on top of all this, they look totally different from anyone you've ever seen.

The problem with this is that it is 100% incorrect. After 1492 (and to a lesser extent before then), Western Europeans were fully aware of African Civilization, particularly those in West Africa.. They traded with them. They wrote correspondences to them, see: "Letters to the King of Portugal" [0]. Africans obviously farmed, starting between the years 8000 and 6000 BCE [1], the metalworking of West Africans is and was well known [1]. During the Iron Age "A profitable trade had developed by which West Africans exported gold, cotton cloth, metal ornaments, and leather goods north across the trans-Saharan trade routes, in exchange for copper, horses, salt, textiles, and beads. Later, ivory, slaves, and kola nuts were also traded" [2]. They had governments obviously (see reference [0]). They had the wheel "Nubians from after about 400 BCE used wheels for spinning pottery and as water wheels. It is thought that Nubian waterwheels may have been ox-driven" [3]. Heck, even the largest university of the middle ages (12th century) was located in Mali, in West Africa, and it wasn't even something that was unknown to Europeans [4] & [5]. I could go on and on.

So all of what you are saying is based totally off of what _you_ think and not any facts, or even what Europeans that encountered Africans thought. What you are saying is entirely based off of your lack of knowledge of African and apparently even European history.

The inferiority idea developed later, specifically in America as a rationalization of the slave trade. It was literally something that was made up to justify what they were doing.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afonso_I_of_Kongo [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_West_Africa#Prehist... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_West_Africa#Iron_Ag... [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel#History [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timbuktu#Education [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Timbuktu

--edited for clarity



Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News? You've been doing this a lot, and we ban accounts that do it repeatedly.


A conjecture that I entertain, allowing a bit of validity to Julian Jaynes' "bicameral mind" theory:

Egyptians back then could literally hear commands from statues as representations of the gods. Maybe breaking off the noses muted the voices (not sure why noses and not mouths). Warring factions might have wanted to mute opposing gods and install their own.

"Egyptians back then could literally hear commands from statues as representations of the gods"


It's an entertaining (though certainly wrong) theory that states that ancient peoples' minds were divided into a "conscious" part that executed commands given by the other part, which it perceived as "gods speaking to it". More (and better) explanations on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)

That’s a really interesting hypothesis. Breaking off the nose is probably easier to do and maybe was a sufficient “this is not a real person” mental input to damp the response.

Literally hear? Citation needed!

The citation is the very first thing in the comment you responded to: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. Haven't read it but heard of it many times. Interesting speculation, but there you have your citation.

You haven’t read it but you know egyptians could literally hear voices from statues? I call exaggeration :)

EDIT: I didn’t see your colon, I thought it was a period which made it sound like you were making the claim yourself, and I was eager to get resources other than his theory, only to hear his theory again lol.

Because they were built by Africans with wide noses. When they were conquered, they were altered to look more like the new king/god. See: Sphinx's tiny head

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