What's SD on defacing of Anceint Egyptian statues to remove African features

So I heard this theory on social media for the first time. Anyone know the SD on it?

The claim is that western archeologists/collectors deliberately defaced (literally) ancient Egyptiam statues to remove sub-saharan African features. Specifically the post I was reading said wide “African” noses (like those in the recently uncovered temple: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-46580264) were removed.

Are there examples of that happening? I think it goes without saying there has been A LOT of racism in the last couple of centuries of excavation and collection of Egyptian archeology (carried out as it was largely by white nothern Europeans), some of which continues to this day. And a lot in that that archeology doesn’t fit with the racist theories of the day. But are there examples of deliberate defacing to make statues look less African?


Plenty of examples of defacing statues in history (including Egypts history, seeing as it was ruled for centuries by two religions that have very dim view of graven images) needless to say. Does anything in that article mention anything about OP?

Wouldn’t a history of prominent archaeologists defacing statues be front page news in the entire archaeological community and the world at large? Wouldn’t pictures and examples of these literally defaced sculptures be readily available? Wouldn’t they show a pattern of obliteration different from every other “white” ancient culture?

The accusation has been made, to be sure. Why are Noses Missing from so Many Egyptian Statues? examines the issue. Ancient Origins is pop archaeology, true, but it’s therefore the place you might expect to find such a theory embraced. Instead:

Umm the victorians used to have mummy unwrapping parties (where Egyptian mummies and their decorated cartonnage brought back from Eygpt were completely destroyed as a party game). So, no, compared to that it’s not ridiculous to imagine that defacing of statues for racist reasons happened

The OP wasn’t asking whether there is a a huge conspiracy to hide the ethnic identity of the Ancient Eygptains. It was asking we’re there ANY examples of defacing happening for that reason.

It’s conspiracy theory, though an understandable one. 19th century Europeans definitely were inclined to not recognize/downplay African accomplishments and the ancient Egyptians were indeed a bit white-washed. But that was mostly hand-waving intellectual bullshit, not careful vandalism on an industrial scale.

Noses are missing from the majority of contemporary Greek and Roman statues as well. Noses and similar extremities just see to be the first to go with weathering and the casual vandalism of the ages. See this article.

No, the social media claim is complete bullshit.

As a professional in the field (archaeology, not statue-gelding), I am comfortable in asserting that we never de-Africanised statues. Perhaps someone might believe that they could do this and no-one would notice the vast surface damage in the facial area, but we are trained to look out for subtle clues like this.

Its as plausible as my theory that the dicks were knocked off all the statues (worldwide, throughout history) by archaeologists, using tiny knob-hammers so they could never be used as counter-evidence to my claim that all races were equally endowed.

Well, as a poorly endowed white man, THANKS FOR NOTHING.

There are plenty of non-defaced states, bas reliefs, and the like of the Nubian kingdom. Heck, there’s an entire section on Nubian art at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
any claims that broken-off noses are evidence of racist tendencies of archaeologists doesn’t withstand even a second’s scrutiny. Noses, being prominent, get broken off easily, but the characteristic negroid nose is broad at the base, where breaking off the bulk of the nose won’t affect the base of the statue’s nose – there’s still plenty of evidence of the shape of the nos. In the second place, this won’t work on ba-reliefs, wall paintings, and the like. Finally, as I observed at the start, there are plenty of intact artworks to show that there were plenty of people of all types in Egyptian and Nubian artwork with negroid features.

If you visit the existing Egyptian archaeological sites, you will notice that many of the faces (and sometimes hands) had been chipped away for the reliefs and paintings. This was because as mentioned above, the Coptic Christians and the Muslims both had bans on “graven images” so depictions of humans in places of worship was considered tantamount to an “idol” and they were defaced. However, in the places that were buried or otherwise less accessed by the early Christians, the features are intact - and for example, there are plenty of depictions of Africans ("…what’s a Nubian?") in their art. However, there is a typical “Egyptian” look to the antique statuary - distinct from Nubian and Caucasian.

National Lampoon once had a “Are you homo?” quiz (OK, they were pretty puerile in those days) for example showed the Michelangelo statue of David with the instructions “Circle the body part(s) you think are out of proportion”. There are classical Greek or Roman writings that suggest an overly large phallus is not a desirable trait in a civilized man. So none of those missing classical statues are denuded(?) for the their size or observer feelings of inadequacy; more likely it is a combination of age and weathering, and in some cases, vandals with a adolescent sense of humor.

There’s the urban legend that the Sphinx is missing its nose due to target practice by the French in the 1800’s. In fact, the nose appears to have fallen off due to weathering or vandalism long before that. Plus, the French aim probably wasn’t that good.

1.) phalluses on Greek and Roman statues are pretty understated, except for characters like Priapus, whose are outrageously huge. You’re not going to get useful information on genital size from inspecting Greek and Roman art

2.) There are a LOT of cartoon gags about ho the Sphinx lost his nose. According to asterix in Egypt, it broke of from the oversized Obelix climbing up on it. he nd Asterix and Ideefix/Dogmatix buried it in the sand, but when all the souvenir sellers saw it, they broke the noses off their sphinxes. In adventures of Mark Twain, he moors his ballon to the nose, and it breaks off (several centuries too late) when he hurriedly deprts. There are other examples.

Just to clarify, I wasn’t proposing that this kind of defacing was so widespread, that whenever you see a Egyptian statue without a nose it’s because of it. That is clearly not the case for a whole host of reasons.

I was asking if there are ANY documented occurrences of this happening. It seems completely plausible that vicorian archeologists or collectors would do something like this (given some of the other stuff they did to Egyptian artifacts, like Mummy unwrapping parties) I’ve just never heard of it.

Yeah, but… no. Copts certainly have not now or ever had any prohibitions against ‘graven images.’ Coptic iconography has existed for as long as the Copts have. There was never a ban on images either religious or non-religious. This does not mean that some ancient Egyptian artwork wasn’t destroyed by Copts, but largely it was the result of reusing of materials. They take a carved block and use it for a foundation in a church say and decide to scrub off the old carvings in much the same way that we buy a house and rip down the old wallpaper. Iconoclasm does have a history within Christianity, but it is almost exclusively toward actual religious icons of other faiths and certainly not as hardcore as Islamic prohibitions on images. It also tends to be isolated to particular places and time periods rather than sweeping icross-Christendom stances. Copts have never been particularly susceptible to iconoclasm, largely because they were only a majority in Egypt for a very short period.

The only thing I can think of remotely like what you are asking is the 25th dynasty (IIRC), which does seem to have been deliberately downplayed or attempted heavy revisionism. It wasn’t ‘western’ archaeologists that started this, however, it was the Egyptians themselves. They are also the culprits in many of the defacing or attempts to change statues or texts to write out some pharaoh or times and put in their own.

That’s not how your OP read.

The answer seems to be no.

Also, that mummies were treated badly is not relevant to this assertion. Actual archaeologists wanted the most intact sculptures they could gather. Ones with noses were more highly prized than ones which had them knocked off.

And your account of the mummy unwrapping parties seem to be another urban legend.

If any such individual party happened, you have to liken it to modern tourists scrawling graffiti or removing pieces of the Grand Canyon: vandalism rather than archaeology.

These bullshit theories only get traction because people don’t know anything about history or archaeology, but still will believe anything they hear on social media. You at least properly asked about one of the claims, but got taken in by another. There’s only one feasible policy: never believe any of them unless you do the research.

Absolutely it is not. I know for a fact, among other authorities, the British Museum discusses them in depth (I worked on an exhibit for them them which discussed them, though I can’t find cite):

Also not this quote from that article:

So no, compared to this (and other things done in that era, like Schliemann’s dynamiting of troy, to find for example) it does not seem completely unbelievable. Again I am not claiming it did happen, just that it would not be completely extraordinary if it did. Things just as shocking to modern observers happened during that period.

You haven’t provided documentation that “parties” occurred. Your link talks about unwrappings at the Royal College of Surgeons and a museum, not at private parties. Now these may have been done as a form of entertainment, but so were many public academic lectures of the time.

In any case, I don’t really see a close connection between such events and the deliberate modification of statues for racist reasons.

This implies there was that the modern distinction between professional Archaeologists, and enthusiastic (and often completely bonkers) amateurs was always in evidence. As witnessed by the (absolutely true and not mythical) mummy unwrapping parties there was a huge overlap in the Victorian era between the two, and the only qualification required to be an “archaeologist” (or “antiquarian”) was funds (being part of the right gentleman’s club also helped)

Schleiman is generally considered to be one of the founders of modern, professional/academic, archaeology and he did all sorts of things just as outrageous to modern ears as knocking the noses of statues.