Andrew James John Mackenzie
an historiography
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What happened to the Sphinx’s Nose?

For an eternity it seems, historians and the general public have been fascinated with the Ancient Egyptians. Whether it be the fantastic, freestanding monuments to their dead monarchy, the mystic symbolism of hieroglyphic linguistics or the treasure troves unearthed from secret underground crypts, the Egyptians have occupied especial significance in archaeological and historical academic circles. One of the many secrets that still manage to fascinate both students and tourists to this day is the mystery of the missing Sphinx’s nose.

Many theories have materialized over the centuries as to how and why the nose detached. Certain contemporaries attested that troops in the employ of Napoleon shot it down with cannonballs during their North African campaign. Others attest that British troops, the Marnluks and others still could have been responsible.


The sketches drawn up by Frederic Louis Norden demonstrate, however, that the nose was nonexistent from as early as 1738, a full thirty years or so before Napoleon was born. Moreover, the histories of al-Maqrīzī written in the 15th century paint a different story as to how the nose came to be removed.


Examination of the face reveals that long rods or chisels were employed to remove the nose, hammering into the nose itself, down from the bridge and from underneath, in order for the perpetrator to pry the nose away.

Indeed, al-Maqrīzī reveals that the person responsible was an iconoclast named, Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim from the khanqah of Sa'id al-Su'ada. The Arab historian contends that, upon learning of the ritualistic offerings being made to the Sphinx by local peasants to support the harvest, Sa'im al-Dahr flew into an outrage and became intent on vandalising the sculpture. His crime of desecrating the ‘talisman of the Nile’ was punishable by hanging.


Whether this account explains in full the mystery surrounding the missing nose has now been lost in the sands of time. It does, however, make for interesting imaginings.



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