Ancient Egyptian race controversy

This article is about the history of the controversy about the race of the ancient Egyptians. For discussion of the scientific evidence relating to the race of the ancient Egyptians, see Population history of Egypt.

The question of the race of ancient Egyptians was raised historically as a product of the early racial concepts of the 18th and 19th centuries, and was linked to models of racial hierarchy primarily based on craniometry, anthropometry and genetics. A variety of views circulated about the racial identity of the Egyptians and the source of their culture.[1] Some scholars argued that ancient Egyptian culture was influenced by other Afroasiatic-speaking populations in Northeast Africa, the Maghreb, or the Middle East, while others pointed to influences from various Nubian groups or populations in Europe. In more recent times Afrocentric writers continued to challenge the mainstream view, some focusing on questioning the race of specific notable individuals such as the king represented in the Great Sphinx of Giza, native Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, and Greek Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra VII.

Mainstream scholars reject the notion that Egypt was a white or black civilization; they maintain that, despite the phenotypic diversity of Ancient and present day Egyptians, applying modern notions of black or white races to ancient Egypt is anachronistic.[2][3][4] In addition, scholars reject the notion, implicit in the notion of a black or white Egypt hypothesis, that Ancient Egypt was racially homogeneous; instead, skin color varied between the peoples of Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, and Nubia, who in various eras rose to power in Ancient Egypt.

A study published in 2017 described the extraction and analysis of DNA from 151 mummified ancient Egyptian individuals, whose remains were recovered from Abusir el-Meleq in the Cairo Governate. The study was able to measure the mitochondrial DNA of 90 individuals, and it showed that Ancient Egyptians had the greatest affinity for modern Middle Eastern (Arab, Levantine and Anatolian) and North African populations, and had significantly more affinity with south-eastern Europeans than with sub-Saharan Africans. Genome-wide data could only be successfully extracted from three of these individuals. Of these three, the Y-chromosome haplogroups of two individuals could be assigned to the Middle-Eastern haplogroup J, and one to haplogroup E1b1b1 common in North Africa. The absolute estimates of sub-Saharan African ancestry in these three individuals ranged from 6 to 15%, which is significantly lower than the level of sub-Saharan African ancestry in the modern Egyptians from Abusir, who "range from 14 to 21%." The study's authors cautioned that the mummies may be unrepresentative of the Ancient Egyptian population as a whole, since they were recovered from the northern part of Egypt,[5] (closer to foreign populations) and they only dated from the late New Kingdom to the Roman Period. As a result mummies from the earlier classical periods of Egyptian history such as the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom further to the south were omitted.[5]

History

The earliest examples of disagreement regarding the race of the ancient Egyptians occurred in the work of Europeans and Americans early in the 19th century. One early example of such an attempt was an article published in The New-England Magazine of October 1833, where the authors dispute a claim that "Herodotus was given as authority for their being negroes." They point out with reference to tomb paintings: "It may be observed that the complexion of the men is invariably red, that of the women yellow; but neither of them can be said to have anything in their physiognomy at all resembling the Negro countenance."[6]

In the 18th century, Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney, wrote "The Copts are the proper representatives of the Ancient Egyptians" due to their "jaundiced and fumed skin, which is neither Greek, Negro nor Arab, their full faces, their puffy eyes, their crushed noses, and their thick lips ... the ancient Egyptians were true negroes of the same type as all native born Africans".[7][8]

Just a few years later, in 1839, Jean-François Champollion stated in his work Egypte Ancienne that the Egyptians and Nubians are represented in the same manner in tomb paintings and reliefs, further suggesting that: "In the Copts of Egypt, we do not find any of the characteristic features of the ancient Egyptian population. The Copts are the result of crossbreeding with all the nations that successfully dominated Egypt. It is wrong to seek in them the principal features of the old race."[9] Also in 1839, Champollion's and Volney's claims were disputed by Jacques Joseph Champollion-Figeac, who blamed the ancients for spreading a false impression of a Negro Egypt, stating "The opinion that the ancient population of Egypt belonged to the Negro African race, is an error long accepted as the truth. ... Volney's conclusion as to the Negro origin of the ancient Egyptian civilization is evidently forced and inadmissible."[10]

The debate over the race of the ancient Egyptians intensified during the 19th century movement to abolish slavery in the United States, as arguments relating to the justifications for slavery increasingly asserted the historical, mental and physical inferiority of black people. For example, in 1851, John Campbell directly challenged the claims by Champollion and others regarding the evidence for a black Egypt, asserting "There is one great difficulty, and to my mind an insurmountable one, which is that the advocates of the negro civilization of Egypt do not attempt to account for, how this civilization was lost.... Egypt progressed, and why, because it was Caucasian."[11] The arguments regarding the race of the Egyptians became more explicitly tied to the debate over slavery in the United States as the United States escalated towards civil war.[12] In 1854, Josiah C. Nott with George Glidden set out to prove: "that the Caucasian or white, and the Negro races were distinct at a very remote date, and that the Egyptians were Caucasians."[13] Samuel George Morton, a physician and professor of anatomy, concluded that although "Negroes were numerous in Egypt, but their social position in ancient times was the same that it now is [in the United States], that of servants and slaves."[14] In the early 20th century, Flinders Petrie, a Professor of Egyptology at the University of London, in turn spoke of a Nubian queen, Aohmes Nefertari, who was the "divine ancestress of the XVIIIth dynasty". He described her physically as having "had an aquiline nose, long and thin, and was of a type not in the least prognathous".[15]

Egypt was not a popular civilization with all African Americans at the time, because they often associated Egypt with slavery. Black spirituals such as Go Down Moses related the slavery of blacks in America to the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt.[16] As late as the 1960s, Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders related the struggles of the Jews enslaved in Egypt to the struggles of African Americans.[17]

Position of modern scholarship

The realistic Fayum mummy portraits show the diversity of Egyptians in the Roman period

Modern scholars who have studied ancient Egyptian culture and population history have responded to the controversy over the race of the ancient Egyptians in different ways.

At the UNESCO "Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic Script" in Cairo in 1974, the Black Hypothesis met with "profound" disagreement.[18] Most participants concluded that the ancient Egyptian population was indigenous to the Nile Valley, and was made up of people from north and south of the Sahara who were differentiated by their color.[19] The arguments for all sides are recorded in the UNESCO publication General History of Africa,[20] with the "Origin of the Egyptians" chapter being written by Cheikh Anta Diop.

Since the second half of the 20th century, most anthropologists have rejected the notion of race as having any validity in the study of human biology.[21][22] Stuart Tyson Smith writes in the 2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, "Any characterization of race of the ancient Egyptians depends on modern cultural definitions, not on scientific study. Thus, by modern American standards it is reasonable to characterize the Egyptians as 'black', while acknowledging the scientific evidence for the physical diversity of Africans."[23] Frank M. Snowden asserts "Egyptians, Greeks and Romans attached no special stigma to the colour of the skin and developed no hierarchical notions of race whereby highest and lowest positions in the social pyramid were based on colour."[24][25]

In 1975, the mummy of Ramesses II was taken to France for preservation. The mummy was also forensically tested by Professor Pierre-Fernand Ceccaldi, the chief forensic scientist at the Criminal Identification Laboratory of Paris, who wrote: "Hair, astonishingly preserved, showed some complementary data – especially about pigmentation: Ramses II was a Red haired cymnotriche leucoderma", that is a fair-skinned person with wavy red hair.[26][27]

It is now largely agreed that Dynastic Egyptians were indigenous to the Nile area. About 5,000 years ago, the Sahara area dried out, and part of the indigenous Saharan population retreated east towards the Nile Valley. In addition, peoples from the Middle East entered the Nile Valley, bringing with them wheat, barley, sheep, goats, and possibly cattle.[28] Dynastic Egyptians referred to their country as "The Two Lands". During the Predynastic period (about 4800 to 4300BC), the Merimde culture flourished in the northern part of Egypt (Lower Egypt).[29] This culture, among others, has links to the Levant in the Middle East.[30][31] The pottery of the later Buto Maadi culture, best known from the site at Maadi near Cairo, also shows connections to the southern Levant.[32] In the southern part of Egypt (Upper Egypt), the predynastic Badarian culture was followed by the Naqada culture. These people seem to be more closely related to the Nubians than to northern Egyptians.[33][34]

An examination of ancient Egyptian skeletons and skulls in 2007 also suggests that there was in-migration to the Abydos region of the Nile Valley, particularly during the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom.[35]

Near-Eastern genetic affinity of ancient Egyptian mummies

Shared drift and mixture analysis of ancient Egyptian mummies with other ancient and modern and populations. The affinity is strongest (in red) with ancient populations of the Near East.

A study published in 2017 described the extraction and analysis of DNA from 151 mummified ancient Egyptian individuals, whose remains were recovered from Abusir el-Meleq in the Cairo Governate.[36][37] The area of Abusir el-Meleq, near El Fayum, was inhabited from at least 3250 BCE until about 700 CE.[38] The scientists said that obtaining well-preserved, uncontaminated DNA from mummies has been a problem for the field and that these samples provided "the first reliable data set obtained from ancient Egyptians using high-throughput DNA sequencing methods".

The study was able to measure the mitochondrial DNA of 90 individuals, and it showed that the mitochondrial DNA composition of Egyptian mummies has shown a high level of affinity with the DNA of the populations of the Near East.[36][37] A shared drift and mixture analysis of the DNA of these ancient Egyptian mummies shows that the connection is strongest with ancient populations from the Levant, the Near East and Anatolia, and to a lesser extent modern populations from the Near East and the Levant.[37] In particular the study finds "that ancient Egyptians are most closely related to Neolithic and Bronze Age samples in the Levant, as well as to Neolithic Anatolian and European populations".[38]

Genome-wide data could only be successfully extracted from three of these individuals. Of these three, the Y-chromosome haplogroups of two individuals could be assigned to the Middle-Eastern haplogroup J, and one to haplogroup E1b1b1 common in North Africa. The absolute estimates of sub-Saharan African ancestry in these three individuals ranged from 6 to 15%, which is significantly lower than the level of sub-Saharan African ancestry in the modern Egyptians from Abusir, who "range from 14 to 21%." The study's authors cautioned that the mummies may be unrepresentative of the Ancient Egyptian population as a whole, since they were recovered from the northern part of Egypt.[5]

Overall the mummies studied were closer genetically to Near Eastern people than the modern Egyptian population, which has a greater proportion of genes coming from sub-Saharan Africa after the Roman period.[36][37]

The data suggest a high level of genetic intereraction with the Near East since ancient times, probably going back to Prehistoric Egypt: "Our data seem to indicate close admixture and affinity at a much earlier date, which is unsurprising given the long and complex connections between Egypt and the Middle East. These connections date back to Prehistory and occurred at a variety of scales, including overland and maritime commerce, diplomacy, immigration, invasion and deportation"[39][37]

Contemporary genetic studies show much greater levels of sub-Saharan African ancestry in the current-day populations of southern as opposed to northern Egypt.[40]

Specific current-day controversies

Today the issues regarding the race of the ancient Egyptians are "troubled waters which most people who write about ancient Egypt from within the mainstream of scholarship avoid."[41] The debate, therefore, takes place mainly in the public sphere and tends to focus on a small number of specific issues.

Tutankhamun

Several Afrocentric scholars, including Diop, have claimed that Tutankhamun was black, and have protested that attempted reconstructions of Tutankhamun's facial features (as depicted on the cover of National Geographic magazine) have represented the king as "too white". Among these writers was Chancellor Williams, who argued that King Tutankhamun, his parents, and grandparents were black.[42]

Forensic artists and physical anthropologists from Egypt, France, and the United States independently created busts of Tutankhamun, using a CT-scan of the skull. Biological anthropologist Susan Anton, the leader of the American team, said the race of the skull was "hard to call". She stated that the shape of the cranial cavity indicated an African, while the nose opening suggested narrow nostrils, which is usually considered to be a European characteristic. The skull was thus concluded to be that of a North African.[43] Other experts have argued that neither skull shapes nor nasal openings are a reliable indication of race.[44]

Although modern technology can reconstruct Tutankhamun's facial structure with a high degree of accuracy, based on CT data from his mummy,[45][46] determining his skin tone and eye color is impossible. The clay model was therefore given a coloring, which, according to the artist, was based on an "average shade of modern Egyptians".[47]

Terry Garcia, National Geographic's executive vice president for mission programs, said, in response to some of those protesting against the Tutankhamun reconstruction:

"The big variable is skin tone. North Africans, we know today, had a range of skin tones, from light to dark. In this case, we selected a medium skin tone, and we say, quite up front, 'This is midrange.' We will never know for sure what his exact skin tone was or the color of his eyes with 100% certainty.... Maybe in the future, people will come to a different conclusion."[48]

When pressed on the issue by American activists in September 2007, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass stated "Tutankhamun was not black."[49]

In a November 2007 publication of Ancient Egypt magazine, Hawass asserted that none of the facial reconstructions resemble Tut and that, in his opinion, the most accurate representation of the boy king is the mask from his tomb.[50] The Discovery Channel commissioned a facial reconstruction of Tutankhamun, based on CT scans of a model of his skull, back in 2002.[51][52]

In 2011, the genomics company iGENEA launched a Tutankhamun DNA project based on genetic markers that it indicated it had culled from a Discovery Channel special on the pharaoh. According to the firm, the microsatellite data suggested that Tutankhamun belonged to the haplogroup R1b1a2, the most common paternal clade among males in Western Europe. Carsten Pusch and Albert Zink, who led the unit that had extracted Tutankhamun's DNA, chided iGENEA for not liaising with them before establishing the project. After examining the footage, they also concluded that the methodology the company used was unscientific.[53]

Cleopatra

A Roman Second-style painting in the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, Italy, depicting Cleopatra VII as Venus Genetrix and her son Caesarion as a cupid, mid-1st century BC;[54] British Museum Senior Curator Susan Walker describes Cleopatra in this depiction as having "pale ivory" light skin, which among other features was common in Greco-Roman and Ptolemaic depictions of goddesses.[55]

The race and skin color of Cleopatra VII, the last active Hellenistic ruler of the Macedonian Greek Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, established in 323 BCE, has also caused some debate in non-academic circles.[56] For example, the article "Was Cleopatra Black?" was published in Ebony magazine in 2012,[57] and an article about Afrocentrism from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch mentions the question, too.[58] Scholars generally identify Cleopatra as essentially of Greek ancestry with some Persian and Syrian ancestry, based on the fact that her Macedonian Greek family (the Ptolemaic dynasty) had intermingled with the Seleucid aristocracy of the time (notably including the first Cleopatra, Queen Cleopatra I Syra, wife of Ptolemy V of Egypt).[59] While her mother's identity is uncertain, she is generally believed to be Cleopatra V of Egypt, the sister or cousin wife of Ptolemy XII Auletes, who was the daughter of Ptolemy IX or Ptolemy X.[60][61][62][63][64][65] Additionally, while the identity of her paternal grandmother isn't certain, she is generally believed to be Cleopatra IV, via Ptolemy XII's father, Ptolemy IX Lathyros,[66][67][68] or a Greek Alexandrian woman.[69][70][71][72] Claims of illegitimacy were never used against Cleopatra in the extremely hostile propaganda campaign by Augustus, Michael Grant noting that if Cleopatra had been illegitimate, her "numerous Roman enemies would have revealed this to the world."[73]

The Berlin Cleopatra, a Roman sculpture and marble portrait of the queen in the Altes Museum, 1st century BC[74]

Grant also proposes that Cleopatra's paternal grandmother may have been mixed Syrian and Greek, in line with the precedent of Persian and Syrian blood in the Ptolemaic line, and continues that "certainly she was not an Egyptian," noting there is only one known Egyptian mistress of a Ptolemy (from the 3rd century BC)[note 1] and no known Egyptian wife of a Ptolemaic king.[75] He goes on to say Cleopatra probably had not a drop of Egyptian blood and that she "would have described herself as Greek."[76][note 2] Diana Preston also writes that Cleopatra's paternal grandmother may have been part Syrian, continuing that even if Cleopatra had an Egyptian grandmother "it does not follow she was a black African" and that Cleopatra "almost certainly had olive skin and dark eyes."[77] Adrian Goldsworthy notes Cleopatra, having Macedonian blood with a little Syrian, was probably not dark skinned (he also notes Roman propaganda never mentions it), contending "fairer skin is marginally more likely considering her ancestry," and that she "was no more Egyptian culturally or ethnically than most residents of modern day Arizona are Apaches." [78] He further notes that Cleopatra's native tongue was Greek, that it was in "Greek literature and culture she that was educated," that her worship of Isis was "strongly Hellenised," and that although she was presented in some statuary in the idealized Egyptian style, she was unlikely to have dressed like this outside of performing certain rites. Instead, he continues, Cleopatra "wore the headband and robes of a Greek monarch."[79] Stacy Schiff concurs Cleopatra was not dark-skinned, that "the Ptolemies were in fact Macedonian Greek, which makes Cleopatra approximately as Egyptian as Elizabeth Taylor", that her Ptolemaic relatives were described as "honey skinned", that she was part Persian, and that "an Egyptian mistress is a rarity among the Ptolemies."[80] Mary Lefkowitz notes that had Cleopatra's grandmother or mother been Egyptian, it surely would have been pointed out in the records, and concludes that whatever her ancestry, Cleopatra "regarded herself as Greek."[81]

Schiff continues that Cleopatra "faithfully held up the family tradition."[82] In essence, Cleopatra's loyalties were to her Ptolemaic Greek heritage.[83] As noted by Donald R. Dudley, Cleopatra and her family were "the successor[s] to the native Pharaohs, exploiting through a highly organized bureaucracy the great natural resources of the Nile Valley."[84] Cleopatra's official coinage (which she would have approved) and the three portrait busts of her considered authentic by scholars (which match her coins) portray Cleopatra as a Greek woman in style, including the Greek chiton, Hellenistic diadem, and Greek chignon.[85][86][87] Francisco Pina Polo writes that Cleopatra's coinage present her image with certainty and asserts that the sculpted portrait of the "Berlin Cleopatra" head is confirmed as having a similar profile with her hair pulled back into a bun, a diadem, and a hooked nose.[86] Ernle Bradford writes that it is "reasonable to infer" Cleopatra had dark hair and "pale olive skin" by how she portrays herself as a "Eastern Mediterranean type" on her official coins, and that she challenged Rome not as an Egyptian woman, "but as a civilized Greek."[88]

Coin portrait tetradrachm of and approved by Cleopatra VII Philopator,[85] the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom

The question was the subject of a heated exchange between Mary Lefkowitz, Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Wellesley College who has referred in her articles to a debate she had with one of her students about the question of whether Cleopatra was black, and Molefi Kete Asante, Professor of African American Studies at Temple University. In response to Not Out of Africa by Lefkowitz, Asante wrote the article "Race in Antiquity: Truly Out of Africa", in which he emphasized that he "can say without a doubt that Afrocentrists do not spend time arguing that either Socrates or Cleopatra were black."[89] Lefokwitz, in her book "Not Out of Africa", gets to the origins of the black Cleopatra claim where she notes it was started by J.A. Rogers in his book "World's Great Men of Color."[90] She notes Rogers's inability to correctly number Cleopatra's family (for example, naming Cleopatra's brother Ptolemy XIII as her father, who was actually Ptolemy XII, and naming Ptolemy XI as Ptolemy XII's father when he was in fact Ptolemy IX), using as his main sources a misinterpretation of Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" (written over 1,500 years after Cleopatra's death) and falsely citing Encyclopedia Britannica (when in fact it did not then or ever claim Cleopatra was black), and that his presumption Cleopatra's paternal grandmother was a black African slave is "based in the more recent past."[91] She further stresses slavery in ancient times was very different from modern black chattel slavery, as slaves were not taken based on skin color but were in actuality mostly war captives, largely including Greeks, and notes Roger's claim of a black grandmother is based on practices by slave owners of the 19th century.[92] The black Cleopatra claim, Lefkowitz continues, was further revived in an essay written by afrocentrist John Henrik Clarke, chair of African history at Hunter College, entitled "African Warrior Queens" for "Black Women in Antiquity."[93] She notes the essay was largely drawn on the writings of Rogers with Clarke's added "supporting information of his own" that includes his claim Cleopatra described herself as black in the New Testament's Book of Acts – when in fact Cleopatra had died more than sixty years before the death of Jesus Christ.[93] She also notes that if Cleopatra's paternal grandmother was Egyptian and that is how she learned Egyptian, it would be more likely for Cleopatra's father Ptolemy XII to be the first Ptolemy to learn Egyptian instead of Cleopatra (noting those like Rogers and Clarke never mention him),[94] who is the only member of the Ptolemaic dynasty known to have learned Egyptian in addition to her native tongue Koine Greek and eight other languages.[95]

Papyrus document containing signature of Cleopatra VII of Egypt which she wrote in her native tongue Koine Greek.[96]

In 2009, a BBC documentary speculated that Arsinoe IV, the half-sister of Cleopatra VII, may have been part North African and then further speculated that Cleopatra's mother, thus Cleopatra herself, might also have been part North African. This was based largely on the claims of Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who in the 1990s had examined a headless skeleton of a female child in a 20 BC tomb in Ephesus (modern Turkey), together with the old notes and photographs of the now-missing skull. She hypothesized the body as that of Arsinoe.[97][98] Arsinoe and Cleopatra, shared the same father (Ptolemy XII Auletes) but had different mothers,[99] with Thür claiming the alleged African ancestry came from the skeleton's mother. However, researchers Clarence C. Gravlee, H. Russell Bernard, and William R. Leonard, and others have demonstrated that skull measurements are not a reliable indicator of race[100] and the measurements were jotted down in 1920 before modern forensic science took hold.[101] To date it has never been definitively proved the skeleton is that of Arsinoe IV. Furthermore, craniometry as used by Thür to determine race is based in scientific racism that is now generally considered a pseudoscience that supported "exploitation of groups of people" to "perpetuate racial oppression" and "distorted future views of the biological basis of race."[102] When a DNA test that attempted to determine the identity of the child, it was impossible to get an accurate reading since the bones had been handled too many times,[103] and the skull had been lost in Germany during World War II. Mary Beard wrote a dissenting essay criticizing the findings, pointing out that one, there is no surviving name on the tomb and that the claim the tomb is alleged to invoke the shape of the Pharos Lighthouse "doesn't add up"; second, the skull doesn't survive intact and the age of the skeleton is too young to be that of Arsinoe's (the bones said to be that of a 15–18 year old child, with Arsinoe being around her mid twenties at her death); and thirdly, since Cleopatra and Arsinoe were not known to have the same mother, "the ethnic argument goes largely out of the window." [104]

Great Sphinx of Giza

The identity of the model for the Great Sphinx of Giza is unknown.[105] Virtually all Egyptologists and scholars[weasel words][citation needed] currently believe that the face of the Sphinx represents the likeness of the Pharaoh Khafra, although a few Egyptologists and interested amateurs have proposed several different hypotheses.

Numerous Afrocentric scholars, such as Du Bois,[106][107][108] Diop, and Asante[109] have characterized the face of the Sphinx as Black, or "Negroid". Another early description of a "Negroid" Sphinx is recorded in the travel notes of a French scholar, who visited in Egypt between 1783 and 1785, Volney[110] along with French novelist Gustave Flaubert.[111]

American geologist Robert M. Schoch has written that the "Sphinx has a distinctive African, Nubian, or Negroid aspect which is lacking in the face of Khafre".[112][113]

Kemet

km in Egyptian hieroglyphs
km biliteral kmt (place) kmt (people)
km
km
t O49
km
t
A1B1Z3

Ancient Egyptians referred to their homeland as Kmt (conventionally pronounced as Kemet). According to Cheikh Anta Diop, the Egyptians referred to themselves as "Black" people or kmt, and km was the etymological root of other words, such as Kam or Ham, which refer to Black people in Hebrew tradition.[114][115]:246–248 A review of David Goldenberg's The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity and Islam states that Goldenberg "argues persuasively that the biblical name Ham bears no relationship at all to the notion of blackness and as of now is of unknown etymology".[116] Diop,[117] William Leo Hansberry,[117] and Aboubacry Moussa Lam[118] have argued that kmt was derived from the skin color of the Nile valley people, which Diop claimed was black.[119] The claim that the ancient Egyptians had black skin has become a cornerstone of Afrocentric historiography.[117]

Mainstream scholars hold that kmt means "the black land" or "the black place", and that this is a reference to the fertile black soil that was washed down from Central Africa by the annual Nile inundation. By contrast the barren desert outside the narrow confines of the Nile watercourse was called dšrt (conventionally pronounced deshret) or "the red land".[117][120] Raymond Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian translates kmt into "Egyptians",[121] Gardiner translates it as "the Black Land, Egypt".[122]

At the UNESCO Symposium in 1974, Sauneron, Obenga, and Diop concluded that KMT and KM meant black.[123] However, Sauneron clarified that the adjective Kmtyw means "people of the black land" rather than "black people", and that the Egyptians never used the adjective Kmtyw to refer to the various black peoples they knew of, they only used it to refer to themselves.[124]

Ancient Egyptian art

Ancient Egyptian tombs and temples contained thousands of paintings, sculptures, and written works, which reveal a great deal about the people of that time. However, their depictions of themselves in their surviving art and artifacts are rendered in sometimes symbolic, rather than realistic, pigments. As a result, ancient Egyptian artifacts provide sometimes conflicting and inconclusive evidence of the ethnicity of the people who lived in Egypt during dynastic times.[125][126]

In 1839, Champollion states in his work Egypte Ancienne that the Egyptians and Nubians are represented in the same manner in tomb paintings and reliefs. University of Chicago scholars assert that Nubians are generally depicted with black paint, but the skin pigment used in Egyptian paintings to refer to Nubians can range "from dark red to brown to black".[127] This can be observed in paintings from the tomb of the Egyptian Huy, as well as Ramses II's temple at Beit el-Wali.[128] Also, Snowden indicates that Romans had accurate knowledge of "negroes of a red, copper-colored complexion ... among African tribes".[129] Conversely, Najovits states "Egyptian art depicted Egyptians on the one hand and Nubians and other blacks on the other hand with distinctly different ethnic characteristics and depicted this abundantly and often aggressively. The Egyptians accurately, arrogantly and aggressively made national and ethnic distinctions from a very early date in their art and literature."[130] He continues, "There is an extraordinary abundance of Egyptian works of art which clearly depicted sharply contrasted reddish-brown Egyptians and black Nubians."[130]

However, Manu Ampim, a professor at Merritt College specializing in African and African American history and culture, claims in the book Modern Fraud: The Forged Ancient Egyptian Statues of Ra-Hotep and Nofret, that many ancient Egyptian statues and artworks are modern frauds that have been created specifically to hide the "fact" that the ancient Egyptians were black, while authentic artworks that demonstrate black characteristics are systematically defaced or even "modified". Ampim repeatedly makes the accusation that the Egyptian authorities are systematically destroying evidence that "proves" that the ancient Egyptians were black, under the guise of renovating and conserving the applicable temples and structures. He further accuses "European" scholars of wittingly participating in and abetting this process.[131][132]

1820 drawing of a Book of Gates fresco of the tomb of Seti I, depicting (from left) four groups of people: Libyans ("Themehu"), a Nubian ("Nehesu"), an Asiatic ("Aamu"), and an Egyptian ("Reth").

Ampim has a specific concern about the painting of the "Table of Nations" in the Tomb of Ramses III (KV11). The "Table of Nations" is a standard painting that appears in a number of tombs, and they were usually provided for the guidance of the soul of the deceased.[125][133] Among other things, it described the "four races of men" as follows: (translation by E.A. Wallis Budge:[133] "The first are RETH, the second are AAMU, the third are NEHESU, and the fourth are THEMEHU. The RETH are Egyptians, the AAMU are dwellers in the deserts to the east and north-east of Egypt, the NEHESU are the black races, and the THEMEHU are the fair-skinned Libyans."

The archaeologist Richard Lepsius documented many ancient Egyptian tomb paintings in his work Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien. In 1913, after the death of Lepsius, an updated reprint of the work was produced, edited by Kurt Sethe. This printing included an additional section, called the "Ergänzungsband" in German, which incorporated many illustrations that did not appear in Lepsius's original work. One of them, plate 48, illustrated one example of each of the four "nations" as depicted in KV11, and shows the "Egyptian nation" and the "Nubian nation" as identical to each other in skin color and dress. Professor Ampim has declared that plate 48 is a true reflection of the original painting, and that it "proves" that the ancient Egyptians were identical in appearance to the Nubians, even though he admits no other examples of the "Table of Nations" show this similarity. He has further accused "Euro-American writers" of attempting to mislead the public on this issue.[134]

The late Egyptologist, Frank Yurco, visited the tomb of Ramses III (KV11), and in a 1996 article on the Ramses III tomb reliefs he pointed out that the depiction of plate 48 in the Ergänzungsband section is not a correct depiction of what is actually painted on the walls of the tomb. Yurco notes, instead, that plate 48 is a "pastiche" of samples of what is on the tomb walls, arranged from Lepsius's notes after his death, and that a picture of a Nubian person has erroneously been labeled in the pastiche as an Egyptian person. Yurco points also to the much more recent photographs of Dr. Erik Hornung as a correct depiction of the actual paintings.[135] (Erik Hornung, The Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity, 1990). Ampim nonetheless continues to claim that plate 48 shows accurately the images that stand on the walls of KV11, and he categorically accuses both Yurco and Hornung of perpetrating a deliberate deception for the purposes of misleading the public about the true race of the ancient Egyptians.[134]

Historical hypotheses

Black Egyptian hypothesis

Further information: Kerma culture and Kingdom of Kush

The Black Egyptian hypothesis is held by various authors[136][137][115]:1–9,134–155[138]:103–108[139][140][141][142][143] that ancient Egypt was indigenous to Africa and a Black civilization. This includes a particular focus on links to Sub Saharan cultures and the questioning of the race of specific notable individuals from Dynastic times, including Tutankhamun[144] and the king represented in the Great Sphinx of Giza,[106][112] and Greek Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra.[56][57][58] Since the second half of the 20th century, typological and hierarchical models of race have increasingly been rejected by scientists, and most scholars have held that applying modern notions of race to ancient Egypt is anachronistic.[145][146][147]

Early advocates of the Black African model relied heavily on writings from Classical Greek historians, including Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Herodotus, wherein the Greeks referred to Egyptians as "melanchroes" with woolly hair.[148][149] The translation of the Greek word "melanchroes" is disputed, being translated either as "black" or "dark skinned".[148][149][150][151] Snowden claims that Diop is distorting his classical sources and is quoting them selectively.[152] There is dispute about the historical accuracy of the works of Herodotus – some scholars support the reliability of Herodotus[115]:2–5[138]:1[153][154][155] while other scholars regard his works as being unreliable as historical sources, particularly those relating to Egypt.[156][157][158][159][160][161][162][163][164][165][166]

Other points used to support the Black Hypothesis included testing melanin levels in a small sample of mummies,[115]:236–243 arguing that the ancient Egyptian language was related to Diop's native Wolof (Senegal),[167] interpretations of the origin of the name Kmt, conventionally pronounced Kemet, used by the ancient Egyptians to describe themselves or their land (depending on points of view),[168] biblical traditions,[169][170] and interpretations of the depictions of the Egyptians in numerous paintings and statues.[115]:6–42 Other points of the hypothesis include claimed cultural affiliations, such as circumcision,[115]:112, 135–138 matriarchy, totemism, hair braiding, head binding,[171] and kingship cults.[115]:1–9,134–155 Artifacts found at Qustul (near Abu Simbel – Modern Sudan) in 1960–64 were seen as showing that ancient Egypt and A-group Nubia shared the same culture and were part of the greater Nile Valley sub-stratum,[172][173][174][175][176] but more recent finds in Egypt indicate that the Qustul rulers probably adopted/emulated the symbols of Egyptian pharaohs.[177][178][179][180][181][182]

At the UNESCO "Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic script" in Cairo in 1974, the Black Hypothesis met with "profound" disagreement.[18] Most participants concluded that the ancient Egyptian population was indigenous to the Nile Valley, and was made up of people from north and south of the Sahara who were differentiated by their color.[19] The current position of modern scholarship is that the Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt).[183][184][185][186]

Asiatic race theory

The Asiatic race theory holds that the ancient Egyptians were the lineal descendants of the biblical Ham, through his son Mizraim. This theory was the most dominant view from the Early Middle Ages (c. 500 AD) all the way up to the early 19th century.[187][188] The descendants of Ham were traditionally considered to be the darkest-skinned branch of humanity, either because of their geographic allotment to Africa or because of the Curse of Ham.[189] Thus, Diop cites Gaston Maspero "Moreover, the Bible states that Mesraim, son of Ham. brother of Chus (Kush) ... and of Canaan, came from Mesopotamia to settle with his children on the banks of the Nile."[115]:5–9

By the 20th century, the Asiatic race theory and its various offshoots were abandoned but were superseded by two related theories: the eurocentric Hamitic hypothesis, asserting that a Caucasian racial group moved into North and East Africa from early prehistory subsequently bringing with them all advanced agriculture, technology and civilization, and the Dynastic race theory, proposing that Mesopotamian invaders were responsible for the dynastic civilization of Egypt (c. 3000 BC). In sharp contrast to the Asiatic race theory, neither of these theories proposes that Caucasians were the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt.[190]

Caucasian / Hamitic hypothesis

In 1844, Samuel George Morton wrote that the Nile valley "was originally peopled by a branch of the Caucasian race",[191] and acknowledged that Negroes were present in ancient Egypt but claimed they were either captives or servants.[192] George Gliddon (1844) wrote: "The Egyptians were white men, of no darker hue than a pure Arab, a Jew, or a Phoenician."[193]

The similar Hamitic hypothesis, which developed directly from the Asiatic Race Theory, argued that the Ethiopid and Arabid populations of the Horn of Africa were the inventors of agriculture and had brought all civilization to Africa, and asserted that these people were Caucasians, not Negroid. It also rejected any Biblical basis despite using Hamitic as the theory's name.[194] Charles Gabriel Seligman in his Some Aspects of the Hamitic Problem in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1913) and later works argued that the ancient Egyptians were among this group of Caucasian Hamites, having arrived in the Nile Valley during early prehistory and introduced technology and agriculture to primitive natives they found there.[195]

The Italian anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi (1901) believed that ancient Egyptians were the Eastern African (Hamitic) branch of the Mediterranean race, which he called "Eurafrican". According to Sergi, the Mediterranean race or "Eurafrican" contains three varieties or sub-races: the African (Hamitic) branch, the Mediterranean "proper" branch and the Nordic (depigmentated) branch.[196] Sergi maintained in summary that the Mediterranean race (excluding the depigmentated Nordic or 'white') is: "a brown human variety, neither white nor Negroid, but pure in its elements, that is to say not a product of the mixture of Whites with Negroes or Negroid peoples".[197] Grafton Elliot Smith modified the theory in 1911,[198] stating that the ancient Egyptians were a dark haired "brown race",[199] most closely "linked by the closest bonds of racial affinity to the Early Neolithic populations of the North African littoral and South Europe",[200] and not Negroid.[201] Smith's "brown race" is not synonymous or equivalent with Sergi's Mediterranean race.[202]

The Hamitic Hypothesis was still popular in the 1960s and late 1970s and was supported notably by Anthony John Arkell and George Peter Murdock.[203]

Turanid race hypothesis

The Egyptologist Samuel Sharpe (1846) proposed that the ancient Egyptians belonged to the Turanid race, linking them to the Tatars. He was inspired by some ancient Egyptian paintings, which depict Egyptians with sallow or yellowish skin. He said "From the colour given to the women in their paintings we learn that their skin was yellow, like that of the Mongul Tartars, who have given their name to the Mongolian variety of the human race.... The single lock of hair on the young nobles reminds us also of the Tartars."[204]

Dynastic race theory

Main article: Dynastic race theory

In the early 20th century, Flinders Petrie, one of the leading Egyptologists of his day, noted that the skeletal remains found at predynastic sites at Naqada in Upper Egypt showed marked differentiation. Together with cultural evidence such as architectural styles, pottery styles, cylinder seals, and numerous rock and tomb paintings, he deduced that a Mesopotamian force had invaded Egypt in predynastic times, imposed itself on the indigenous Badarian people, and become their rulers. This came to be called the "dynastic race theory".[183][205] The theory further argued that the Mesopotamian-founded state or states then conquered both Upper and Lower Egypt and founded the First Dynasty of Egypt.

In the 1950s, the Dynastic Race Theory was widely accepted by mainstream scholarship. Scholars such as the Senegalese Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop, fought against the Dynastic Race Theory with their own "Black Egyptian" theory and claimed, among other things, that European scholars supported the Dynastic Race Theory "to avoid having to admit that Ancient Egyptians were black".[206] Bernal proposed that the Dynastic Race theory was conceived by European scholars to deny Egypt its African roots.[207]

Contemporary scientists agree that Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt).[185][186][208]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ For further information on this mistress, see Lefkowitz (1997, pp. 44–45, 50). Lefkowitz writes that this Egyptian woman, named Didyame, was the mistress of Ptolemy II. She notes that among Ptolemy II’s many mistresses, Didyame was specifically signaled out because she was Egyptian, and not of the usual Greek stock among Ptolemaic mistresses (who included among Ptolemy II's mistresses, the courtesans Bilishtiche, Agathocleia, Stratonice, and Myrto—whose coloring and ethnicity were not specifically pointed out like Didyame, “presumably because they were Greek”). She further notes that if she had any children by Ptolemy, they never became king (all Ptolemaic kings were regarded as fully legitimate save for Ptolemy XII). She contends that it is "misleading to suggest that the unique non-Greek mistress Didyame provides evidence of a common practice.”
  2. ^ Roller (2010, pp. 15, 18, 166) speculates that Cleopatra VII could have been the daughter of a hypothetical half-Macedonian-Greek, half-Egyptian woman belonging to the priestly family of Ptah (the other main candidate he notes would be Cleopatra V/VI) located in Memphis in northern Egypt, but contends that whatever Cleopatra's ancestry, she valued her Greek Ptolemaic heritage the most. Roller (2010) further notes that "there is absolutely no evidence" that Cleopatra was racially black African as claimed by what he dismisses as generally not "credible scholarly sources." He goes onto say outside the hypothesis of Cleopatra being three-quarters Macedonian Greek and a quarter Egyptian, there is "no room for anything else, certainly not for any black African blood."

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