Ancient Egyptian Race Controversy

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  Ancient Egyptian race controversy This article is about the  history of the controversy about the race of the ancient Egyptians. For dis-cussion of the scientific evidence relating to the raceoftheancientEgyptians, seePopulationhistoryofEgypt.The question of the  race of ancient Egyptians  wasraised historically as a product of the scientific racism ofthe 18th and 19th centuries, and was linked to modelsof racial hierarchy based on skin color, facial features, hair texture and genetic affiliations. A variety of views circulated about the racial identity of the Egyptians andthe source of their culture. [1] These were typically iden-tified in terms of a distinction between the Caucasoidand Negroid racial categories. Some scholars argued thatancient Egyptian culture was influenced by other Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in Northeast Africa or the Middle East, while others pointed to influences from var-ious Nubian groups or populations in Europe. Since the second half of the 20th century, many anthro-pologists have rejected the notion of race as having anyvalidity in the study of human biology. [2][3] Typologicaland hierarchical models of race have increasingly beenrejected by scientists in favour of models of societal de-velopment based on geographical srcin.However, the question of the phenotypical characteristics(skin color, facial features, hair texture) and genetic affil-iations of the ancient Egyptians remains a point of studyand debate. [4] 1 History The earliest examples of disagreement regarding the raceof the ancient Egyptians occurred in the work of Eu-ropeans and Americans early in the 19th century. Oneearly example of such an attempt was an article publishedin the  New-England Magazine  of October 1833, wherethe authors dispute a claim that “Herodotus was given asauthority for their being negroes.” They point out withreference to tomb paintings: “It may be observed thatthe complexion of the men is invariably red, that of thewomen yellow; but neither of them can be said to haveanythingintheirphysiognomyatallresemblingtheNegrocountenance.” [5] In the 18th century, Count Volney wrote “The Copts are the proper representatives of the Ancient Egyptians”due to their “jaundiced and fumed skin, which is nei-ther Greek, Negro nor Arab, their full faces, their puffyeyes, their crushed noses, and their thick lips ... the an-cient Egyptians were true negroes of the same type asall native born Africans.” [6][7] Just a few years later, in1839, Champollion stated in his work  Egypte Ancienne that the Egyptians and Nubians are represented in the same manner in tomb paintings and reliefs, further sug-gestingthat: “IntheCoptsofEgypt, wedonotfindanyofthe characteristic features of the Ancient Egyptian pop-ulation. The Copts are the result of crossbreeding withall the nations that successfully dominated Egypt. It iswrong to seek in them the principal features of the oldrace.” [8] Alsoin1839,Champollion’sandVolney’sclaimswere disputed by Jacques Joseph Champollion-Figeac,who blamed the ancients for spreading a false impressionof a Negro Egypt, stating “The opinion that the ancientpopulation of Egypt belonged to the Negro African race,is an error long accepted as the truth.... Volney’s conclu-sion as to the Negro srcin of the ancient Egyptian civi-lization is evidently forced and inadmissible.” [9] The debate over the race of the Ancient Egyptians in-tensified during the movement to abolish slavery in theUnited States, as arguments relating to the justificationsfor slavery increasingly asserted the historical, mentaland physical inferiority of black people. For example,in 1851, John Campbell directly challenged the claimsby Champollion and others regarding the evidence for ablack Egypt, asserting “There is one great difficulty, andto my mind an insurmountable one, which is that the ad-vocates of the negro civilization of Egypt do not attemptto account for, how this civilization was lost.... Egyptprogressed, and why, because it was Caucasian.” [10] Thearguments regarding the race of the Egyptians becamemore explicitly tied to the debate over slavery in theUnited States as the United States escalated towards civilwar. [11] In 1854, Josiah Nott with George Glidden set outto prove: “that the Caucasian or white, and the Negroraces were distinct at a very remote date, and  that theEgyptians were Caucasians. [12] Samuel George Morton,a physician and professor of anatomy, concluded that al-though “Negroes were numerous in Egypt, but their so-cial position in ancient times was the same that it nowis [in the United States], that of servants and slaves.” [13] In the early 20th century, Flinders Petrie, a Professor ofEgyptology at the University of London, in turn spokeof a Nubian queen, Aohmes Nefertari, who was the “di-vineancestressoftheXVIIIthdynasty.”Hedescribedherphysically as having “had an aquiline nose, long and thin,and was of a type not in the least prognathous.” [14] 1  2  3 SPECIFIC CURRENT-DAY CONTROVERSIES  2 Position of modern scholarship Main article: Population history of EgyptSee also: DNA history of EgyptModern scholars who have studied Ancient Egyptian cul-ture and population history have responded to the contro-versy over the race of the Ancient Egyptians in differentways.Since the second half of the 20th century, most anthro-pologists have rejected the notion of race as having anyvalidity in the study of human biology. [2][3] Stuart TysonSmith writes in the 2001  Oxford Encyclopedia of An-cient Egypt  , “Any characterization of race of the ancientEgyptians depends on modern cultural definitions, noton scientific study. Thus, by modern American stan-dards it is reasonable to characterize the Egyptians as'black', while acknowledging the scientific evidence forthephysicaldiversityofAfricans.” [15] FrankM.Snowdenasserts “Egyptians, Greeks and Romans attached no spe-cial stigma to the colour of the skin and developed no hi-erarchical notions of race whereby highest and lowest po-sitionsinthesocialpyramidwerebasedoncolour.” [16][17] Additionally, typological and hierarchical models of race have increasingly been rejected by scientists in favour ofmodels of geographical srcin.It is now largely agreed that Dynastic Egyptians were in-digenous to the Nile area. About 5,000 years ago, theSahara area dried out, and part of the indigenous Saharanpopulation retreated east towards the Nile Valley. In ad-dition,peoplesfromtheMiddleEastenteredtheNileVal-ley, bringing with them wheat, barley, sheep, goats, and possibly cattle. [18] Dynastic Egyptians referred to theircountry as “The Two Lands”. During the Predynastic pe-riod (about 4800 to 4300BC), the Merimde culture flour-ished in the northern part of Egypt (Lower Egypt). [19] This culture, among others, has links to the Levant in theMiddle East. [20][21] The pottery of the later Buto Maadiculture, best known from the site at Maadi near Cairo, also shows connections to the southern Levant as well. [22] In the southern part of Egypt (Upper Egypt), the predy-nastic Badarian culture was followed by the Naqada cul- ture. These people seem to be more closely related to theNubians than with northern Egyptians. [23][24] Due to its geographical location at the crossroads of sev-eral major cultural areas, Egypt has experienced a num-ber of foreign invasions during historical times, includingbytheCanaanites(Hyksos),theLibyans,theNubians,the Assyrians, theBabylonians, thePersians, theMacedonian Greeks, the Romans (Byzantium in late antiquity/early Middle Ages), the Arabs, the Turks, and the British. AttheUNESCO“SymposiumonthePeoplingofAncientEgypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic Script” inCairoin1974, theBlackHypothesismetwith“profound”disagreement. [25] Most participants concluded that theAncient Egyptian population was indigenous to the NileValley, and was made up of people from north and southof the Sahara who were differentiated by their color. [26] The arguments for all sides are recorded in the UNESCOpublication  General History of Africa , [27] with the “Ori-gin of the Egyptians” chapter being written by Diop.In 1975, the mummy of Ramesses II was taken to Franceforpreservation. Themummywasalsoforensicallytestedby Professor Pierre-Fernand Ceccaldi, the chief foren-sic scientist at the Criminal Identification Laboratoryof Paris. Professor Ceccaldi determined that: “Hair,astonishingly preserved, showed some complementarydata - especially about pigmentation: Ramses II was aRed haired 'cymnotriche leucoderma'.” The descriptiongiven here refers to a fair-skinned person with wavy Redhair. [28][29] In 1996, the Indianapolis Museum of Art published acollection of essays, which included contributions fromleading experts in various fields including archaeology,art history, physical anthropology, African studies, Egyptology, Afrocentric studies, linguistics, and classical studies. While the contributors differed in some opin-ions, the consensus of the authors was that Ancient EgyptwasaNortheastAfricancivilization(althoughethnictypewas not mentioned), based on Egypt’s geographic loca-tion on the African continent. [20] In 2008, S. O. Y. Keita wrote “There is no scientific rea-son to believe that the primary ancestors of the Egyp-tian population emerged and evolved outside of northeastAfrica.... The basic overall genetic profile of the modernpopulation is consistent with the diversity of ancient pop-ulations that would have been indigenous to northeasternAfrica and subject to the range of evolutionary influencesover time, although researchers vary in the details of theirexplanations of those influences.” [30] 3 Specific current-day controver-sies Since the 1970s, the issues regarding the race of theancient Egyptians have been “troubled waters whichmost people who write (in the United States) about an-cient Egypt from within the mainstream of scholarshipavoid”. [31] The debate, therefore, takes place mainly inthe public sphere and tends to focus on a small number ofspecific issues. 3.1 Tutankhamun Several Afrocentric scholars, including Diop, haveclaimed that Tutankhamun was black, and have protestedthat attempted reconstructions of Tutankhamun’s facialfeatures (as depicted on the cover of  National Geographic Magazine ) have represented the king as “too white”.Among these writers was Chancellor Williams, who ar-  3.3 Great Sphinx of Giza  3gued that King Tutankhamun, his parents, and grandpar-ents were black. [32] Forensic artists and physical anthropologists from Egypt,France,andtheUnitedStatesindependentlycreatedbustsofTutankhamun,usingaCT-scanoftheskull. Biologicalanthropologist Susan Anton, the leader of the Americanteam, said the race of the skull was “hard to call”. Shestated that the shape of the cranial cavity indicated anAfrican, while the nose opening suggested narrow nos-trils, which is usually considered to be a European char-acteristic. The skull was thus concluded to be that of aNorth African. [33] Other experts have argued that neitherskull shapes nor nasal openings are a reliable indicationof race. [34] Although modern technology can reconstruct Tu-tankhamun’s facial structure with a high degree ofaccuracy, based on CT data from his mummy, [35][36] 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 shadeof modern Egyptians”. [37] Terry Garcia,  National Geographic   ' s executive vice pres-ident for mission programs, said, in response to some ofthoseprotestingagainsttheTutankhamunreconstruction:“The big variable is skin tone. North Africans, we knowtoday, had a range of skin tones, from light to dark. Inthis case, we selected a medium skin tone, and we say,quite up front, 'This is midrange.' We will never knowfor sure what his exact skin tone was or the color of hiseyes with 100% certainty.... Maybe in the future, peoplewill come to a different conclusion.” [38] When pressed on the issue by American activists inSeptember 2007, the current Secretary General of theEgyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass stated “Tutankhamun was not black.” [39] In a November 2007 publication of  Ancient Egypt Maga- zine , Hawass asserted that none of the facial reconstruc-tions resemble Tut and that, in his opinion, the most ac-curaterepresentation oftheboyking isthemaskfromhistomb. [40] The Discovery Channel commissioned a facialreconstruction of Tutankhamun, based on CT scans of amodel of his skull, back in 2002. [41][42] 3.2 Cleopatra VII Further information: Cleopatra VIIThe race and skin color of Cleopatra, the last pharaoh oftheGreekPtolomaicdynastyofEgypt, establishedin323BCE, has also caused frequent debate. [43] For example,the article  Was Cleopatra Black?   was published in  Ebonymagazine  in 2012, [44] and an article about Afrocentrismfrom the St. Louis Post-Dispatch mentions the ques-tion, too. [45] Scholars generally identify Cleopatra as ofGreek and Persian ancestry, based on fact that her GreekMacedonian family had intermingled with the Persianaristocracy of the time. However, her mother’s identityis uncertain, [46] and that of her paternal grandmother isalso not known for certain. [47] The question was the subject of a heated exchange be-tween Mary Lefkowitz, who has referred in her articlesto a debate she had with one of her students about thequestion of whether Cleopatra was black, and MolefiKete Asante, Professor of African American Studies atTemple University. In response to  Not Out of Africa  byLefkowitz, Asante wrote the article “Race in Antiquity:TrulyOutofAfrica”,inwhichheemphasizedthathe“cansay without a doubt that Afrocentrists do not spend timearguing that either Socrates or Cleopatra were black”. [48] In 2009, a BBC documentary speculated that Arsinoe IV, the half-sister of Cleopatra VII, may have beenpart African and then further speculated that Cleopatra’smother, thus Cleopatra herself, might also have been partAfrican. This was based largely on the claims of HilkeThür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who in the 1990s had examined a headlessskeleton of a female childin a 20 BC tomb in Ephesus (modern Turkey), together with the old notes and photographs of the now-missingskull. He identified the body as that of Arsinoe. [49][50] Arsinoe and Cleopatra, shared the same father (PtolemyXII Auletes) but had different mothers. [51] 3.3 Great Sphinx of Giza The identity of the model for the Great Sphinx of Gizais unknown. [52] Virtually all Egyptologists and scholarscurrently believe that the face of the Sphinx representsthe likeness of the Pharaoh Khafra, although a few Egyp-tologists and interested amateurs have proposed severaldifferent hypotheses.Numerous scholars, such as DuBois, [53][54][55] Diop,Asante, [56] and Volney, [57] have characterized the face ofthe Sphinx as Black, or Negroid . Around 1785 Vol-ney stated, “When I visited the sphinx ... on seeing thathead, typically Negro in all its features, I remembered... Herodotus says: ... the Egyptians ... are black withwoolly hair....” [58] Another early description of a “Ne-groid” Sphinx is recorded in the travel notes of a Frenchscholar, who visited in Egypt between 1783 and 1785,Constantin-François Chassebœuf [59] along with Frenchnovelist Gustave Flaubert. [60] American geologist Robert M. Schoch has written thatthe “Sphinx has a distinctive African, Nubian, or Negroid aspect which is lacking in the face of Khafre”. [61] 3.4  Kemet  Main article: Km (hieroglyph)Ancient Egyptians referred to their homeland as  Kmt   4  3 SPECIFIC CURRENT-DAY CONTROVERSIES  (conventionally pronounced as  Kemet  ). According toCheikh Anta Diop, the Egyptians referred to themselvesas “Black” people or  kmt  , and  km  was the etymologi-cal root of other words, such as Kam or Ham, whichrefer to Black people in Hebrew tradition. [62][63] A re-viewofDavidGoldenberg’s TheCurseofHam: Raceand Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity and Islam  statesthat Goldenberg “argues persuasively that the biblicalname Ham bears no relationship at all to the notion ofblackness and as of now is of unknown etymology”. [64] Diop, [65] William Leo Hansberry, [65] and AboubacryMoussa Lam [66] have argued that  kmt   was derived fromthe skin color of the Nile valley people, which Diop  et al.  claim was black. [67][68] The claim that the AncientEgyptians had black skin has become a cornerstone ofAfrocentric historiography. [65] Mainstreamscholarsholdthat kmt   means“theblackland”or “the black place”, and that this is a reference to thefertile black soil that was washed down from CentralAfrica by the annual Nile inundation. By contrast thebarren desert outside the narrow confines of the Nilewatercourse was called  dšrt   (conventionally pronounced deshret  ) or “the red land”. [65][69] Raymond Faulkner’s Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian  translates  kmt   into“Egyptians”, [70] Gardinertranslatesitas“theBlackLand,Egypt”. [71] At the UNESCO Symposium in 1974, ProfessorsSauneron, Obenga, and Diop concluded that KMT andKM meant black. [72] However, Professor Sauneron clari-fied that the adjective  Kmtyw  means “people of the blackland” rather than “black people”, and that the Egyptiansnever used the adjective  Kmtyw  to refer to the variousblack peoples they knew of, they only used it to refer tothemselves. [73] 3.5 Ancient Egyptian art AncientEgyptiantombsandtemplescontainedthousandsof paintings, sculptures, and written works, which reveala great deal about the people of that time. However, theirdepictions of themselves in their surviving art and arti-facts are rendered in sometimes symbolic, rather than re-alistic, pigments. As a result, ancient Egyptian artifactsprovide sometimes conflicting and inconclusive evidenceof the ethnicity of the people who lived in Egypt duringdynastic times. [74][75][76] In 1839, Champollion states in his work  Egypte Anci-enne  that the Egyptians and Nubians are represented in the same manner in tomb paintings and reliefs. Univer-sity of Chicago scholars assert that Nubians are generallydepicted with black paint, but the skin pigment used inEgyptian paintings to refer to Nubians can range “fromdark red to brown to black”. [77] This can be observed inpaintings from the tomb of the Egyptian Huy, as well asRamses II’s temple at Beit el-Wali. [78] Also, Snowden in-dicates that Romans had accurate knowledge of “negroesof a red, copper-colored complexion ... among Africantribes”. [79] Conversely, Najovits states “Egyptian art de-picted Egyptians on the one hand and Nubians and otherblacks on the other hand with distinctly different ethniccharacteristics and depicted this abundantly and often ag-gressively. The Egyptians accurately, arrogantly and ag-gressively made national and ethnic distinctions from avery early date in their art and literature.” [80] He contin-ues, “There is an extraordinary abundance of Egyptianworks of art which clearly depicted sharply contrastedreddish-brown Egyptians and black Nubians.” [80] However Manu Ampim, a professor at Merritt Collegespecializing in African and African American history andculture, claims in the book  Modern Fraud: The Forged Ancient Egyptian Statues of Ra-Hotep and Nofret,  thatmany ancient Egyptian statues and artworks are mod-ern frauds that have been created specifically to hide the“fact” that the ancient Egyptians were black, while au-thentic artworks that demonstrate black characteristicsare systematically defaced or even “modified”. AmpimrepeatedlymakestheaccusationthattheEgyptianauthor-ities are systematically destroying evidence that “proves”that the ancient Egyptians were black, under the guiseof renovating and conserving the applicable temples andstructures. He further accuses “European” scholars ofwittingly participating in and abetting this process. [81][82] 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 ap-pears in a number of tombs, and they were usually pro-vided for the guidance of the soul of the deceased. [74][83] Among other things, it described the “four races of men”as follows: (translation by E.A. Wallis Budge: [83] “Thefirst are RETH, the second are AAMU, the third are NE-HESU, and the fourth are THEMEHU. The RETH areEgyptians, the AAMU are dwellers in the deserts to theeast and north-east of Egypt, the NEHESU are the blackraces, and the THEMEHU are the fair-skinned Libyans.”ThearchaeologistRichardLepsiusdocumentedmanyan-cient Egyptian tomb paintings in his work  Denkmäler aus AegyptenundAethiopien.  In1913, afterthedeathofLep-sius, an updated reprint of the work was produced, editedby Kurt Sethe. This printing included an additional sec-tion, called the “Ergänzungsband” in German, which in-corporated many illustrations that did not appear in Lep-sius’s original work. One of them, plate 48, illustratedone example of each of the four “nations” as depicted inKV11, and shows the “Egyptian nation” and the “Nubiannation” as identical to each other in skin color and dress.Professor Ampim has declared that plate 48 is a true re-flection of the srcinal painting, and that it “proves” thatthe ancient Egyptians were identical in appearance to theNubians, even though he admits no other examples of the“Table of Nations” show this similarity. He has furtheraccused “Euro-American writers” of attempting to mis-lead the public on this issue. [84]
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