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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Part I - ON THE TRAIL OF "WEIRD EGYPTOLOGY" and the Attempt to De-Africanize ancient Egypt





NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S "EGYPT OF THE NILE": AND OTHER OPTICAL DELUSIONS



"1. Africa: Usage varies; when there is doubt, consult an expert. The nationality (such as Libyan or the ethnic group (such as Arab, Hamite, or Copt) may be used...
     Blacks are called blacks or Africans. The term Negro may be applied in referring to the black or Negroid races. The area in which they live may be called black Africa. 
    The term native may give offense." (Direct from National Geographic's Style Manual



A modern Western rendition of Hatshepsut's Egyptians. (It looks like they at least got the hair right.: ) 

An ancient "Egyptian" artists rendition of Hatshepsut's Egyptians in Punt.  They wear a hairstyle still current among modern Nilotic and East Africans south of the United Arab Republic of Egypt


Another true ancient rendering of Egyptians by Hatshepsut's own artists 

       The latest forensic representation of the King Tut-Ankh-Amun caused somewhat of an uproar in  Philadelphia "the city of brotherly love" in the state of Pennsylvania, which had seen the first African studies department in the United States. The reproduction had appeared outside of a exhibition of Tut's tomb goods. Some of our so-called "scholarly" pundits had made the raucous worse by offering unqualified opinions. Wrote a Nina Jablonski, professor of biological anthropology at Penn State the state university, "Our best guess is that he was neither lily white nor ebony black,  probably somewhere in between". She had written a book entitled, Skin: A Natural History.   See the link -  King Tut Exhibit Prompts Debate 
          Since most people, including many so-called black or sub-Saharan Africans, are neither lily white, nor ebony black,  her statement obviously didn't mean much. On a panel at the Franklin Institute where the exhibit was located she further stated, "When we look at the representation of the Egyptian royalty on the walls of tombs, we see a range of sort of moderate, tan-colored skin on the royalty," ....
"This probably is a fairly close approximation of what skin color these people actually had." 
      Would anyone ever the speak similarly of the depictions of Abyssinian royalty depicted in similarly moderate tints? Actually, one has to seriously wonder which pharaohs Jablonski has seen that had "tanned" skin. In any case, it exhibits the Eurocentric bias of modern western or European scholars in control of manufacturing a vision of ancient Egypt that is inconceivably African - the same "scholars" which for example accuse African Americans of being "in search of an ancient past." and creating "imagined homelands" supposedly so they can "feel good" about themselves.
      There are very few Egyptian kings represented that don't have a characteristically Egyptian representation in physiognomy, physique or face and those physiognomies, as science has made clear were in fact black African ones.
        Ironically, if one wants to, they may find similar suggestions based purely on representations characterizing the complexion of the ancient European skin tone as "tanned", nebulous, and neither here nor there. This is being done on the internet, but not by people that are supposed to be established, reputable scholars. Such assertions that certain depictions show European rulers that were not purely white, and thus apparently light skinned blacks, would of course not be taken seriously in a largely European world of what is now called Western academia.

Dr. Nina Jablonski - the skin color expert who has stated ancient Egyptian royals were usually of a "moderate", "tanned" color in their depictions.

         Jablonski served according to a National Public Broadcasting report in the U.S. as "an advisor to the team from the National Geographic Society that produced the forensic reconstruction of King Tut" that was on display in part of the tour of Tut's tomb of "riches".
     The professor also mentioned that "modern Egyptians are a very heterogeneous group... Some of them have very Arabic features. Others of them have very African or so-called Nubian features. This is because the Nile River itself was a tremendous byway for movement of people in the past and present."
     One can only guess what these African features must be, since much of the time, Nubians presented themselves looking very much like the Egyptians. In fact some of the Egyptian pharaohs aside from the so called 25th dynasty "Nubian" rulers were themselves of "Nubian" origin.

One group of the many types of Nubian peoples- Are these the "African features" of European scholars?  



Another one of the ancient Nubian peoples -  however, probably  not the "African featured" Nubians of which Jablonski and Egyptologists speak : (

      Of course, since modern Egyptians and ancient peoples of pharaonic Egypt or what Africans called Kmt, an ancient region of  the northern Nile were two different populations, discussion of a heterogeneous Egypt since the time Romans and Greeks settled in the region should seem of little relevance. But, such comments illustrate the contradictory nature of the debate between Africanists and Afrocentric historians and "mainstream" Eurocentric scholarship. The idea first of all that one still has need of guessing what the main stock of the Egyptians was 2,500 years ago is of course a racist one, born of a need to place Egyptians in some vague realm that can be presumed related to fair and darkened (by the sun) Eurasiatics perhaps exemplified by the Tut reconstruction.



Nubian men pictures in the tomb of Huy. I'm sure there are some "African features" according to Egyptologists that can be picked out here aside from the hairstyles -  just not sure which ones yet.


CA - TUT - STROPHE??  On the right, a modern "National Geographic"-managed representation of the ancient Amarna king Tut-ankh - Amun that even Zahi Hawass thought looked "French".  One must wonder which is the "tanned" one of Nina Jablonski.
         Even the faded brown and probably "cleaned-up" ancient statue of  Tut above bears, unless I am again "imagining" things again, little likeness to the forensic one permitted to grace the early tour of King Tut across the United States. It is racist vision of an ancient African in the sense that western mainstream "scholars" who've placed themselves in charge of projecting images of ancient Nile Valley Africans and to the rest of the world have deliberately replaced images of people of sub-Saharan affiliation with rather European-looking ones, feigning not to know what they really looked like. As Zahi Hawass, former Director of Egyptian Antiquities, whom I personally  know is not exactly a fan of sub-Saharan African culture, recently mentioned in his lecture at his old University, the off-white bust "came out looking French" due to it being a French team's reconstruction.
      As for "African features", we can assume Jablonski was not talking about the dozens of Pharaohs with "African" or "Nubian features", but about the "ebony black" peoples wearing loin cloths and leopard skins, since that is what Western scholarship and National Geographic have traditionally liked to classify as "Nubian" or "African" characteristics.
     Such nonsensical conceptions of Africa, again  illustrate the ridiculous nature of the so-called debate over the origins of Egyptians.  First of all, no one has ever suggested that ancient Egyptians were ebony black, and like millions of sub-Saharan Africans they were related to, they definitely figured somewhere in between if we are to believe there artistic depictions, but for the most part usually a great deal closer to the ebony black, than to European white. Judging from their own portrayals in ancient murals pharaonic Egyptians, were likely darker then the average San and Kung or "bushmen" of earlier anthropologists, like most "hamites".  The idea that one can not determine what the Egyptians were is also typical bias, or more accurately,  b.s. of  Western "scholarship". Such assertions have as much validity and integrity behind them as "National Geographic" caricatures of pharaonic Egyptians as lilly white and pinkish people, and Nubians Pharaohs as the only African, near black or ebony colored African rulers in ancient Egypt.


A BAS RELIEF FROM THE OLD  KINGDOM OF THE KMTIU or "Pharaonic Egypt"



THE REAL 1st DYNASTY RULER NARMER

Some  claimed the picture of Narmer in Diop's book was distorted and had been  photographed to make him look more Negroid, or that this sculptured head derives from a much later period.
   
     Crania associated with Old Kingdom rulers, however have been scientifically proven to be "Negroid", i.e., sub-Saharan in character. Thus some parties have mentioned - "His (Sekenenra Tao) entire facial complex, in fact, is so different from other pharaohs (it is closest in fact to his son Ahmose) that he could be fitted more easily into the series of Nubian and Old Kingdom Giza skulls than into that of later Egyptian kings..." James Harris and Edward Wente, X-ray Atlas of the Royal Mummies, (1980). University of Chicago Press.
     But today and in Egypt, fading images of ancient Egyptians themselves have been scraped and rubbed clean of their original varnish, painted over in pink or some other neutral color that can be interpreted as European-like in some rather reputable Western museums and even in Egypt under the pretense of preserving the original coloring or modernizing them, though this probably should never have been done.
     Meanwhile, in "National Geographic", one often sees ancient Egyptians depicted to look like either Native American Indians or Northwestern Europeans - anything but like an African.
 

CLASSICAL NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC distortions of pharaonic African civilization. This one is supposed to depict Narmer above.



CLASSIC "NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC" -  A pink-whitish Aryanized? Ramses with almost porcelain white wife and the much darker obligatory couple of Nubian (?) i.e. "Negro" servants. Looks like someone must have seen "Gone with the Wind" too many times. : )




  Well,  I guess Ramses does look a little magenta or dark pink here. But does he resemble a Brit? 
RAMSES II - classic East African beauty was possessed by some of the pharaohs and due to their genetic link and common origins with Great Lakes Africans

     In contrast to "National Geographic" publications (or shall we say "Distortographic"?), one of America's foremost white supremacists once stated, "...the type of certain Pharaohs, like Ramses II, appears related to the Abyssinian type" (Coon, Carleton S.,  1939,  p. 96).  Coon once worked at the University of Pennsylvania, where the Egyptologists apparently maintained tight control over Eurocentric notions of ancient Egypt,  a northern African kingdom along the Nile. As seen by modern Egyptological propositions, the good old days when Coon was king, and "National Geographic" impressed one with their comic representations of bald-headed Nazi-looking Egyptians (see above :)  have yet to disappear from the psychological landscape of  the western academic mindset.


Pharaoh Seti, father of Ramses, appears before some subjects in the 1998 animated film "Prince of Egypt" (Admittedly, Hollywood at times appears to have a firmer grasp on reality than "National Geographic" and its advisers). 




The real Seti, father of Ramses II with "false beard" still worn among Nilotic Africans


        Even Hollywood made a half-decent attempt not to offend any group with its depictions of Egyptians and Midianites in the animated film,  "Prince of Egypt".  The same can probably not be said for modern Egyptologists and certain Western academics who have time and again implied ancient peoples of Kmt can't be identified as a people with predominately sub-Saharan African affiliations, and have even gone as far as to say other sub-Saharans borrowed much their culture from their "Near Eastern" conception of Egypt.
      Seti I, (pictured above) unless I am, just imagining things, had a resemblance, not to Europeans, but to his own family and ancestors, which were according to in fact many living Africans found throughout Africa.  From the artificial beard to the uraeus he wears on his head, from his face profile to its coloring still common among Nubians and southern Egyptians, unlike what "National Geographic" would have its readers believe. His son Ramses II or Usur Ma-atra, another man of mainly African ancestry, is above.


A depiction of the bust of Seti from the movie, "Prince of Egypt" doesn't quite fit the bill of realism, as evidenced by a lack of lips - among other things.


If I remember correctly, Patrick Stewart,  as in the Scottish clan, who played the voice of Seti in "Prince of Egypt" claimed a Pharaoh the 19th dynasty Egypt looked just like his own father. Somehow, I personally find that hard to believe, unless he was talking about a 'National Geographic" caricature or the make-believe cartoon bust above. : )  

         Frankly, on a more serious note, it is hard for a person to look objectively at the bulk of ancient Egyptian statues, be familiar with the appearance of the varied populations of "black Africa", including the yellowish-brown San, copper Haratin and reddish dark brown Maasai, the Beja and other Afro-Asiatic speakers, brownish to bronze black Ethiopians, Somali and Fulani and not notice the many quintessentially African faces in statuary of the real Egypt of the pharaohs. As stated previously, even Carleton S. Coon, a formerly much touted and evident white supremacist (but now mostly disregarded pseudoscientist) once remarked that the statuary of Ramses II and his family had a look frequently seen on modern populations of Ethiopia, like the Amhara. Coon, however, as many in his day, didn't consider the Amhara black of course, so much as "dark skinned Caucasoids" of some fabricated "Mediterranean race" sort.
      Now, unlike in the days of Coon and Champollion, where scholars were willing to admit Egypt was a kingdom affiliated with  black East African "Caucasians" south of the Sahara, in modern Egyptology the pendulum has swung another way, where everything scientifically validated about the biological origins of ancient Egyptians is now supposed to be "difficult" to determine. Any and all scientific study providing convincing evidence that Egypt was a civilization in the main closely related to "black Africans" has to be argued against, obstructed and invalidated, or else ignored.
      Western science has studied blood groups of ancient Egyptians finding the Haratin to have the closest relationship in that regard.


Haratin family of the Sahara
    I
       In the article by G. Paoli, "ABO Typing of Ancient Egyptians", a study found that Haratins of the Algerian Sahara thousands of miles from Egypt have the closest ABO blood pattern matches to ancient Egyptians, suggesting they are a remnant of one of the ancient Saharan populations that came to move into and swarm over the Nile valley at one time before the rise of Egypt.  In another paper Paoli mentioned, "The genic frequencies calculated on the basis of the phenotypical distribution are the following ones: p = 34·35; q = 21·45; r = 44·20. Similar frequencies can be found, among the living populations of northern Africa, in the Algerian Haratin." (See Paoli, G. (1972). "Further biochemical and immunological investigations on early Egyptian remains". Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 1, Issue 5, September 11972, pages 457-466).
       Sometimes the word Haratin, like Gnawa, is inaccurately used by Western observers  for any freed group of peoples in the Maghreb, or as any one they consider black. The true Haratin speak either Berber or Arabic and are descendants of the pre-Tuareg - possibly Nilo-saharan - people of the Sahara. They are likely of the same stock as many of the indigenous people darker-skinned "Berber-speakers" of the Draa, Tissint and Shluh region. (The original Gnawa and Haratin (or Ikaradan) were two distinct peoples, and it is highly doubtful if either of these words originally meant black, although they may have come to mean such more recently.)
       As well, whatever studies have been done on the melanin or skin cells of ancient pharaonic peoples has testified to the black African affiliation and complexion of these ancients rather than confirming the idea of some "tanned" population of whites, the Tut reconstruction and individuals like Jablonski have suggested. Years ago, the Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop had conducted a study on mummies from the Mariette excavations in which he found all of the skin samples contained a degree of melanin indicating an unquestionably deep dark pigmentation common to other Africans. He faced the usual backlash from the European academy, and in fact, not unexpectedly, the mummies were removed from the Cairo museum and ultimately relocated to its basement.
      More recently, however, another group of European scientists have arrived at nearly identical conclusions. They studied the mummies from the New Kingdom and found similarly - "The basal epithelial cells were packed with melanin as expected for specimens of Negroid origin." From "Determination of optimal rehydration, fixation and staining methods for histological and immunohistochemical analysis of mummified soft tissues," Biotechnic and Histochemistry 2005, 80 (1): 7-13. 


THOUGHTS ON AN OLD FRIEND,  PLUS A LAMED YOUNG "FRENCH" KING CALLED TUT

        Recently, in fact, May 3rd of this year, Zahi Hawass, Egypt's former Director of Antiquities and an  "Explorer in Residence" for "National Geographic", was speaking at an auditorium of the University of Pennsylvania, one-time home of Coon, where in true Egyptologist's fashion, he emitted a most confusing response to the first questioner to come to the microphone after a lecture/slide presentation.  The older patron, a woman of Euro-American background or appearance, wanted to know - not unexpectedly -  what  the final conclusions were on the genetic evidence of the ancient Egyptians.
       Having up-close and personally heard Zahi claim quite adamantly, and more than once, that Egypt had little to nothing to do with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and that Cheikh Anta Diop's book, for example, was a bunch of nonsense, I wasn't surprised that his slide show had very few photos of dark-skinned, pharaonic individuals in it. Nor was I surprised in hearing the first question issuing from the overwhelmingly white audience of probably over 500 older people, retirees of leisure who are the usual museum membership in the United States. There were probably  less than a handful of people in the room of obvious sub-Saharan affiliation. The one I thought was seated in front of me though  in fact turned out to be a Egyptian.  Nor, was I entirely surprised at Zahi's answer to the older patron.
       Zahi in responding to the inquisitive party, seemingly implied the current consensus was that "a scholar" had "a theory" that ancient Egyptians were "hamitic", while the other major theory was supposedly that they were both "hamitic" and "semitic" peoples. Zahi made sure to add, that the one scholar who held the theory that ancient Egyptians were "hamites" was "an Ethiopian".
     His answer made it quite obvious, first of all, that he still held firmly to his old racial conceptions of Africa and that no faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania where he had spent some years preparing for his Ph.D. had mentioned to him that such terms, "hamitic" and "semitic", were mostly linguistic at least in academic-speak today, having little genetic significance. After all, most "semitic" dialects are still found in the modern Ethiopian/Eritrean area among the peoples formerly called "hamites".
      In fact, I do remember making Zahi aware of this point back in the 1980s at Penn about anthropologists in the late 20th century no longer subscribing to an idea of  "hamites" and "semites" in a "racial" or even ethnic sense in this century. But being someone who hadn't yet completed an undergraduate degree, I would be no one to take advice from. He obviously chose to ignore or forget about my objection to his usage of the words.
       Zahi, went on to add his opinion for the now seated patron at the museum that "one doesn't need the dna to know who the ancient Egyptians were" as modern Egyptians still have many of the same customs or practices as ancient Egyptians.  Expectedly, in his response he made no mention of any dna studies done on the Amarna period pharaohs or Ramses III, nor did he mention the German research that had concluded Tut died of sickle cell disease. In fact, during his presentation in fact he attributed Tut's death to blood not getting through Tut's apparently clubbed foot.
      During the book signing I waited in line some minutes to stop by to speak with Zahi who I hadn't seen in years up close and in person. I finally had the chance, but it wasn't a few seconds before I was summoned over by the stranger that had been on stage introducing Zahi as I was walking into the auditorium.  I soon learned he had in mind to inform me that Zahi was aware of the Nabta Playa "megalith" that I had asked about during the question and answer session, but just hadn't understood what I said. "Wow - a megalith?" I thought to myself.  I wasn't aware there was some discovery of "a megalith" in Nabta.  I had assumed it had been megaliths, but not "a megalith".  I am not being sarcastic but wondered could it be true? Why had I been given the impression that megaliths had been found at Nabta Playa rather than "a megalith"?
       Zahi seemed to not be aware of the discovery there when I had asked him about it at the microphone and in retort he said he wasn't aware and then added something about plans to visit Meroe pyramids, as if Meroe was somehow related to the 7,000 or more year old culture in Nabta Playa I'd just mentioned, discovered elsewhere in the Nubian desert. Anyway, this guy that had interrupted my meeting with Zahi was now inferring that Zahi just hadn't understood my question in the auditorium.  I  proceeded to mention to him I was glad to hear what Zahi had said about Tut's reconstruction not looking very much like Tut since he had made a few enemies having offended a number of people of African descent. It was something  I had planned to ask Zahi about, perhaps later, after the book signing if I could. But he was now busy, and in fact, looking frantic sitting at the table signing books for the awe-struck and curious patrons incessantly advancing in a long line.
      Interestingly, the man still in front of me seemed noticeably ready for my broaching of the subject of the Tut reformation, and raising his voice to a level I was not too accustomed to hear from a stranger, made a few statements including the fact that he was the one who had ordered the Tut bust to be on tour with the exhibition - "not Zahi". He stated that he in fact told someone in charge of the tour to withdraw it early on, probably due to some fuss that had been made in Los Angeles about its non-African and therefore unlikely appearance. But it was placed outside of the exhibit by responsible parties at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia nonetheless, and he noted, not by himself. I, thus, became even more interested in the man largely responsible for the controversy over Tut's exhibit and decided to continue on with my questioning. I thought, surely this must be somebody of institutional authority.
      I asked what he knew about possible connections of Nabta Playa with Egypt since he'd expressed to me, curiously, only something about  "a megalith" there in the Nubian desert, and my query was countered with, "yes"', there may have been some link or influence from the cattle-owning culture there, but he quickly added, without me having brought up the question of the owners of that culture, "other than that, we don't know who they were".
      On that note which displayed an obvious lack of knowledge about one of the most important discoveries along the Nile in recent years, I decided to ask who I was talking to. It turned out to be Zahi's former advisor and co-author David Silverman, a supposedly renowned Egyptologist, and the curator in charge at the museum. He was also the curator and "academic content creator for the exhibition Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" within which the rather unflattering (to be diplomatic) reconstruction of Tut had made its unwelcome presence known.
      Still, unfamiliar with the name of David Silverman while talking to him, I noticed he looked increasingly, but unwarrantedly agitated by my few questions, making me suspect he had already dealt with some backlash on the subject of Tut, perhaps personally from some other disgruntled black Americans, who like southern Egyptians and other Africans have felt offended by the display, looking on it as a perceived insult. I could tell from his brusqueness and facial expression he was somewhat threatened by what I was getting at. Trying not to raise my voice in response to his patronizing attitude, loudness and unnecessary defiance, and so as not to make a big and all too common aggressive "black American woman" scene, (that not infrequently ends up on the nightly news or someones youtube video, lol!),  I instead made a comment to the effect that he shouldn't be getting mad with me, as "I was just asking a question" and that "he'd obviously already been challenged about the Tut thing".
      This all couldn't have taken more than a minute and a half, but through the somewhat tense interaction  I could see security looming in the background. As I wasn't sure if they were aware of the situation, I didn't want to give this man obviouly, already disturbed by my presence, any excuse for having me escorted out, and never being allowed back in. I contemplated going back to finish talking to Zahi, who I also didn't want to embarass. I thought he might be listening although he could hardly look up from signing books coming at him one after another. Not far away looking on, there were also students from the university apparently waiting intently on the side  anxious to be introduced to Silverman and Zahi.  I could see they didn't like what they were watching either, so I decided to leave off of  inquiries and let Silverman walk away to greet them since he had already had his body turned in that direction. I also decided I would have to rekindle my friendship with Zahi at a later date, if ever, and walked out of the space before things could get out of hand.
     It all makes sense now though, the naturally defensive stance Silverman took. Being Zahi's advisor, why would he feign to know who people of Nabta Playa in the Nubian desert could be. After all, they could have been either "hamites" or "semites", right? They weren't necessarily "blacks"! But probably this statement from one of his books on Nubia, published by Oxford, holds a better explanation of why he couldn't comprehend who the Nubian people possessing a complex culture and possibly influential or instrumental to the development of Egypt civilization were.
   In one of his books is the following:
"The Egyptians had long been in touch with chiefdoms in the south, some of which were graduating to statehood. They often called the natives by names that had for the Egyptians, slightly pejorative overtones, "bow peoples", "kilt wearers", "blacks". Many expeditions in the Old kingdom were little more than slave raids: texts record expeditions, that brought back two thousand, seven thousand and on one occasion, (according to a fourth dynasty graffito) even seventeen thousand Nubians..." (From David Silverman's, Ancient Egypt, p. 41, published 1997)
         In a book Silverman co-authored with David O'Connor on kingship in ancient Egypt published in 1980, the word Africa or African is probably mentioned 5 times in total. Clearly, unlike 100 years ago when specialists saw and noted numerous cultural connections between the culture of ancient Egypt and peoples and cultures of Africa, ancient Egypt was a "Mediterranean" land is no more connected in the minds of Egyptologists today to the rest of Africa than to any other place in the world.
       As we can see, as far as Egyptologists and other Western "specialists" are concerned ancient Egypt of the Nile was peopled by some apparently still yet to be determined tanned Mediterranean population as opposed to the "chiefdoms" to the south where if we are to believe them, all the true or obviously "black" people lived.

                        EGYPT AND THE "BLACK PHARAOHS OF NUBIA" SYNDROME

      Canadian Donald Redford, an Egyptologist and ancient Mediterranean specialist, also recently authored a book entitled, From Slave to Pharaoh: The Black Experience of Ancient Egypt.  The essential theme was that the Nubians were primarily composed of "blacks" who were at first mostly just slaves from which emerged a black dynasty that came to rule a non-black Egypt.
     In response to this rather usual narrative of an ancient African slave kingdom evolved into conquering black people, Nubian specialist Dr. Richard Lobban gave an unusually objective and unabashed critique.  In dealing with Redford's problematic narrative, the critique challenged the way Egyptology commonly misrepresents the biological situation or relationship between the ancient Egyptian and other Africans.
     Probably an "Afrocentric" reviewer could not have come up with a better analysis. Lobban states:
"Redford's uncritical use of modern racial/ethnic terminology, however, detracts from what might otherwise have been a timely discussion of the complexities of ethnic dynamics in a region that is plagued today by ethnic conflict. This attempt to apply the modern concept of race/ethnicity to the past has two fundamental flaws: first, the assumption that the ancient Egyptians subscribed to something like modern racial categories in their characterizations of the people around them, and, second, that the Nubians were 'black Africans,' implying that the Western construction of humanity into simplistic racial groups (i.e., black, white, yellow, red/brown) is somehow natural. The rest of the book reflects the author's usual thorough scholarship, but as is common in popular treatments, he sometimes glosses over areas of continuing dispute in the field.
      "I will discuss one of these, which deals with the motives behind Egypt's dramatic imperial expansion into Nubia and the Levant during the New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 BCE), since it is of interest to readers of this journal. Redford's choice of subtitle, The Black Experience of Ancient Egypt, assumes that modern racial categories are applicable to antiquity. The publicity for the book emphasizes this aspect, asserting that it moves 'beyond debates between Afrocentrists and their critics over the racial characteristics of Egyptian civilization,' and 'reveals the true complexity of race, identity, and power in Egypt. . . .' Unfortunately, Redford misses the opportunity to transcend this debate; instead, he simply asserts that the ancient Egyptians viewed Nubians as 'black,' while largely sidestepping the issue of race for ancient Egyptians.
      "Instead of a more nuanced discussion of the complexities of ancient ethnic dynamics (see pp. 1-53 in my 2003 book Wretched Kush), he confidently asserts that the term "Nehesi" (Nubian) corresponds to the modern racial category 'black.' He supports this notion by stating that the original meaning of the word was "bronzed/burnt," although the only translation of the term that I could find in A. Erman and H. Grapow's W├Ârterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache is "bite or sting (like an insect)" (1926-1963: 2.303). This etymology makes more sense given the fame of Nubian archery. Nubians were also referred to as the "Bow People," and as Redford himself points out, were employed as police and mercenaries in the Egyptian army.
     "Redford's subtitle also begs the question: If the Nubians were 'black Africans,' then what were the Egyptians? If they weren't black, then they must be white, or perhaps a bit darker "Mediterranean" race, but, by implication, disconnected from sub-Saharan Africans. The recent forensic reconstruction of Tutankhamun's face for the new traveling exhibit expresses this bias, portraying the boy-king as very light-skinned, as is often the case for reenactments in both Hollywood and documentary films. Predictably and justifiably, it has provoked protests from Afrocentrists. Egyptologists have been strangely reluctant to admit that the ancient Egyptians were rather dark-skinned Africans, especially the farther south one goes. Physical anthropologists have known for a long time, however, that modern racial categories are cultural constructs, with no real biological basis. Instead, physical features like skin tone are distributed in dines—gradual shifts produced by a combination of evolutionary adaptation and intermarriage between groups. A combination of historical linguistics and physical anthropology have demonstrated that the ancient and modern Egyptians are basically the same population, and that Egyptians are most closely related to other northeast African populations.
      If the real Tutankhamen hopped on a bus with a Nubian friend in, say, Atlanta around 1950, there is no doubt that both would be sitting in the back...." 
See  Review of "From Slave to Pharaoh
       Although one can taken issue with the assertion that modern studies have concluded ancient and modern Egyptians were "basically the same population" and mostly related to northeast Africans, Lobban's book review seems to accurately speak to the problem of modern Egyptology's view of Africans, outside of Egypt. As has been noted previously, the whole notion of Nubians themselves being a single people that Egyptians once designated "the blacks" is in itself inaccurate and misleading.

National Geographic's rendition of Pharaoh Piankhi from Nubia.  "Black pharaohs" is a name Europeans have chosen to apply exclusively to the 25th dynasty of Napatan-Kushite rulers of Egypt. 

Another "Black classic", brought to you from National Geographic. Was the model Mohammed Ali?
The above painting of a Nubian pharaoh can be found over top something saying "Interactive Quiz" - " test your knowledge of race and culture in ancient Egypt"!  And yes, "National Geographic" still thinks there is such a thing as "race" and a "Negro". See the link  "The Black Pharaohs" Specially Made by National Geographic
     "National Geographic" employed an American freelance and, for the most part, political writer, also a "correspondent for GQ" magazine - someone with little to no background in African historiography, Nubian history or ethnic studies to create their "Black Pharaohs" issue. They didn't bother to seek the advice of someone knowledgeable of the subject matter and obviously were more interested in pleasing some African Americans (though they ended up offending many), or making a politically correct statement so as not to be harassed about its silly portayals of ancient Egyptians again. It was as if to say "yes, black people did something special too in Egypt ", if only for a short time.  And, apparently someone coming from Texas, as the freelancer did, might have found that amazing.
      In fact, we can give the author, having evidently taken interest in Africa and previously written about Congolese art, the benefit of the doubt that he had good intentions, even if he was born and bred in the American south.  But, somehow one gets the feeling that, as in previous decades, "National Geographic" didn't.  The implications and controversy it created - as usual with most of Egyptologists and their de-Africanizing of the nilotic Kamtiu population, in books and exhibits, didn't seem to phase them much.
     "National Geography" and Egyptology - "so perfect together"...


A French rendition of a Nubian Pharaoh. At least, one can say many French have demonstrated in the past they believe "black is beautiful", although there may be some major resentment over African immigrants today. : (
An ancient Nubian rendition of Nubians from tomb of Nubian ruler Tanwetaman, son of Shabaqa  : )

Oops!  Looks like the Nubian artists often forgot to add their "black African" features and charcoal coloring to their black pharaonic renditions -  I guess just like their more further advanced Kamtiu neighbors to the north did at times. Then again, according to some Egyptologists, Nubian rulers like Tanwetaman picutred here, weren't "Negroes" either - just rulers over them. : )
It is obvious that this ancient Nubian Queen, named "Malakaye", told her artist to make her look Egyptian. Truly pitiful - these Nubian rulers. How dare they!
Alas, even "black pharaoh" Taharqa's sculpture was subject to crude chiseling off of his black African nose - or was that by chance, a "Caucasoid Hamite" one. : ( 
     As for the point about the sameness of modern and ancient Egyptians, what genetic studies have shown is only that modern Egyptians for the most part descend in part from or have some of the genes from ancient Egyptians, and that many are still closely related or share a number of genes with Nubians. But that in no way should lead one to conclude that all the modern population of Egypt is representative of the ancient one. Some genetic studies have in fact shown that the Levant has contributed more genes to modern Egypt than Africa has. Certainly this would seem to be the case in the north.  This would mean many modern Egyptians are in fact demonstrably closer in their biological makeup to peoples of the Levant than they are to modern Nubians or Africans. The same however cannot be said for the ancient pharaonic Egyptians, who most certainly have not been demonstrated to possess close genetic relationship to most modern inhabitants of the Levant, or anywhere else in "Eurasia".

 MIDDLE EASTERN VS. AFRICAN EGYPT 

       Back in the mid-1980s, the movie "Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom" had just come out, and I remember when I dropped by to see Zahi at the lab, him at one point with a gleam in his eye, rather excitedly and pointedly, if I had seen the movie. It hadn't occurred to me at the time why he was so interested in the film, though I had had my suspicions, and little did I know that the hat worn by the film's star Harrison Ford, who played an adventurous archaeologist "Indiana", would play such a part in the later personnae of Zahi the famous archaeologist - now a virtual celebrity in his own right.
     At the risk of sounding too much like a colonial anthropologist, I will say during that period in the 1980s, I considered Zahi an interesting friend, sparkling, frank, witty, and humourous, if sometimes of an overly emotive and braggadocious nature.  He has the customary Egyptian hospitality and had given me a chance to meet some of his own rather interesting acquaintances and friends. One of them was an art historian, from Greece with straight brownish hair to his shoulders. I can safely say this man was also darker than me in complexion (which I am assuming is still rather unusual among Greeks of today). When I asked him what he thought as an art historian of the fact that many people at the University of Pennsylvania, including Zahi, believed Egyptians weren't related to black Africans, he began laughing as if what I had asked was silly or funny.  He then exclaimed that "of course they were black"!
     Aside from being an art historian, perhaps, being Greek and that dark, he rightly couldn't fathom that the same Egyptians that his own people had described in ancient times as black and "melanchroes" should be called something fairer than himself,-  a person of rather dark brown complexion. At once I felt kind of embarrassed for asking the question.

Yes, I enjoyed the movie too, but it could have had a much better plot line. No? : ) 

      Dr. Gamal Mukhtar, rest his soul, was another friend of Zahi's, a one-time Chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, who had one day dropped by the lab while I was there that the University had allowed Zahi to basically take over for his studies. Formerly a chief editor for a volume of the U.N.E.S.C.O. History of Africa, Dr. Mukhtar seemed pretty much open to the idea that the Egyptians were African in the sub-Saharan sense or at least, related to them, and even openly addressed what he perceived as a problem of Western historians attempting to make the Garamantes and other Africans into "whites". He had been the editor of the U.N.E.S.C.O. volume that included Cheikh Anta Diop's article, "The Origins of the Ancient Egyptians".
       Unlike Zahi, who was perhaps a little darker in complexion, Mukhtar born in Alexandria had his own less provincial idea of what black Africans are. I know he did admonish the historians that were distorting the Garamantian past in one of the volumes the U.N.E.S.C.O. History of Africa, speaking of the need to be more cautious when dealing with the African history. He apparently knew that ancient Garamantes were referred to as black and even pitch black in certain ancient texts.
      Zahi on the other hand didn't seem very willing to connect Egypt with anything black African, possibly due to his own peasant or fellaheen origins in the rather Mediterranean port of Damietta, which like Alexandria and other Delta towns have been heavily influenced by Greco-Egyptian,  Byzantine Coptic and Syro-Turkish populations over the past 1000 years. The town was once fully under the control of Byzantine Emperors and a great emporium into which many came from other parts of the Mediterranean and Europe to conquerors, traders and settlers.
       The University of Pennsylvania is a rather elitist institution at the edge of the Ivy League, where Coon's racial scientological notions have seemingly lingered on, and which has also, no doubt, played a part in buffering Zahi's traditional Mediterranean perspective of Africa south of  Nubia.  Unlike many Western academics, however, Zahi didn't make as great a distinction between Nubia and Egypt. He did at one time assert to me that the modern Nubian music and ancient Egyptian music were closely related. Link to the master of Nubian music, Hamza el-Din here  and  here
    Possibly some of Nubia was acceptable to Zahi, being more or less representative of "hamitic" Egypt. In any case, due to my unpleasant encounter with Silverman I didn't get the chance to find out.
       Though I could care less that European Egyptologists and National Geographic would still have us all believing ancient Egypt was filled with tanned and bald Nordics, I personally do care and believe that it will also probably be a warm day in the Antartic when you will ever hear Zahi spout anything about Egyptians being part of black Africa - as offensive as this may sound to other Africans.  In contrast, on more than one occasion other educated Egyptians, also from the north of today's United Arab Republic of Egypt, have made it known to me their belief that real representatives of ancient Egyptians or Egyptians that descend from the pharaonic Egyptians dwell today mainly "in the south" of  Egypt.  At the same time, many of those in the south don't look upon those in the North as "real" Egyptians.

A modern Egyptian archaeologist at work. Of course many Egyptians today still reflect their African heritage. 

      It is not atypical of many peoples of the so-called Middle East  to want to distinguish themselves from "black" or sub-Saharan Africans. Northern Egyptians are no different, and that is a fact that is undeniable, and as I have mentioned previously in the blog, related both to the slave trade sub-Saharans have played a great part in over the past several centuries and the more recent western colonialism. Then again, what is considered black in North Africa is not always considered what is black in the West.
     Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule as some of the very educated and progressive classes of peoples in places like Alexandria or Cairo tend to be more cognizant of class demographics, including the movement of peoples and the well-documented influx of outside populations into Egypt, and North Africa over time.
      The writings of political author Sana Hasan perhaps reflects a not uncommon view in the north that peoples of the south or Upper Egyptians look a lot nearer to the ancient pharaonic types. Her commentary displays knowledge of the  influence of other populations of non-African origin impacting Egyptian populations. She has written the following.
"It is true that in certain areas of Upper Egypt one is sometimes struck by the similarity of a Coptic physiognomy with personages depicted on pharoanic murals and that perhaps the Copts are more uniformly dark-skinned and dark eyed than their Muslim compatriots, whose color - especially among the upper classes-- has been whitewashed through intermarriage with the Muslim, Circasians, Georgians, and Albanians who ruled them for centuries. But even this statement can be made only tentatively, because in the twentieth century there was some intermarriage in the upper reaches of Coptic society with Europeans" (Hasan, Sana S., 2003, pp. 20-21).
      From what I gather from my early questioning of Zahi over 25 years ago, he is somewhat of an Egyptian cultural nationalist. He would in any case probably prefer that his ancestors were the pharaonic Egyptians and at the same time not "black "  in the Middle Eastern sense, or Bantu in the Western sense, not "Negro" in the Western sense,  not Arab, not European, but ideally Egyptians of a lighter sort who were somehow eternally independent of sub-Saharan Africa. And we can safely say this perception has been bolstered by the Egyptologist and National Geographic colleagues that have advised and sponsored him.

Read more about the wiles of National Geographic owned today in large part by Rupert Murdoch's FOX NEWS

Shabaaqa, so-called "black Pharaoh" of Nubia, son of "black Pharaoh" Kashta


Carleton S. Coon (1939). The Races of Europe, Macmillan,  p. 96.

Hasan, Sana S. (2003). Christians versus Muslims in Modern Egypt: The Century-Long Struggle for Coptic Equality.

Paoli, G. ( 1973). Population Biology of ancient Egyptians. in (Eds.) D. R. Brothwell and B. A. Chiarelli, Population Biology of Ancient Egyptians. London: New York, 1973.

Ricaut, F. X. and Waelkens, M. (2008). Cranial Discrete Traits in a Byzantine Population and Eastern Mediterranean Population Movements. Human Biology

Zakrewski, S.R. (2003). Variation in ancient Egyptian stature and body proportion. Physical Anthropology 121:219-229).