Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Golden Age of Ancient Egypt was Black African; The Ethnically Mixed Egypt Came Much Later
We first came across this inherent bias and prejudice against African origins of the Egyptian civilization in the debate – more of an auto-dafé really – against the Black African professor Cheikh Anta Diop, who, in 1954, published his Nations Négres et Culture, which argued a Black African origin for the Egyptian civilization. Anta Diop was both an eminent anthropologist and a highly respected physicist, and as such, he was armed with an arsenal of cutting-edge science as well as the use of the latest technology in radiocarbon dating and biochemistry to determine the skin color of ancient mummies and corpses by analyzing their content of melanin, a natural polymer that regulates pigmentation in humans. Yet in spite of his careful scientific approach, the Egyptian authorities refused to provide Anta Diop with skin samples of royal mummies, even though only minute quantities were required, and they pilloried and shunned him at a landmark symposium in Cairo in 1974 on the origins of ancient Egyptians. Diop died in 1986, his mission not fully accomplished. Fortunately, however, the debate on African origins was quickly taken up by Professor Martin Bernal, who, in 1987, published a three-volume opus, Black Athena, that flared even further the already-heated debate. Bernal, a professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Cornell University, was the grandson of the eminent Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner, yet this did not prevent Egyptologists from attacking him with even more vehemence than they had his Black African predecessor Anta Diop.
A great advocate of the African origins model as well as a believer in the Black African origins of the ancient Egyptians was the Senegalese anthropologist and radiocarbon physicist Cheikh Anta Diop. Hailed by many as one of the greatest African historians, Diop was studying for a physics doctorate in Paris in 1951 when he caused a huge stir at the university because his PhD thesis on the Black African origins of ancient Egypt was rejected as unsuitable by his assessors. Not being easily discouraged, Diop boldly labored for nine more years to make the evidence in his thesis so airtight that, when he resubmitted the thesis again, this time it was grudgingly accepted. Hardened by those struggles and the bias he encountered against the African origins idea, Diop went further and published his thesis under the title Nations Négres et Culture, and very soon he became a national hero and the major defender of the African origins theory. In his native country of Senegal, Diop founded the Radiocarbon Laboratory at the University of Dakar, became its first director, and used this cutting-edge technology to continue his research on the ethnic origins of the Egyptian civilization. Diop’s argument was simple and straightforward: it was possible to know the skin color of an ancient corpse by microscopic analysis of the melanin content in the body. His critics countered by saying that this method was not foolproof and that possible contamination of the embalming unguents and the deterioration of the corpse over the centuries made the result dubious, but these objections were in turn addressed by Diop. In 1974 Diop presented his findings to a large number of professional Egyptologists and anthropologists at the People of Ancient Egypt symposium in Cairo organized by UNESCO World Heritage. He was largely ignored. Diop died in 1986, leaving behind numerous publications as well as recorded interviews on radio and television. Following is a concise overview of Diop’s thesis.
Diop starts by recounting that in 1971 the Kenyan anthropologist Louis S. B. Leakey, in his final report at the Seventh Pan-African Congress of Prehistory at Addis Ababa, proved that more than one hundred fifty thousand years ago humans were more morphologically similar to us were living in Central Africa around the great lakes that feed the Nile. Diop explains how this startling discovery opened a reappraisal of the ethnology of the ancient Egyptians and humankind as a whole. Leakey even thought he had found the very spot where the adventure of modern man had begun: the beautiful, snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, traditionally known as the Mountains of the Moon and discovered by Henry Morton Stanley in 1885. These mountains stand between Lake Albert and Lake Edward and are the highest source of the Nile River. Rwenzori means “rainmakers,” a name inspired by the almost permanent rain clouds that cover the peaks of those mysterious mountains. According to Leakey, humans dispersed from here to inhabit the rest of Africa and, eventually, the whole planet. The implication was that modern humans, being from a warm and humid climate that caused the natural melanin in their pigmentation to darken, were originally black-skinned Africans. It was, therefore, from this Black stock that the other races of humans were formed. Other than migrating southward, eastward, and westward, these original humans could also go northward to two main regions: the Nile Valley and the vast, then green Sahara.
Starting from the late Paleolithic age the entire Nile Valley, from southern Sudan to northern Egypt, was populated by a Negroid people. Similarly, the northwest region of Africa that is today the Sahara was also populated by these same Negroid people. Diop rejected the claim by some anthropologists that ancient human skulls from Nagada in Lower Egypt and Abydos and El Amra in Upper Egypt exhibit not only Negroid by Germanic features. He pointed out that similar skulls from well-known Black people such as the Ethiopians and Dravidians also exhibit the same characteristics but are clearly not Germanic. Diop also pointed out that finding non-Negroid features in skulls does not necessarily mean that living individuals were white. In Egypt some 1,787 skulls, dating from the predynastic period to the present day, were examined and found to be 36 percent Negroid, 33 percent Mediterranean, 11 percent Cro-Magnon, and the rest uncertain but most probably also Negroid. This shows, says Diop, that the original and pure Black Negroid race that first inhabited Egypt eventually merged with a Mediterranean race to create the Egyptians that we know today.
Diop also rejected Flinders Petrie’s method of using symbolic images of ancient palettes to classify predynastic and protodynastic Egyptians into six racial types: an aquiline type, which he equated to white-skinned Libyans; a plaited-beard type, which he equated to originating on the Red Sea; a sharp-nosed type, which he equated to coming from Central Arabia; a tilted-nose type, which he equated to coming from Middle Egypt; and a jutting-beard type, which he equated to coming from Lower Egypt. Diop points out that even if we accept such simplistic classifications, current Egyptology textbooks at best ignore the issue of racial origins or, at worst, flatly assert that the ancient Egyptians were white, leaving the lay reader with the false impression that such assertions are based on solid research – which, of course, they are not. Thus generations of readers have been misled to the false belief that the ancient Egyptian civilization owes little or nothing to Africa. Diop accuses Egyptologists of going “around the difficulty today by speaking of red-skinned and black-skinned whites without their sense of common logic being in the least bit upset.” He argues that in ancient times, the Greeks referred to all of Africa as Libya, which was a misnomer ab initio, because Africa contains many other peoples besides the so-called Libyans, who belong among the whites of the northern or Mediterranean periphery. Diop was justifiably repulsed by a textbook intended for middle and secondary school that explained that “a Black is distinguished less by the color of his skin than by his features: thick lips, flattened nose…” Diops points out that many of the reliefs and murals from predynastic and early dynastic times in Egypt show
“…the native-born blacks subjugating the foreign invaders into the valley … wherever the autochthonous racial type is represented with any degree of clearness, it is evidently Negroid. Nowhere are the Indo-European and Semitic elements shown as ordinary freemen serving a local chief, but invariably as conquered foreigners. The rare portrayals found are always shown with the distinctive marks of captivity, hands tied behind the back or strained over the shoulders. A protodynastic figurine represents an Indo-European prisoner with a long plait on his knees, with his hands bound tight to his body. The characteristics of the object itself show that it was intended as the foot of a piece of furniture and represented a conquered race.”
Diop argues that the two variants of the Black race – the straight-haired Dravidians in Asia and the Nubians and Tebu, and the kinky-haired humans from the Equatorial regions – are found in the modern Egyptian population. Diop’s silver bullet, however, was the proven scientific method that can determine skin-color by the analysis of the melanin content in mummies from ancient Egyptians – and he insists that, contrary to the words of Egyptologists, it was entirely possible to determine the melanin content of ancient mummies by microscopic analysis in the laboratory. Melanin, or more precisely, eumelanin, is a naturally produced polymer responsible for skin pigmentation. It is insoluble and can be preserved for millions of years, such as in the skins of fossilized creatures. Diop claimed that it can be measured in the skin of Egyptian mummies. Even though Egyptologists lament that the skin of mummies is tainted by embalming material and thus no longer susceptible to such analysis, Diop rejected this by showing that although the outer epidermis is where the melanin is usually found, melanocytes are particles deeper in the skin where they are not destroyed by the mummification process. From samples of common Egyptian mummies from the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, Diop was able to show high melanin levels that are not found in white-skinned people. Diop wanted to apply the same analysis to royal mummies kept in Egypt, but the Egyptian authorities refused to give him any samples – not even the few millimeters of skin tissue that are required for such analysis.
Another criterion, which had proved successful in the past in determining racial origins, is the so-called Lepsius Canon. This entails examining the bones of mummies’ bodies rather than their skulls. According to Diop, this method shows that the “bodily proportions of the ideal Egyptian was short-armed and of Negroid or Negrito physical type.” In addition, Diop suggests that blood groups could be used, for even today’s modern Egyptians, especially those in Upper Egypt “…belong to the same Group B as the populations of western Africa on the Atlantic seaboard and not the A2 group characteristic of the white race prior to any crossbreeding. It would be interesting to study the extent of Group A2 distribution in Egyptian mummies, which present-day techniques make possible.”
Diop also reviewed the various statements made by ancient Greeks and Romans who visited Egypt, as did Martin Bernal later in Black Athena. Diop asserts that if we accept what the ancient Greek and Roman writers say – and frankly there are no good reasons why we shouldn’t – then we must conclude that the ancient Egyptians were black-skinned, for these writers leave us with no doubt that they saw the Egyptians as “dark” or “black” men. Egyptologists, on the other hand, insist that we should not take seriously these ancient writers. A few Greek and Roman writers make clear Diop’s point.
Herodotus (ca. 450 BCE), the father of history, states that “…it is in fact manifest that the Colchidians are Egyptian by race… several Egyptians told me that in their opinion the Colchidians were descended from soldiers of Sesostris. I had conjectured as much myself from two pointers, firstly because they have black skins and kinky hair…” Herodotus also used the fact that the Egyptians were Black in order to prove that the oracle of Dodoni in Epirus, which according to legend was founded by a Black woman, was Egyptian in origin: “…and when they add that the dove was black they give us to understand that the woman was Egyptian.”
In on of the works of Aristotle (ca. 320 BCE) the great philosopher and father of scientific thinking speaks rather derogatorily about the Egyptians but nonetheless shows that he too regarded them as black-skinned: “Those who are too black are cowards like, for instance, the Egyptians and Ethiopians. But those who are excessively white are also cowards as we can see from the example of women… the complexion of courage is between the two (brown or tanned).
Aeschylus (ca. 480 BCE), in his play The Suppliants, has one of the protagonists, a certain Danaos, comment on an Egyptian ship: “I can see the [Egyptian] crew with their black limbs and white tunics.
Apollodorus (ca. 70 BCE) affirms that “Aegyptos conquered the country of the black-footed ones and called it Egypt after himself.”
Another Greek writer, Lucian (180 BCE), presents a dialog between two Greeks, Lycinus and Timolaus, discussing a young Egyptian boy. “Lycinus: This boy is not merely black; he has thick lips and his legs are too thin… his hair worn in a plait behind shows that he is not a freeman.”
Statements by many other Greek and Roman writers provide similar confirmation, either directly or indirectly, that the ancient Egyptians were black-skinned. Interestingly, before racial and cultural bias affected European scholars, many European travelers such as Constantin-Francois Volney, who journeyed in Egypt in 1783-1785, wrote honest statements: “…on visiting the Sphinx, the look of it gave me the clue… beholding that head characteristically Negro in all its features, I recalled the well-known passage of Herodotus which reads: ‘For my part I consider the Colchoi are a colony of the Egyptians because, like them, they are black-skinned and kinky-haired…’”
Champollian-Figeac, the brother of the famous Champollion the Younger, who deciphered the hieroglyphics, wrote this bizarre response to Volney’s observations: “…Volney’s conclusion as to the Negro origin of the ancient population of Egypt is glaringly forced and inadmissible.”
Diop approaches the argument from a different and in some ways better perspective by asking how the ancient Egyptians viewed themselves. He notes that they referred to themselves as the Rmt-en-Km-t, which Egyptologists usually translate as people of the Black Land, because, they say, the ancient Egyptians were not referring to themselves but rather to the color of that alluvial soil of the Nile Valley, which has a dark, almost black tint. Diop argues, however, that it makes far more sense to translate this term as Land of the Black People. Indeed, Km-t is perhaps the origin of the Biblical name Ham (hence Hamite), which also means “black.” The H and K in the Semitic dialects are often mingled to create the guttural Kh. Thus the Hebrew Kh-am may be a derivative of the earlier Egyptian Kh-em. This would certainly explain why in the Bible, Egypt is often called the land of Ham or Khem. Diop also presents an array of epithets of divinities of ancient Egypt that associate them with the color black implicitly, if it’s not explicitly stated that they were black-skinned, and he also presents a variety of other arguments involving complex linguistic comparisons and word syntax of the ancient Egyptian language and other African languages, but such arguments are well outside the scope of our investigation. At any rate, suffice it to say that the evidence presented by Diop overwhelmingly supported a Black African origin for the ancient Egyptians. As we have said earlier, Diop’s crowning moment was at the UNESCO Symposium in January 1974 in Cairo, where he and a colleague, Professor Obenga, carefully presented their scientific findings to a large audience of Egyptologists and anthropologists from all parts of the world. It was nevertheless stated in the conclusion of the report of the symposium: “Although the preparatory working paper sent out by UNESCO gave particulars of what was desired, not all participants had prepared communications comparable with the painstakingly researched contributions of Cheikh Anta Diop and Obenga. There was consequently a real lack of balance in the discussions.”
The attending Egyptologists had not even bothered to prepare for a proper and balanced debate. Their biased conviction was so entrenched that they merely listened politely and then ignored the issue at hand. The UNESCO organizers, however, were clearly impressed by Diop and commissioned him to write the entry on the origins of the pharaohs in their General History of Africa published a few years later, in 1981. Yet the archaeologist Ahmed Mokhtar, who, ironically, was the editor of this UNESCO publication, could not prevent himself from adding a note in the introduction of the report: “The opinions expressed by Cheikh Anta Diop in this chapter are those which he developed and presented at the UNESCO symposium of ‘The People of Ancient Egypt,’ which was held in Cairo in 1974. The arguments put forward in this chapter have not been accepted by all the experts interested in this problem.”
Notwithstanding Ahmed Mokhtar’s odd remark about a colleague and contributor to the UNESCO publication, what he said did not take into account the fact that some very senior French Egyptologists – notably Professors Jean Vercouter and Professor Jean Leclant – had been very impressed with Diop’s professional presentation. In reality the resistance to accept or even consider Diop’s thesis came not from Egyptologists in general but specifically from high Egyptian officials, as is well demonstrated by Dr. Zahi Hawass, the present chairman of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and undersecretary of state to the Ministry of Culture. Hawass is well-known for his aggressive attitude toward those who oppose him so that even the normally discreet Sunday Times of London felt compelled to write: “He rules Egyptology with an iron fist and a censorious tongue. Nobody crosses Zahi Hawass and gets away with it… Nobody with any standing in Egyptology will come out to help you… because they’d lose their jobs. Sadly, people are cowering round his ankles… The hugged ankles belong to the most powerful man in archaeology, Dr Zahi Hawass, aka Big Zee, secretarygeneral of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). It is Hawass who holds the keys to the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, the Sphinx, Abu Simbel, everything. No Egyptologist gets in without his permission, and few will chance his anger…”
According to Hawass, a member of a group allegedly waging a “big attack backed by Israel against the Egyptians” is Robert Bauval. Bauval is a Christian, not a Jew, and, ironically, he was born and raised in Egypt.
In a more recent television interview in February 2009, Hawass unabashedly claimed that the Jews “control the entire world” and that “…for eighteen centuries they [the Jews] were dispersed throughout the world… they went to America and took control of its economy… they have a plan: Although they are few in number, they control the entire world… look at the control they have over America and the media!”
Needless to say, with this type of display by the chief of the SCA, any claim, however scientific and scholarly, of a Black African origin for Egypt’s ancient civilization will inevitably be met with indifference and, more likely, with opposition. Indeed, Hawass has already made this quite clear with his latest commentaries on this issue to the official Egyptian MENA News Agency: “…the portrayal of ancient Egypt civilization as black has no element of truth to it! Egyptians are Arabs and are not Africans despite the fact that Egypt is in Africa…!”
According to this kind of logic, though Egypt is in Africa, Egyptians are not Africans. Such blatant contradiction most likely stems from the fact that Hawass probably equates Africans and Blacks. Therefore, any connection between the ancient Egyptians and Blacks or Africans must be rejected at all cost, even if it contradicts geographical realities. Perhaps this extreme view clarifies other, less blatant but still puzzling attacks that scholars have made in their academic publishing. Facts, however, are facts: Egypt is in Africa, Egyptians are Africans, and there is now overwhelming evidence that ancient Egyptians have a Black African origin.
At this point, we must acknowledge that Dr. Hawass, as a deputy minister of the Egyptian government, could well be under pressure from various contemporary sociopolitical sources. It is reasonable then, to suppose that not all of his commentaries are motivated purely by dispassionate analysis of events from four or five thousand years ago but may be colored in small part by contemporary sociopolitical concerns. Yet the modern Egyptian government has been a leader in the terribly difficult, indeed Herculean, contemporary efforts to transcend the ages-old rivalry between Egypt and Israel. If in some sense, therefore, there is a subliminal struggle going on among the various currently powerful ethnonationalist and subnationalist groups in Egypt today regarding claims of the origin of the civilization that built the pyramids, then it seems that the emerging answer should serve not to inflame but to defuse the situation – because the answer is that the origins stem not from any of these groups but from Black Africans. Certainly it was the Black Africans of Egypt who, over the subsequent ages, melded with a number of other colors and ethnicities and thus essentially are today the same people of Egypt who should be extremely proud of the ancient accomplishments of there heritage.
Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient Egypt [excerpt] by Robert Bauval & Thomas Brophy, Ph.D.
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