Notice: This is the official website of the All Empires History Community (Reg. 10 Feb 2002)

  FAQ FAQ  Forum Search   Register Register  Login Login

Topic ClosedWerer the Egyptians white or black?

 Post Reply Post Reply Page  <1234 22>
Poll Question: well?
Poll Choice Votes Poll Statistics
24 [43.64%]
31 [56.36%]
This topic is closed, no new votes accepted

Author
andrew View Drop Down
Earl
Earl


Joined: 31-May-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 253
Direct Link To This Post Topic: Werer the Egyptians white or black?
    Posted: 20-Jul-2007 at 11:32
I will say this once and only once.
 
The Egyptian were neither black nor white.  They are an African people however, they do not consider themselves Black. They consider themselves the perfect color not yellow like the Asiatic people and not Black like the Nubians. Furthermore saying the Egyptian were 'brown' is not correct at all. The Indians, as in India, are brown and back then generally an Indian would be darker then an Egyptian excluding Aryans.
 
They considered themselves an orange/reddish tint. They made their women a yellowish color. The argument of if they were black or white is so dumb because they were neither, they were Egyptian and African non-Subsaharan peoples. Also it is hard to generalize the Egyptians because from the beginning of when we may do any research they were a mixed people.
 
For crying out loud when will people realize Afrocentrism and Eurocentrism is just ethnocentrism?


Edited by andrew - 20-Jul-2007 at 11:34
Back to Top
Guests View Drop Down
Guest
Guest
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Jul-2007 at 11:45
Egyptians were (and are) mainly Mediterranean people, with some  admixture. Nothing new under the sun.
 
Pinguin
Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Jul-2007 at 21:12

The Egyptians were both white and black. However, it was an African civilization (language, culture, religion).

I recommend the book "Egypt in Africa" edited by Theodore Celenko. It's not Afrocentric or Eurocentric, and clearly shows that Egypt was an African civilization (not the near east, not Mediterranean). It features contributions from people like Frank Yurco, S.O.Y Keita,
Christopher Ehret as well as many others. (It may be hard to find. None of my local book stores had it, but every university library had a copy)

You should also look at S.O.Y. Keita's peer reviewed sources:
http://www.homestead.com/wysinger/keita.html

Keita S.O.Y
Department of Surgery, Howard University Hospital, Washington, DC 20060.

"Historical sources and archaeological data predict significant population variability in mid-Holocene northern Africa. Multivariate analyses of crania demonstrate wide variation but also suggest an indigenous craniometric pattern common to both late dynastic northern Egypt and the coastal Maghreb region. Both tropical African and European metric phenotypes, as well intermediate patterns, are found in mid-Holocene Maghreb sites. Early southern predynastic Egyptian crania show tropical African affinities, displaying craniometric trends that differ notably from the coastal northern African pattern. The various craniofacial patterns discernible in northern Africa are attributable to the agents of microevolution and migration."

For those of you who think the Egyptians were solely white (since it's winning the poll):

"Studies of crania from southern predynastic Egypt, from the formative period (4000-3100 B.C.), show them usually to be more similar to the crania of ancient Nubians, Kush*tes, Saharans, or modern groups from the Horn of Africa than to those of dynastic northern Egyptians or ancient or modern southern Europeans."

http://www.forumcityusa.com/viewtopic.php?t=318&mforum=africa(from the book Egypt in Africa)

"Ancient and modern Egyptian hair ranges from straight to wavy to woolly; in color, it varies from reddish brown to dark brown to black. Lips range from thin to full. Many Egyptians possess a protrusive jaw. Noses vary from high-bridged-straight to arched or even hooked to flat-bridged, with bulbous to broad nostrils. In short, ancient Egypt, like modern Egypt, consisted of a very heterogeneous population." (Dr Frank Yurco)
http://homelink.cps-k12.org/teachers/filiopa/files/AC383EB269C648AAAA659593B9FC358C.pdf

I really don't care about this "were the ancient Egyptians white or black" argument (they were both, get over it). The one thing that needs to change, is the view that Egypt wasn't an African civilization. This is the issue that should be tackled.

 

Edited by Jugernot - 20-Jul-2007 at 21:48
Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Jul-2007 at 21:38
Originally posted by Earl Aster

...But overall, the Egyptians would have looked as north Africans would have looked today. What's the point of this discussion? Everyone knows the answer. The mummies of Rameses II, the Thothmosids and Tutankhamun were all Caucasian. No offense, asdfghjkl- but I agree with Sparten- this is a little pointless.


"Pharaoh Rameses II who reigned from 1279 to 1212 B.C.E. He is a typical northern Egyptian; he came from the northernmost nome (governate) of Egypt. He had fine, wavy hair, a prominent hooked nose and moderately thin lips.

This mummy may be contrasted with the mummy of Sequen-Re Tao, who died on the battlefield about 1580 B.C.E. He was from Thebes, much further south. He had tightly curled, woolly hair, a slight build and strongly Nubian features." (Frank Yurco)
http://homelink.cps-k12.org/teachers/filiopa/files/AC383EB269C648AAAA659593B9FC358C.pdf
Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Jul-2007 at 21:46
Originally posted by asdfghjkl

As the question stated, were they white or black? I'm very critical and upset of this dispute, that afrocentrics are trying to rewrite history. But if they are wrong.....


They were both, which is why I didn't vote. Anyone who says any different (Afrocentric, Eurocentric, whatever else there is) is wrong.
Back to Top
elenos View Drop Down
Chieftain
Chieftain
Avatar

Joined: 13-Jun-2007
Location: Australia
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1457
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Jul-2007 at 22:05
Excellent work, Jugernot! Full marks. Trouble is with the links you sent give no diagrams. I thought of mentioning Nefertiti myself but like many cringe by the misinformation of others that want to push these issues to extremes.  Seeing we can open up and say more about color, the color white always had been sacred. Like the white plumage on a bird, the sacred Ibis perhaps, or Apis the bull god. That a person paints their face white, (they did in many sacred ceremonies) does not mean they meant having a white skin, just that they were honoring the god, spirit, place beyond or whatever.

I have traveled all over South-East Asia and seen the use of pale makeup everywhere. I have only seen white men getting upset about it as well. The girls use pancake makeup to make themselves look and feel good for that is part of their culture. They are not trying to be white women, but be attractive in the own way using white as a base.

The white man's religions tell of dressing forever and ever in white robes when reaching the "pearly gates".  the importance attached to being white ( a soul as what as snow) is more to do with religious belief and ritual than color of skin and also a symbol of being clean. Think of seeing an ancient Egyptian and immediately say what color clothes you imagine, white linen of course.
elenos
Back to Top
Joinville View Drop Down
Consul
Consul
Avatar

Joined: 29-Sep-2006
Location: Sweden
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 353
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2007 at 05:03
Interesting as the biological anthropological data is, the point still stands that there is a difference between trying to find a realist basis for classification based on science and a humanist historical understanding of how ancient Egyptians figured their own identity.
 
The first does not necessarily say anything of importance about the second. And it gets really, really confused when modern concepts of identity like "black" and "white", African and... something else, which can't quite be supported by the biological data, gets thrown into the mix.
One must not insult the future.
Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2007 at 06:09

Egypt in Africa, (1996), Theodore Clenko, editor -- article by Frank J. Yurco, page 110-111

Excerpt:

When Egyptian statuary, wall reliefs, and painted scenes are viewed without selectivity, they show a population with various complexions, from light to dark brown, mirroring the diversity of the modern Egyptian population. That this was also so in antiquity is indicated by a statement in Sinuhe's autobiography: "as when a Delta man sees himself in Elephantine, a marsh man in Nubia," metaphors describing the broad ethnic and cultural differences within the country (Lichtheim 1973:225). This agrees with anthropological studies (Keita 1990; 1993) that demonstrate that African population is diverse. The Arab conquest of 639-642 A.D. did not alter significantly Egypt's population, which still remains very diverse (Batrawi 1945; 1946). The Islamization of the population came largely through religious conversion from Christianity although some ten percent of Egyptians remain Christian. This modern population still echoes Nile Valley diversity, where people of the lightest and darkest complexions within Africa are found (Trigger 1978; Yurco 1989). Nonetheless, these Nilotic populations are all Africans, so was the population, religion, culture, and other aspects of pharaonic Egypt (Frankfort 1948). It is quite correct that many early Egyptologists tried to detach Egypt from its African context, as Asante posits in this section, and that this partly reflects racist thinking of earlier eras. Yet, some of the effort to see foreign influence on late Predynastic Egypt was based upon archaeological finds and the early interpretation of them. Current scholarship in Egyptology not acknowledged often by Afrocentrists, has demonstrated that Egyptians were most closely related to Saharan Africans, culturally and linguistically (Hoffman 1991), that such Mesopotamian influence as can be inferred, came through the Nile Delta town of Buto, as part of long-distance trade. Whatever foreign ideas and cultural item were adopted, they were speedily Egyptianized, and they probably did not include writing or its concept (see Yurco essay in the African Origins of Egyptian Writing section). Egypt made early contact with its Nubian neighbors on its southern boundary. After the unification in about 3100 B.C., a distinct Egyptian state emerged (Hoffman, 1991).

Thenceforth, Egyptians called their country Kemet and themselves Rmt. All foreigners were called by distinctive names and portrayed with distinctive dress. Nubian, first call Nhsy(Fisher 1961), were depicted darker, with frizzy hair, and wore a distinctive dress. Later, other groups were encountered in Nubia, for example, Mdja, and viewed as distinct from the Nhsy.

Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2007 at 06:32
More info

"Finally, the posters have lurched into the truth on the issue of who the ancient Egyptians were. Yes, Upper Egyptians, Copts and Muslims alike are dark complexioned, and their hair varies from wavy to kinky. Certainly,in the ante-bellum American South, they would have been classed with the other Africans who were enslaved. That ante-bellum southern image is still common in the United States, where if you have any African ancestors you are classed as "b;ack". Yet, how screwed up the Americans are is evident by how the census bureau deals with Egyptians who migrate to the United States. They are classed as "white" no matter how brown they appear!!!

The facts are this: Egyptians are, and were anciently an African people. All Africans, though are not uniformly black! In the Nile Valley, pre-cisely, you can see the whole array of complexions that these Africans come in, from the light complexioned northern Egyptians, to the light brown of Middle Egypt, the rich brown of southern Upper Egypt and the Sudan, and finally the jet black Shilluk, Dinka, and Nuer. No Africans anywhere are blacker than these three Sudanese groups.
So, calling ancient Egypt an African culture is quite correct, but
calling it a black culture, simply takes the American social construct
and incorrectly applies it to a country where it simply does not fit.
No wonder the Egyptians get upset with this misrepresentation. I cannot blame them, and agree with them, that all people in their society, no matter how light or dark complexioned, are Egyptians. They have never practiced racial discrimination such as the American and certain western Europeans nations reek from."

Most sincerely,
Frank J. Yurco
University of Chicago


--
Frank Joseph Yurco fjyurco@midway.uchicago.edu


I can attest to Yurco's anger. Being bi-racial, I don't consider myself solely white or black (I'm both and am proud of this fact). However, in America I'm considered black. If we look at the world as black and white, sometimes we only get half of the picture.


Edited by Jugernot - 21-Jul-2007 at 06:36
Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 01:40
Originally posted by Joinville

Interesting as the biological anthropological data is, the point still stands that there is a difference between trying to find a realist basis for classification based on science and a humanist historical understanding of how ancient Egyptians figured their own identity.
 
The first does not necessarily say anything of importance about the second. And it gets really, really confused when modern concepts of identity like "black" and "white", African and... something else, which can't quite be supported by the biological data, gets thrown into the mix.


If you don't want to give them a racial identity, that's fair enough. Having that said, we can, and should call Egypt an African civilization because that's what it was ( Again, I recommend "Egypt in Africa"):

"Nonetheless, these Nilotic populations are all Africans, so was the population, religion, culture, and other aspects of pharaonic Egypt (Frankfort 1948). It is quite correct that many early Egyptologists tried to detach Egypt from its African context, as Asante posits in this section, and that this partly reflects racist thinking of earlier eras. Yet, some of the effort to see foreign influence on late Predynastic Egypt was based upon archaeological finds and the early interpretation of them. Current scholarship in Egyptology not acknowledged often by Afrocentrists, has demonstrated that Egyptians were most closely related to Saharan Africans, culturally and linguistically"


I'm also confused as to how someone else could possibly vote white after the information I posted. If you're going to give them a racial identity, one simply can't say one without acknowledging the other. Again, this quote is all one needs to see ancient, as well as modern Egypt's diversity:

"Ancient and modern Egyptian hair ranges from straight to wavy to woolly; in color, it varies from reddish brown to dark brown to black. Lips range from thin to full. Many Egyptians possess a protrusive jaw. Noses vary from high-bridged-straight to arched or even hooked to flat-bridged, with bulbous to broad nostrils. In short, ancient Egypt, like modern Egypt, consisted of a very heterogeneous population."

Back to Top
Maharbbal View Drop Down
Sultan
Sultan
Avatar
Retired AE Moderator

Joined: 08-Mar-2006
Location: Paris
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2120
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 02:04
The main prob here is the very term 'African civilization'. As if there were such a thing at a time when sailing down the red sea was a small miracle. Africa is certainly the most diverse continent, talking about an African civilization is about as constructive as saying that the Incas and the Inuits are Pre-Colombians.

Egyptian had more in common with the Hebrews for instance than with the people of the Great Lakes and more in common with the Nubians than with the Celts. Egypt is a crossroad it couldn't be anything else than diverse. Ultimately we should blame the word civilization for the confusion, but we'd need to recognize that except in a very few cases, it means nothing as more often than not it is synonymous with national culture inside the border of a polity.
I am a free donkey!
Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 02:05
Just to cover all bases and be through with this. Dr. Frank Yuroc dispels the myth that all copts are light in complexion.


Yes, Egyptologists do consider the ethnicity of the Egyptians, but in a rational way without the flaming that is seen in many postings in this issue. To the Egyptian who considered any dark complexioned Egyptians as descendants of Nubians or Sudanese, have you ever travelled from Luxor to Aswan? There the entire population is dark brown in complexion. Yet can you write them all off as descendants of Sudanese? Hardly. They are Egyptians and that they have been that complexion for thousands of years is demonstrated by New Kingdom paintings of the Theban population, then just as dark brown as now, for instance, in Sennedjem's tomb at Deir el-Medinah. So, what we have is a very diverse population in Egypt, light complexioned in the north, and gradually darkening as you proceed south. Another myth that needs exploding is that all Copts are light complexioned. Ever meet a Copt from Luxor or Aswan? They are as brown as the rest of the population there. I lived three years in Luxor and have travelled extensively in Egypt, so I speak from experience. Again, surveying the ancient monuments can be instrutive. So, for instance, the statue of Sheikh el-Beled, or Ka-Aper, as he was known anciently, looks exactly like the people of Saqqara today. That's how he acquired the name "Sheikh el Beled" for those who know the story of the statue's finding by Mariette's workmen. Another famous excavated piece is the double statues of Rahotep and Nofret. You can see people like the facially, all over the Cairo greater area. What differs, is the color convention that has depicted Nofret as light and Rahotep as red-brown. Aside from that color convention, if you examine the facial details of Dynasty IV-V statuary and reliefs, they look very alike the modern Cairo area population. As Sinuhe, in his story put it, when a Delta man finds himself in Elephantine, he is confused. The two extreme parts of Egypt were quite distinct even back in Dynasty 12! Another of Sinuhe's metaphors is, "can the papyrus ever cleave to the rock" another contrast of the Delta with Elephantine.
Most sincerely,
Frank J. Yurco
University of Chicago


--
Frank Joseph Yurco fjyurco@midway.uchicago.edu

And with that, I'm done as far as race/ethnicity is concerned. If one doesn't get the picture that the Egyptians were (since predynastic Egypt), and are, a diverse people, I don't know what to tell you my friend.


Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 02:31
Originally posted by Maharbbal

The main prob here is the very term 'African civilization'. As if there were such a thing at a time when sailing down the red sea was a small miracle. Africa is certainly the most diverse continent, talking about an African civilization is about as constructive as saying that the Incas and the Inuits are Pre-Colombians.

Egyptian had more in common with the Hebrews for instance than with the people of the Great Lakes and more in common with the Nubians than with the Celts. Egypt is a crossroad it couldn't be anything else than diverse. Ultimately we should blame the word civilization for the confusion, but we'd need to recognize that except in a very few cases, it means nothing as more often than not it is synonymous with national culture inside the border of a polity.


"Current scholarship in Egyptology not acknowledged often by Afrocentrists, has demonstrated that Egyptians were most closely related to Saharan Africans, culturally and linguistically"

Ancient Greece was a Mediterranean civilization. Ancient Sumer was a Mesopotamian civilization. What makes Ancient Egypt any different??

The Egyptians were a diverse group of people, but they were all African nonetheless.

Their religion was African. Their language was African. Their culture was African. What more do you need?

P.S. What do you think of the quotes from Dr. Frank Yurco? Surly a man as qualified as himself would be far more knowledgeable on the subject than you or I. Note that African civilization doesn't equal a solely black civilization. If people can come to terms with this, then I think it's easier to accept.

1.They were a multiracial civilization
2.They were an African civilization
3.They were Egyptian


Edited by Jugernot - 22-Jul-2007 at 05:44
Back to Top
edgewaters View Drop Down
Sultan
Sultan
Avatar
Snake in the Grass-Banned

Joined: 13-Mar-2006
Location: Canada
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2394
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 06:41
Originally posted by Jugernot

Ancient Greece was a Mediterranean civilization. Ancient Sumer was a
Mesopotamian civilization. What makes Ancient Egypt any different??The
Egyptians were a diverse group of people, but they were all African
nonetheless. Their religion was African. Their language was African. Their culture was African. What more do you need?


There was no such thing as an African religion, or an African language, or an African culture, any more than there was such a thing as the European religion, the European language, or the European culture. Continents simply weren't cultural entities.

Culture, language, and religion at that time had no idea what continent they were on and didn't stop at tectonic plate boundaries or remain consistent on one. Cultural groups were related primarily by the easiest means of travel - usually bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and seas, or sometimes steppes. They were divided by things that made travel difficult - mountain ranges, long distances, bodies of water too distant to cross, jungles, etc. The Egyptians knew where Greece and Babylon and even India were, but they had no idea of the source of the Nile and had never been as far inland even as Lake Tana or Lake Victoria.

They didn't give a hoot about continental divides and didn't feel any sort of special affinity with other groups simply because they shared the same tectonic plate. Nor were they necessarily related.

You said it yourself - Greece is a Meditteranean culture. What continent is it on? The Meditteranean continent? No, its in Europe, but the first thing - and indeed, the correct thing - that popped into your head was Meditteranean. Egypt, too, is a Mediterranean culture. It had no real ties with most of the rest of the continent in sub-Saharan Africa. If your ancestors came from Ghana or Zimbabwe, they had nothing to do with Egyptians. If your ancestors were Greek or Mesopotamian, it's definately possible that they did.

Edited by edgewaters - 22-Jul-2007 at 06:59
Back to Top
Guests View Drop Down
Guest
Guest
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 10:16

Co-sign. Egypt mas a Mediterranean culture and also one of the extremes of the Fertil Crescent.

Back to Top
Tk101 View Drop Down
Knight
Knight
Avatar

Joined: 18-Apr-2007
Location: United States
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 60
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 12:01

pinguin you should back your rhetoric with actual data...and not heresay

there is only one truth
- Conan
[IMG]http://www.architecture.org/shop/images/402036lg.jpg[IMG]
Back to Top
Guests View Drop Down
Guest
Guest
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 13:18
It is not rethoric. It is just a matter of definition. Egypt is at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and part of the Fertile Crescent. The oldest cities, agriculture, domestic animals and technologies appeared in that region. The conclusion is obvious I guess. Well, perhaps a matter of taste.
 
 
Back to Top
Zagros View Drop Down
Emperor
Emperor

Suspended

Joined: 11-Aug-2004
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 8792
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 13:22

Egypt has always had more in common with the Middle East and to a lesser extent the Med than Sub Saharan Africa.

Back to Top
Aster Thrax Eupator View Drop Down
Suspended
Suspended

Suspended

Joined: 18-Jul-2006
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1929
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 16:43
I would agree with the general thing that Juggernaught and Edgewaters have been discussing (obviously they have their differences, but I think they're on the right track...) - skin colour does not neccesarily divide a civilization (as it has ours for a long, long time...). Egyptians, black, white, olive-skinned, or brown are...well...Egyptian. People keep diving into genetics, but frankly, all of us here are mish-mashes. There is no "solid" ethnic group which you can call "Egyptians" - they are, like all peoples, a mixture. The "English", of whom I belong - we are traditionally a mix of various ethnicities of Northern Europe. Because Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt both have highly different skin colours, which just happen to be in closer proximity to each other, it doesn't mean that they are all any less "Egyptian".
Back to Top
Jugernot View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary


Joined: 20-Jul-2007
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 28
Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2007 at 16:57
Originally posted by pinguin

Co-sign. Egypt mas a Mediterranean culture and also one of the extremes of the Fertil Crescent.



No it wasn't.

Egypt in Africa, 1996, pp. 25-27




Ancient Egyptian as an African Language, Egypt as an African Culture

Christopher Ehret
Professor of History, African Studies Chair
University of California at Los Angeles

Ancient Egyptian civilization was, in ways and to an extent usually not recognized, fundamentally African. The evidence of both language and culture reveals these African roots.

The origins of Egyptian ethnicity lay in the areas south of Egypt. The ancient Egyptian language belonged to the Afrasian family (also called Afroasiatic or, formerly, Hamito-Semitic). The speakers of the earliest Afrasian languages, according to recent studies, were a set of peoples whose lands between 15,000 and 13,000 B.C. stretched from Nubia in the west to far northern Somalia in the east. They supported themselves by gathering wild grains. The first elements of Egyptian culture were laid down two thousand years later, between 12,000 and 10,000 B.C., when some of these Afrasian communities expanded northward into Egypt, bringing with them a language directly ancestral to ancient Egyptian. They also introduced to Egypt the idea of using wild grains as food.

A new religion came with them as well. Its central tenet explains the often localized origins of later Egyptian gods: the earliest Afrasians were, properly speaking, neither monotheistic nor polytheistic. Instead, each local community, comprising a clan or a group of related clans, had its own distinct deity and centered its religious observances on that deity. This belief system persists today among several Afrasian peoples of far southwest Ethiopia. And as Biblical scholars have shown, Yahweh, god of the ancient Hebrews, an Afrasian people of the Semitic group, was originally also such a deity. The connection of many of Egypt's predynastic gods to particular localities is surely a modified version of this early Afrasian belief. Political unification in the late fourth millennium brought the Egyptian deities together in a new polytheistic system. But their local origins remain amply apparent in the records that have come down to us.

During the long era between about 10,000 and 6000 B.C., new kinds of southern influences diffused into Egypt. During these millennia, the Sahara had a wetter climate than it has today, with grassland or steppes in many areas that are now almost absolute desert. New wild animals, most notably the cow, spread widely in the eastern Sahara in this period.

One of the exciting archeological events of the past twenty years was the discovery that the peoples of the steppes and grasslands to the immediate south of Egypt domesticated these cattle, as early as 9000 to 8000 B.C. The societies involved in this momentous development included Afrasians and neighboring peoples whose languages belonged to a second major African language family, Nilo-Saharan (Wendorf, Schild, Close 1984; Wendorf, et al. 1982). The earliest domestic cattle came to Egypt apparently from these southern neighbors, probably before 6000 B.C., not, as we used to think, from the Middle East.

One major technological advance, pottery-making, was also initiated as early as 9000 B.C. by the Nilo-Saharans and Afrasians who lived to the south of Egypt. Soon thereafter, pots spread to Egyptian sites, almost 2,000 years before the first pottery was made in the Middle East.

Very late in the same span of time, the cultivating of crops began in Egypt. Since most of Egypt belonged then to the Mediterranean climatic zone, many of the new food plants came from areas of similar climate in the Middle East. Two domestic animals of Middle Eastern origin, the sheep and the goat, also entered northeastern Africa from the north during this era.

But several notable early Egyptian crops came from Sudanic agriculture, independently invented between 7500 and 6000 B.C. by the Nilo-Saharan peoples (Ehret 1993:104-125). One such cultivated crop was the edible gourd. The botanical evidence is confirmed in this case by linguistics: Egyptian bdt, or "bed of gourds" (Late Egyptian bdt, "gourd; cucumber"), is a borrowing of the Nilo-Saharan word *bud, "edible gourd." Other early Egyptian crops of Sudanic origin included watermelons and castor beans. (To learn more on how historians use linguistic evidence, see note at end of this article.)

Between about 5000 and 3000 B.C. a new era of southern cultural influences took shape. Increasing aridity pushed more of the human population of the eastern Sahara into areas with good access to the waters of the Nile, and along the Nile the bottomlands were for the first time cleared and farmed. The Egyptian stretches of the river came to form the northern edge of a newly emergent Middle Nile Culture Area, which extended far south up the river, well into the middle of modern-day Sudan. Peoples speaking languages of the Eastern Sahelian branch of the Nilo-Saharan family inhabited the heartland of this region.

From the Middle Nile, Egypt gained new items of livelihood between 5000 and 3000 B.C. One of these was a kind of cattle pen: its Egyptian name, s3 (earlier *sr), can be derived from the Eastern Sahelian term *sar. Egyptian pg3, "bowl," (presumably from earlier pgr), a borrowing of Nilo-Saharan *poKur, "wooden bowl or trough," reveals still another adoption in material culture that most probably belongs to this era.

One key feature of classical Egyptian political culture, usually assumed to have begun in Egypt, also shows strong links to the southern influences of this period. We refer here to a particular kind of sacral chiefship that entailed, in its earliest versions, the sending of servants into the afterlife along with the deceased chief. The deep roots and wide occurrence of this custom among peoples who spoke Eastern Sahelian languages strongly imply that sacral chiefship began not as a specifically Egyptian invention, but instead as a widely shared development of the Middle Nile Culture Area.

After about 3500 B.C., however, Egypt would have started to take on a new role vis-a-vis the Middle Nile region, simply because of its greater concentration of population. Growing pressures on land and resources soon enhanced and transformed the political powers of sacral chiefs. Unification followed, and the local deities of predynastic times became gods in a new polytheism, while sacral chiefs gave way to a divine king. At the same time, Egypt passed from the wings to center stage in the unfolding human drama of northeastern Africa.

A Note on the Use of Linguistic Evidence for History

Languages provide a powerful set of tools for probing the cultural history of the peoples who spoke them. Determining the relationships between particular languages, such as the languages of the Afrasian or the Nilo-Saharan family, gives us an outline history of the societies that spoke those languages in the past. And because each word in a language has its own individual history, the vocabulary of every language forms a huge archive of documents. If we can trace a particular word back to the common ancestor language of a language family, then we know that the item of culture connoted by the word was known to the people who spoke the ancestral tongue. If the word underwent a meaning change between then and now, a corresponding change must have taken place in the cultural idea or practice referred to by the word. In contrast, if a word was borrowed from another language, it attests to a thing or development that passed from the one culture to the other. The English borrowing, for example, of castle, duke, parliament, and many other political and legal terms from Old Norman French are evidence of a Norman period of rule in England, a fact confirmed by documents.


References Cited:

Ehret, Christopher, Nilo-Saharans and the Saharo-Sahelian Neolithic. In African Archaeology: Food, Metals and Towns. T. Shaw, P Sinclair, B. Andah, and A. Okpoko, eds. pp. 104-125. London: Routledge. 1993

Ehret, Christopher, Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic (Proto-Afrasian): Vowels, Tone Consonants, and Vocabulary. Los Angeles: University of California Press, Berkeley. 1995

Wendorf, F., et al., Saharan Exploitation of Plants 8000 Years B.P. Nature 359:721-724. 1982

Wendorf, F., R. Schild, and A. Close, eds. Cattle-Keepers of the Eastern Sahara. Dallas: Southern Methodist University, Department of Anthropology. 1984

Back to Top
 Post Reply Post Reply Page  <1234 22>

Forum Jump Forum Permissions View Drop Down

Bulletin Board Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 9.56a [Free Express Edition]
Copyright ©2001-2009 Web Wiz

This page was generated in 0.156 seconds.