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Tyrannosaurus Rex
01-24-2012, 05:49 AM
I've been fascinated by ancient Egyptian civilization ever since my second grade class did a unit on it, but I have a hard time enjoying most ancient Egyptian-themed fiction and pop culture because more often than not they misrepresent the Egyptian people. Not only do these portrayals get the Egyptian culture and religion wrong, but they can't even get the skin color right. Most people have this misconception that the ancient Egyptians were always relatively light-skinned like Arabs or Greeks, but my own research into the subject has convinced me otherwise. The majority of the original Egyptian people, especially those in Upper (southern/upriver) Egypt, would have been darker-skinned Northeast Africans:


"There is now a sufficient body of evidence from modern studies of skeletal remains to indicate that the ancient Egyptians, especially southern Egyptians, exhibited physical characteristics that are within the range of variation for ancient and modern indigenous peoples of the Sahara and tropical Africa. In general, the inhabitants of Upper Egypt and Nubia had the greatest biological affinity to people of the Sahara and more southerly areas." ---(Nancy C. Lovell, " Egyptians, physical anthropology of," in Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, ed. Kathryn A. Bard and Steven Blake Shubert, ( London and New York: Routledge, 1999) pp 328-332)

The following reproduction of a mural from the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I compares the Egyptians with neighboring peoples:

http://img180.imageshack.us/img180/8011/remetwaamwneheswtemehwkvf1.jpg

The Egyptians are the chocolate-brown people wearing white loincloths. The other people shown are olive-skinned Near Easterners, fair-skinned Mediterranean Berbers, and very dark-skinned Nubians from Sudan.

More images from Egyptian art:

http://i525.photobucket.com/albums/cc332/kushkemet08/mural01-1.jpg
http://www.historylink101.net/egypt_images/marriage.jpg
http://realhistoryww.com/world_history/ancient/Misc/Common/Egypt/Sold.jpg
http://i27.tinypic.com/ig9klv.jpg
http://www.dawnali.com/lovinmysistas/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=1532.0;attach=3640 ;image

And here are some images of Northeast Africans to whom the ancient Egyptians would have been related, including a few modern-day Egyptians:

http://img86.exs.cx/img86/3721/som296tk.jpg
http://i371.photobucket.com/albums/oo160/brandonpilcher/Addendum3.jpg
http://6ktdxa.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pZ01cvNqXPe5EBnnT3k4XqVjLBDrncBgKjQVoBvn-mMJxuzEG0tQDSL1la7fwJeeIxlDOjlLNGOP7gMDznoZohVKQSH BfuHfZ/bejaman.jpg
http://fc03.deviantart.net/fs31/f/2008/214/5/a/Karnak_Local_by_padraig13.jpg
http://continentalnews.net/images/2011/01/034.jpg
http://www.nairaland.com/attachments/527228_131253522_54f48538b6_jpga37273e75428f34f47e 417ba14e1b192

Mac H.
01-24-2012, 06:17 AM
I have a hard time enjoying most ancient Egyptian-themed fiction and pop culture because more often than not they misrepresent the Egyptian people ... they can't even get the skin color right.It's tricky from a creative perspective because people think 'ancient Egyptians' = 'Modern Egyptians' .. so if you do it accurately it will look 'wrong' to many audiences.

Imagine if Disney's Aladdin had been more accurate and made Aladdin Chinese! Even though it would have been accurate, modern audiences would be utterly convinced that it was an example of Disney getting it wrong.

It's because it doesn't match the image that is already in the audience's mind.

It's a fascinating area.

Mac

Tyrannosaurus Rex
01-24-2012, 06:54 AM
From a creative perspective is it tricky - because people think 'ancient Egyptians' = 'Modern Egyptians' it is difficult to do it accurately without it looking 'wrong' to many audiences.

To be fair, while modern Egyptian "Arabs" have a diverse heritage, I do think many of them have some Ancient Egyptian (or Kemetian) ancestry. There is no historical record of the Ancient Egyptians ever being wiped out. More likely they simply assimilated the various foreign mercenaries, immigrants, and conquerors who settled in Egypt over the last three thousand years. It would have been rather like how many people in Latin America are a mix of Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.

Another thing I wish to clarify is that I'm not advocating that the Egyptians ever looked like most West and Central Africans (the so-called "Afrocentrist" position). Northeast Africans are adapted to a much drier climate than West/Central Africans and so have distinct facial features (e.g. narrower noses are correlated with drier environments). African people are the most physically diverse modern humans and always have been.

Nor do I argue that the ancient Egyptians should be called "Black"; racial categories such as "Black" and "White" are modern social constructs that did not exist in antiquity and have no scientific grounding anyway. They're not even accurate descriptors of any human skin tones. That said, if we are to colloquially classify Northeast Africans as Black, we should do the same for the Egyptians for the sake of consistency.

Kitty27
01-24-2012, 04:20 PM
I am crazy about ancient Nubia and the kingdom of Kush. One of my dream projects is to write a book about the kings of that era.


Very interesting information,T-Rex.

Tyrannosaurus Rex
01-24-2012, 07:20 PM
I am crazy about ancient Nubia and the kingdom of Kush. One of my dream projects is to write a book about the kings of that era.


Very interesting information,T-Rex.

You're welcome, and coincidentally the heroine of my fantasy WIP is a Kushite queen with an Egyptian ranger/archer for a best friend.

KaiaSonderby
01-24-2012, 07:41 PM
Actually, the people of ancient Egypt were really diverse in skin color, as you can see in a wider examination of their art. The very darkest skinned were Nubian or of Nubian descent (cf Queen Ahmose-Nefertari) but they varied, due to a lot of factors. There were some who could be really pale, which thinking about it, I've actually seen the most in depictions of the nobility.

I suppose that's to be expected in a kingdom that lasted for so many thousands of years, though, and conquered so much territory.

One thing I remember from an episode of Bones (that I cringed the entire way through) was a red hair found on a mummy, and one character going "Red hair? In ancient Egypt?" and another character basically saying "Of course not, that's silly!" *sigh* Would it have killed them to spend five minutes with Wikipedia? The oldest Egyptian mummy ever found was a redhead.

I guess what I'm saying is they were a complex, varied, and fascinating people and the "common knowledge" about them tends to be ridiculous.

Kitty27
01-24-2012, 07:54 PM
You're welcome, and coincidentally the heroine of my fantasy WIP is a Kushite queen with an Egyptian ranger/archer for a best friend.


Go head with your bad self!

Now that is what I'm talking about!

Zaziki Sauce
01-24-2012, 11:51 PM
I am intrigued with the debate of "white" vs. "black" (that I see in other sites). I heard that ancient Egyptian is more of a nationality than a race, hence the spectrum of different skin colors. I think the exception for a "white" Egyptian would be Cleopatra, who is Greek. I guess her popular image is used to misrepresent the ancient Egyptians *shrugs*

Has anyone read the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan? I don't recall if the series ever mentioned how ancient Egyptians looked, hmmm...

kuwisdelu
01-25-2012, 04:08 AM
It doesn't help that when you say "ancient Egypt," some people still inevitably think of the Hellenistic period and the Ptolemaic dynasty, figuring that because it was thousands of years ago, it must be "ancient," despite it being a relatively extremely recent period of Egyptian civilization, and certainly not ancient when it comes to Egypt.

thebloodfiend
01-25-2012, 09:26 AM
Modern Egyptians vary in skin tone. Some are really dark, some are really light. Some identify as Egyptian and Nubian, others identify as Egyptian and Arab.

As you go south, or "north" according to the ancient kingdoms, toward Aswan, they get darker. I haven't been to Alexandria, but in Cairo, skin color has greater variation. There's a greater mix in Luxor/Karnak. As the Nile flows out, I imagine that skin color variations get greater as you go north.

I also imagine that it's been that way for a long, long time. Lesser variations toward the center, more variation as you get closer to other countries with different "races".

MeretSeger
01-27-2012, 12:03 AM
The ancient Egyptians themselves had no concept of race, merely culture. If you were cultural Egyptian, you were Egyptian.

There is a lot of misconception that the modern Egyptians have no relationship with ancient Egyptians. Except for the change in dress, as you travel the Nile, you see scenes and people who are exactly as the ancient depictions. The Egyptians were and are a living people, and they were and are people of color. Tutankhamun, for example, would have had great difficulty under Jim Crow.

Do some Egyptians look "white"? Sure, some. But most do not. Look at Anwar Sadat.

Cyia
01-30-2012, 05:25 AM
I am intrigued with the debate of "white" vs. "black" (that I see in other sites). I heard that ancient Egyptian is more of a nationality than a race, hence the spectrum of different skin colors. I think the exception for a "white" Egyptian would be Cleopatra, who is Greek. I guess her popular image is used to misrepresent the ancient Egyptians *shrugs*


Actually, the current thought on Cleopatra is that she wasn't Greek, but the daughter of a Nubian concubine raised as a princess by Ptolmey. She was more popular than the others because she was a "true" Egyptian, rather than one of the Ptolemaic rulers.

areteus
01-30-2012, 01:51 PM
I think there is also an issue of period. There is a lot of history behind the Ancient Egyptians - several thousand years since the first evidence of civilisation to the Greek and Roman influences. You can't really refer to ancient Egypt as a single entity. It is like saying that all westerners dress like Elizabethan Tudors because less than a thousand years ago a lot of people did.

There was almost certainly a range of ethnicities in Egypt, they were after all trading with a lot of other areas and taking slaves from a lot of places for most of their existence.

And yes, I agree with the above about modern Egyptians. From what I have been told while in Egypt the modern Egyptians are not necessarily related to the ancient Egyptians, being descendents of an Islamic incursion some of whom probably interbred with the locals but a) we can't say that by that time even those locals were very related to the ancient Egyptians and b) there is no way to tell how much, if any, interbreeding occured. I suspect someone may well be doing a genetic study sometime similar to the one they did here on Viking descendents... if they are not already thinking about it or done it, they should do as it would be interesting to see how it turns out.

MeretSeger
01-30-2012, 07:53 PM
I think there is also an issue of period. There is a lot of history behind the Ancient Egyptians - several thousand years since the first evidence of civilisation to the Greek and Roman influences. You can't really refer to ancient Egypt as a single entity. It is like saying that all westerners dress like Elizabethan Tudors because less than a thousand years ago a lot of people did.

There was almost certainly a range of ethnicities in Egypt, they were after all trading with a lot of other areas and taking slaves from a lot of places for most of their existence.

And yes, I agree with the above about modern Egyptians. From what I have been told while in Egypt the modern Egyptians are not necessarily related to the ancient Egyptians, being descendents of an Islamic incursion some of whom probably interbred with the locals but a) we can't say that by that time even those locals were very related to the ancient Egyptians and b) there is no way to tell how much, if any, interbreeding occured. I suspect someone may well be doing a genetic study sometime similar to the one they did here on Viking descendents... if they are not already thinking about it or done it, they should do as it would be interesting to see how it turns out.

There are studies, both in progress and complete. It is damn hard getting usable DNA out of the mummies though...might be a while, and even when successfully extracted, there are errors from the process itself. Most of the non-"Ancient Egyptian" DNA will radiate from Cairo and Alexandria areas, in my opinion. Considering the small size of the Arabian population versus the Egyptian population, the Egyptians were not replaced, and Egypt certainly didn't go all Greek. It was not like what happened to the Native Americans. And there are reasons, both political and religious, for modern Egyptians saying that the ancient population was replaced.

MeretSeger
01-30-2012, 08:04 PM
Here's why DNA is so tough on ancient remains: http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v13/n10/full/5201476a.html and why even the recent Tutankhamun results need to be taken with a grain of salt. No outside lab was employed among other things...

The work in the Dakhla Oasis showed that the sub-Saharan population actually increased since ancient times. They have used good methodology there...but it is basically an island in the desert, and can't be taken as typical of all of Egypt. But, how to decide what would be "typical" of all of Egypt? In the north, they had more interaction with the Levant. In the south, more interaction with Nubia. There is no typical Egyptian, then or now. But I believe the range to be about the same.

words
01-30-2012, 08:15 PM
Can anyone recommend any intelligent fiction about ancient Egypt and/or early African cultures? I enjoy historical fiction but so much of it is exclusively about European cultures, plus a smidgen (in English at least) about Asia.

MeretSeger
01-30-2012, 08:20 PM
Can anyone recommend any intelligent fiction about ancient Egypt and/or early African cultures? I enjoy historical fiction but so much of it is exclusively about European cultures, plus a smidgen (in English at least) about Asia.

Lauren Haney's mysteries, set in Egypt and Nubia in the reign of Hatshepsut, are very wonderful. I know her through an Egyptological organization I work with, and she really knows her stuff. Good read, too!

FoamyRules
02-01-2012, 12:31 PM
The Ancient Egyptians weren't white like a lot of people think they were, they were most certainly Africans with varying skin tones. Not all of the indigenous people of Africa were dark skinned, Africans and people of African descent have a wider range of genetics than any other group of peoples on this Earth. So it's not unusual for an Egyptian to have red hair, I know a black American who has red hair and hazel eyes.