The question of the race of Egyptians arose as a result of an increased interest in anthropology and the racial division of society about two centuries ago. The Egyptian expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte discovered to Europeans a new, unknown world of Egyptian culture (Agai, 2017). Opinions were divided: most believed that the Egyptians were white, others that they were similar to white but slightly different. Finally, few claimed that representatives of this civilization were black. Although the discussion continues to this day, it is already more political than scientific.
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The opinions of historians are still divided, and they make various arguments to prove their point of view. There are three dominant views of the race of the Ancient Egyptians: Afrocentric, Europocentric, and similar with modern Egyptians (“The question of race in ancient Egypt,” n.d.). The Afrocentric approach claims that the Egyptians were black, and European scientists are trying to conceal and ignore this fact. The Kenyan researcher Chang’ach’s (2015) paper is a vivid example of maintaining an Afrocentric vision. The author condemns the disregard of African history and believes that the Egyptians were black and laid the foundation for all civilizations. Most of his arguments are related to the similarity of the cultural traditions of African peoples and Egyptians – totemism, matriarchate, and similar phenomena (Chang’ach, 2015). His position reflects the influence of the Afrocentric approach on the study of ancient Egyptians.
The Eurocentric approach reflects the view that the ancient Egyptians were white. Some historians who support this opinion believe that blacks could not build such a great civilization as Egypt, which, however, does not reflect reality (Perry, 2017). Nevertheless, there is some strong evidence against some of their statements. In particular, Agai (2017), in a study of the perception of Ancient Egypt, makes arguments in favor of the fact that it cannot be unequivocally stated that this civilization originated. Moreover, proponents of this approach more often use excavation results, analysis, and not cultural traditions as evidence.
The versions supported by scientific evidence are more convincing than theoretical reflections. For example, in 2017, German scientists conducted a large-scale study of the mummies of ancient Egyptians found in Abusir-el Meleq (Page, 2017). DNA of the remains found showed that ethnically this group was much closer to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East than to the population of sub-Saharan Africa (Page, 2017). In the DNA of modern Egyptians, proximity to the peoples of South Sahara is much higher. The study is limited to the area where the remains were found, and therefore the possible racial diversity of the Egyptians cannot be excluded from the discussion.
Thus, there is discussion among historical scholars about the race to which the ancient Egyptians belonged. The dispute is often becoming more political and social than scientific. For example, supporters of the Afrocentric approach believe that the claim that the ancient Egyptians were white is another manifestation of discrimination. This debate is also often intertwined with the discussion of whether Egyptian Civilization was the one that gave rise to the rest. Scientists are looking for new arguments and are studying the finds of archaeological excavations to establish the truth. Recent DNA studies of Egyptian burials have demonstrated proximity to Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East population. The modern understanding of race and its impact on human life was probably alien to the ancient Egyptians. For this reason, knowledge of their skin color will add only a fact about their lives but will not help understand them better.
Agai, J. M. (2017). The debates on the perception of the ancient Egyptian civilization. International Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Studies, 4(12), 11-21.
Chang’ach, J. K. (2015). If ancient Egyptians were Negroes, then European civilization is but a derivation of African achievements. Arts Social Science Journal, 6(2), 1-8. Web.
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Page, T. (2017). DNA discovery reveals genetic history of ancient Egyptians. CNN Health. Web.
Perry, P. (2017). Were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Scientists now know. Big Think. Web.
The question of race in ancient Egypt. (n.d.). University College London. Web.