How black was Ancient Egypt?
The simple answer, of course, is that no one in Ancient Egypt was black: “black” is an American social construct, something made up to make men into slaves, even those who are mostly European by blood.
The less-simple answer is to apply American ideas of race to ancient Egypt, something that people have been doing since the early 1800s.
Motives: Since American society is built on the idea that whites are naturally better than blacks, whites have reason to downplay the blackness of ancient Egypt while blacks have reason to play it up – because civilization in America goes all the way back to Egypt by way of the English, Romans and Greeks. If it turned out to be founded by black people, what would that say?
What they said in ancient times:
- Herodotus said Egyptians had black skin and woolly hair, which is how he said the Ethiopians looked too.
- Aristotle called both the Ethiopians and Egyptians black.
- The Bible calls both the Ethiopians and Egyptians sons of Ham.
- The Egyptians saw themselves as belonging to their own race, different from blacks to the south – but also different from all their other neighbours. On the other hand:
- They called themselves kemet – “black”, though some say it just means they are from the land of black soil (the Nile).
- They said they came from the land of Punt – a place they drew as having elephants and giraffes.
By the way, American slaveowners also saw blacks as the sons of Ham. That allowed them to use the Curse of Ham from the Bible to excuse their racism.
What the DNA says:
Present-day Egyptians are, by blood, about 60% Eurasian, like the Arabs who took over their country, and 40% black African. In the past they were, if anything, blacker because since the glory days of Ancient Egypt they have been taken over by the Persians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. But even at 40% black they easily count as black according to America’s One Drop Rule, which sees even a drop of black African blood (in practice, about 10% or more) as enough to make you black.
What their language shows:
These days Egyptians speak Arabic, but in ancient times they spoke Egyptian, the stuff they wrote in hieroglyphics. That language came to Egypt from Ethiopia about 12,000 years ago. Of course, the language could have been brought to Egypt by some forgotten war, but it seems it came from settlers: one study shows the maternal blood line of Egyptians also goes back to Ethiopia.
Using high-powered computers, experts can now get a rough idea of how someone looked from their skull. They make a living at it by doing it for the police for murder cases. When the same thing is done to the skulls of King Tut and a mummy some believe is Queen Nefertiti, here is what you get (click on the pictures to find out more about them):