Trope Workshop:Black Egyptians
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We need to discuss the difference between Egyptians and Nubians before moving this out of the Trope Workshop. We also need to clarify whether it is a hypothesis or a theory -- they're two different things but the text above uses them interchangeably -- or historical revisionism driven by political reasons.
The Black Egyptian Hypothesis holds that Ancient Egypt was a majority black society with black rulers. It is regarded as a fringe idea -- mainstream scholars reject the notion that Egypt was a black (or white) civilization; they maintain that, despite the phenotypic diversity of Ancient and present day Egyptians, applying modern notions of black or white races to ancient Egypt is anachronistic, and further, there is no evidence to connect ancient Egyptians genetically or culturally to black Africans.
The hypothesis first appeared during the 1970s in the works of John G. Jackson and the Senagalese multidisciplinarian Cheikh Anta Diop. It was quickly taken up by a number of other modern scholars, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Chancellor Williams, and Ivan van Sertima, who popularized the idea throughout the end of the 20th century to the point that the terms "Black", "African", and "Egyptian" are sometimes used interchangeably even outside the fringe which accepts the hypothesis as fact.
The initial presentations of the hypothesis relied heavily on the interpretation of the writings of Classical historians, who were writing during and after the time when Egypt was a province of the Persian Empire, i.e. long after the golden age of pharaonic Egypt had passed and when Egypt was full of foreigners. Several Ancient Greek historians noted that Egyptians had complexions that were "melanchroes". While "melanchroes" is frequently translated as "black", philologists point out that it could mean anything from "bronzed" to "black", and that other reported features of the Egyptians of the period, including "curly hair", were not exclusive to black Africans. Diop also tended to regard Classic-era historians such as Herodotus as far more reliable than other historians -- and in the specific case of Herodotus, his own contemporaries -- did, and attempted to use their works to draw a direct cultural and racial connection between ancient Egyptians and Ethiopians. Hard physical evidence offered for the hypothesis was limited to microscopic laboratory analysis to measure the melanin content of skin samples from a small number of Egyptian mummies.
The hypothesis has been contested since its inception, drawing frequent criticism due to what most scholars deem a lack of significant, non-anecdotal evidence. One particular, and not entirely inaccurate, criticism of the idea is that it is historical revisionism driven by political reasons; although various African civilizations' histories were unarguably lost to, or otherwise misrepresented by, the colonial powers of various eras, this does not justify looser standards of evidence in order to support an appealing idea which restores some of that lost prominence. Although its proponents made and continue to make a sincere effort to provide evidence for the hypothesis, it is also clear that it arose at least in part as something of a response to black people being shut out of their own ancestral history. On the other hand, while there is little strong support for many of the claims made, it is often made a target by reactionary parties who use the question of historical accuracy as plausible deniability to "gatekeep" history as suits their own personal agendas.
That aside, the early 21st century saw further evidence discounting the hypothesis. DNA tests of Egyptian mummies has revealed a predominantly Middle- and Near-Eastern genotype during the ancient period, with little to no relation to sub-Saharan African peoples and significantly more affinity with southeastern Europeans. (Mummies with blonde and red hair discovered in the Fagg El Gamous actually are unrelated to this issue, as they date from the Graeco-Roman period, which spanned from 332 BC to around 395 AD, instead of "ancient" Egypt.) At this point, the hypothesis is firmly in "fringe" territory where the majority of its proponents support it in the face of all evidence to the contrary for purely political or emotional reasons.
As a result of the scope and political subtext of the dispute over the hypothesis, it has perhaps inevitably made its way into pop culture. Regardless whether or not it's a deliberate decision to embrace the hypothesis, it's not uncommon for many forms of media to portray Egyptians as black, regardless of the era being depicted (as Egypt is still an African civilization). Some works even go as far as to apply this to Cleopatra, even though it's well-established that she was a Greek, descended from prominent Greeks, whose ancestors/predecessors didn't even know the Egyptian language, and clearly has Caucasian features in period art.
Not to be confused with Black Vikings.
For more information on the history and disputes over the Black Egyptian hypothesis, see the Wikipedia article on the topic.
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- The 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt depicts many of the Exodus-era Egyptians as noticeably dark-skinned.
- Not a "theory" -- a "hypothesis" is a possible explanation for a phenomenon for which sufficient evidence has yet to be collected; a "theory" is a fully-formed explanation supported and shaped by objective evidence which can then be used to predict future events or developments. A hypothesis is an idea worth investigating; a theory is the last step before something's called a "fact" or "law of nature". Not even its most vociferous proponents call this anything other than a hypothesis.