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Uncovering the Origins of Ancient Egypt

The “Dialogue of Civilizations” conference in Guatemala brought together archaeologists studying five ancient cultures to discuss their similarities and differences and what they can tell us about human society as a whole. You can still be a part of the conversation, commenting on this post or tweeting using #5Civilizations.


Ancient Egypt has stood out even among the impressive remains of other ancient civilizations for three main reasons: the pyramids are enormous, the cultural style and imagery remained consistent for ages, and it is really, really old. In fact, the pyramids were roughly as old to ancient tourists from classical Greece as the ruins of Athens and Delphi are to us today.

One of the biggest questions surrounding ancient Egypt then is “where did it come from?” Last week at the Dialogue of Civilizations in Guatemala, National Geographic grantee Renée Friedman of the British Museum, and Ramadan Hussein, recent recipient of a Humboldt Research Fellowship at the University of Tuebingen, set out to answer that question.

The Catfish

Friedman began by showing the “Narmer Palette,” which dates from 3100 BC, and features a ruler, triumphant over his enemies, seen with the crowns of both Upper and Lower Egypt. He is identified by two animal images: a falcon, symbol of the leader of gods, Horus; and a catfish his own personal symbol, since the ancient Egyptian word for catfish was “nar.”

A lively reinterpretation of the scene on the Narmer Palette. (Painting by H. M. Herget/National Geographic Society)
A lively reinterpretation of the scene on the Narmer Palette. (Painting by H. M. Herget/National Geographic Society)


According to Friedman, the iconography of forceful leadership and control over chaos illustrate that already at this early date, the role of kingship in Egypt fit a pattern that would continue for the next 3,000 years. But this is still not the beginning.

Renée Friedman leads excavations at the oldest known city in Egypt, Hierakonpolis (“city of the falcons”) where the Narmer Palette was found. While earlier generations thought there must have been an external spark from Mesopotamia or elsewhere that triggered the rise of civilization in Egypt, she’s uncovering a very different tale. With activity at the site as early as 3700 BC, “there was momentum long before Narmer,” she says.

Of Beasts and Beer

Remarkably even the earliest stages of Hierakonpolis give clues to significant developments beforehand; it was clearly a planned settlement “from the outset” and it was the center of a cult dedicated to a falcon, either a predecessor to or the earliest example of the god Horus, shown for the subsequent millennia as a falcon himself, or a falcon-headed man.

Hierakonpolis contains many interesting sites and burials, but Friedman mentioned two in particular which shed light on what was capable and what was important at this earliest stage in Egypt’s history. The first has been called the “brewery”, and dates to about 3600 BC. While the vast quantities of beer production there are what catch most people’s attention, she said in truth, it was a site of much broader significance, processing any number of grain based foods. It remains unclear whether its products were used regularly by average people, or ceremonially among early Egyptian elites.

One purpose it may have had was to support the feeding of and ceremonial activity around Hierakonpolis’ most unexpected occupants: dozens of wild animals. “One fifth of the 3,500 animal bones are from wild animals,” Friedman reported. Crocodile, turtle, hippo, elephant… the list goes on. And the bones aren’t scattered in one heap of food remains, each animal was buried intact, the same as the many humans interred in the same area.

The wild animal bones at Hierakonpolis are buried individually almost the same as the humans at the same site.  (Image courtesy Renée Friedman)
The wild animal bones at Hierakonpolis are buried individually almost the same as the humans at the same site. (Image courtesy Renée Friedman)


Many of these animals were thought of as “agents of chaos” said Friedman, “that rulers and rituals were meant to control.” With one in six annual Nile floods being either too low or too high, you can understand the people’s hope for salvation from such chaos.

Not Just a Day at the Zoo

Numerous holes at the site indicate where posts would have been erected, to create rooms and temples from wood, cloth, and plaster, in this era a thousand years before the great pyramids, and two thousand before the Rameses’ famous stone temples and monuments.

Finely chipped animal effigies were found buried in the corners of the temple at Hierakonpolis. (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)
Finely chipped animal effigies were found buried in the corners of the temple at Hierakonpolis. (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)


In the corners of these temples, the team found delicately worked stone effigies of the same species of animals buried throughout the site. There is also a portrait in flint of a human of unusual but recognizable proportions: a dwarf. Remarkably, the remains of two dwarfs have been found at the site. At 30-40 years old, one is likely the oldest human in the entire cemetery.

Honored and beloved in ancient Egypt, dwarfs held various roles in society. This man may be the oldest in the entire cemetery.  (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)
Honored and beloved in ancient Egypt, dwarfs held various roles in society. This man may be the oldest in the entire cemetery. (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)

In addition, dates of the actual bones all match nearly exactly. This wasn’t just some random zoo. This was a home for culturally significant wild animals many of whom appear to have been sacrificed at once, perhaps with humans as well, as part of a ritual display of power, or perhaps to accompany their owner, employer, or master to the afterlife when he met his own demise.

While the spectacle of these animals in life and death would have been quite a powerful illustration of the power of the leader, the associated costs may have been unsustainable. The amount of food required to feed these animals (including an elephant and a hippo, remember) was immense. “Huge amounts of ash” at the site indicate it was active and used extensively. It would have been enormously expensive. As Friedman put it, “This couldn’t last.”

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Pounds of Hippo Feed

By 3400 BC, leaders had changed tactics. No longer housing and dispatching entire menageries to convey their command over chaos, they “switch back to imagery.” In painted tombs, the same symbolism continues in a much more manageable way for thousands of years. The biggest change? As climate and possible over use push elephants further away from the city, they disappear from the iconography, and the giant wild bovine known as the aurochs becomes the ultimate symbol of the ruler’s strength.

Images from a painted tomb illustrate the shift from live animals to painted ones to indicate a ruler's power. (Drawing courtesy Renée Friedman)
Images from a painted tomb illustrate the shift from live animals to painted ones to indicate a ruler’s power. (Drawing courtesy Renée Friedman)


Eventually Hierakonpolis would lose out to Abydos as the bigger city in the region, but Friedman says it would have its monuments restored, and the temple would hold artifacts of kingship which may even have been on view as a kind of ancient museum display. This looking back to the past was a key element of ancient Egyptian culture, and it may be what kept the expression of that culture so relatively consistent for more than three millennia.

“Egyptians liked to do things ‘as they were done the first time,’ “ said Friedman. “But when was that? Hierakonpolis helps us understand.”

The Beginning

Young Egyptian egyptologist Ramadan Hussein then presented on how he searches for the origins of Egyptian civilization not so just in buildings and bones, but in the extensive written record left by this early and highly literate civilization.

A gold-headed statue of the god Horus, symbol of Egyptian kingship. (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)
A gold-headed statue of the god Horus, symbol of Egyptian kingship. (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)

According to the ancient Greeks, he said, the ancient Egyptians said that Osiris, god of the dead, taught people the art of civilization and agriculture. He then gave a quick summary of Osiris’s story, roughly paraphrased here:

There were nine gods who created the universe. Osiris was a son of them. He had a sister Isis, and a brother Seth. Osiris was given control over Egypt. Seth, being the god of confusion and evil, grew jealous and killed his brother (again, according to the Greeks). Isis collected his body parts and resurrected her brother (imperfectly). They then had a son, Horus, the falcon god. Horus then followed his father’s footsteps and ruled over Egypt. But the story goes on. Seth wants Osiris’ old job. Seth and Horus contest each other. They go to the council of the gods and Horus is given the position to rule Egypt, and Osiris goes on to be god of the dead.

So that’s the ancient story of how Egypt got its start. The modern story follows the archaeological record, and in it, Hussein says, we see that there are early cities in Upper and Lower Egypt that were all in the process of developing into states.

“It took almost 1000 years to emerge as fully unified,” he says. The general process was that much like today, “people left small villages and moved to big industrial places with jobs.”

The most important of these early urban centers in Upper Egypt were Hierakonpolis in the south, Naqqada at the noticeable bend in the Nile, and Abydos just a bit further north than that. In Lower Egypt it was Maadi and Buto, both in the Nile’s famous delta.

Each of these cities had a good reason for being. Hierakonpolis was on a seasonal river bed and already was seen as a place for a ruler. Naqqada controlled trade routes. Abydos had big agricultural fields. Maadi had copper mines access. Buto controlled sea trade with the eastern Mediterranean.

An overlay of GCI posts fill the holes at the site and more clearly reveal the outlines of ancient structures.  (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)
An overlay of GCI posts fill the holes at the site and more clearly reveal the outlines of ancient structures. (Photo courtesy Renée Friedman)


The Scorpion King

The dynamics that led to these cities ultimately becoming part of one great Egyptian whole, as seen in the Narmer Palette, are what Ramadan Hussein was particularly interested in during this presentation. Those dynamics function on many levels, including the personal: there is one man who may have been the key to the bringing them all together.

In Hierakonpolis not only was the Narmer Pallete found, but so was the tomb of a man identified through hieroglyphic inscriptions as “King Scorpion.” In nearby rock art, he’s shown conquering another man, whose symbol appears to be that of Lower Egypt. In Naqqada, a ceremonial mace head with images of him were found. In graffiti near Naqqada, a king labeled “Scorpion” is seen defeating a bull-headed man, a symbol of the king of Naqqada. Back in King Scorpion’s tomb in Hierakonpolis, there was found a vase with similar bull symbolism.

All this points to the idea that before Narmer unified Egypt’s two kingdoms politically, Scorpion conquered the cities of Upper Egypt to create one of those kingdoms in the first place (watch a full NatGeo Channel documentary on “The Scorpion King” featring Renee Friedman).

The successive layers of construction of a building in Hierakonpolis.  (Drawing courtesy Renée Friedman)
The successive layers of construction of a building in Hierakonpolis. (Drawing courtesy Renée Friedman)


Scorpion may also have made the first forays into uniting with the north as well. While the south saw military conquest, Hussein says in the north change came through a cultural movement. Once completely different in terms of houses, pottery, and more, throughout the region of Maadi and Buto, there suddenly appears pottery mentioning King Scorpion. Even houses begin to be built in the southern style. There is, he said, “complete cultural takeover…[but] no evidence of battle like in the south.”

Given this presence of the name of Scorpion throughout the entire region, Ramadan Hussein thinks this early king, even before Narmer, may have had a hand in the union of the kingdoms. The Narmer Palette, he suggests, could just as easily represent a king putting down a rebellion as conquering a separate kingdom.


Lessons on Origins

In conclusion for the presentations on ancient Egypt, Ramadan Hussein and Renée Friedman took the stage to answer a few questions from the audience.

Asked about the mysteriously sudden inspiration and ability to construct the pyramids, Hussein gave a solid and practical answer. “As archaeologists, we’re not just looking at an object,” he said. “We’re looking at the process that creates that object… It took at least 900 years for [Egypt] to move to a state… Tombs started as shallow pits, then all of a sudden, they have a superstructure above that, then all of a sudden they have 6 [levels of structure], then they have 8… When you have [evidence of the entire] process leading up, you don’t have to wonder who made it.”

Renée Friedman then fielded a question about how well does the archaeological record correspond with details from Egypt’s extensive written records. Harking back to her translation of “hieroglyph” as “writing of the gods,” she said, “There is remarkably good correspondence. Since writing really was the ‘gods’ words,’ I don’t think they lied about it.”

The great lessons from this session then were clear: as unprecedented as ancient Egypt’s civilization was, there is an increasingly clear record of its development being unearthed at sites like Hierakonpolis; written and archaeological clues should be used together to reveal more about whatever either is hinting at; and more broadly, we need to look beyond just tombs and monuments to get the full story of the rise and fall of civilizations from the many groups they contain.


What do you think? Post your comments below and on Twitter at #5Civilizations.

NEXT: Read All Posts From “Dialogue of Civilizations”


Learn More

Guide to Hierakonpolis

Hierakonpolis Field Blogs



  1. MLG_PRO_420
    April 18, 1:38 pm


  2. Vaachaspathy
    Hyderabad India
    February 28, 3:14 am

    I believe, going by the physical features depicted on the ancient Egyptian art, the ancient Egyptians constituted a separate race by themselves and can not be identified with either African blacks or European whites. They did not have ringged hair and big lips like the former and nor were they well built like the latter. They mostly look lean in varied shades of brown complexion like the people of Eastern India.

  3. Vaachaspathy
    Hyderabad India
    February 28, 3:07 am

    I believe, going by the physical features depicted on the ancient Egyptian art, the ancient Egyptians constituted a separate race by themselves and can not be identified with either African blacks or European whites. They did not have ringged hair and big lips like the former and nor were they well built like the former. They mostly look lean in varied shades of brown complexion like the people of Eastern India.

  4. Vaachaspathy
    Hyderabad India
    February 27, 8:40 am

    Further, we find no trace of blonde hair or blue/green/brown eyes on Egyptian paintings. So, they being of Caucusoid origin seems pure fiction inspired by the depictipn of Egypt in Hollywood movies. Even Jews were probably not white before moving to Europe because their Indian counterparts are not white right now.

  5. dave
    Rocky Mount, NC
    August 23, 2015, 1:40 am

    Dear Johnny: Ancient Egyptians were NEVER caucasoid. NEVER. You’ve been watching too many movies made in the 1950’s and 60’s… Back when many of us BELIEVED everything your people taught us in school, in church, in the movies, in college and on TV. Very few of us believe THAT stuff any more.

  6. dave
    North Carolina by way of DC...
    August 23, 2015, 1:26 am

    The FIRST picture above, titled as “a lively REINTERPRETATION of the Narmer Palette” shows LIGHTskinned people as the original Egyptians. We KNOW that the original Egyptians ORIGINATED SOUTH of Egypt… They couldn’t EVER have been white or even very light thousands of years ago. Matter of fact: white people weren’t even white six thousand years ago.

  7. Nobody
    February 19, 2015, 4:52 pm

    Nothing, nothing and nothing

  8. ABDU
    washington dc
    November 12, 2014, 8:22 pm

    The ancient egyptians were clearly from africa if you read what they wrote they say the come from the south that would be the interior of Africa its clear as day they wrote it i dont know what the debate is all about stop being racist folks face it the arabs and the whites came way later even in the bible it says the egyptians were black like the Ethiopians and

  9. Johnny
    May 26, 2014, 11:06 pm

    Let’s remember that not all Africa is black and Egyptians are Caucasoid.

    Despite it all, we should just admire the accomplishments of one of the great cradles of civilization as a human accomplishment and not as some sort of proof of one race being superior over another.

  10. Freddie M
    April 8, 2014, 2:15 am

    There is dna and other physical proof that there were Russian blonds and red heads. Ramses had red hair and not from henna it was examined by the people who took his dna. he also had male pattern baldness that is common in European men only. His hair also had red roots inside of the grey. The process of mummification can not in any was bleach hair platinum or all mummies would be that way. All natural hair of mummies were silky straight or wavy like caucasian . There are quite a few mummies with light hair. They wore wigs of wool. They also took beautiful white captives and put them in harems or made them queens. At this same time there were also platinum blond Russian mummies in china so that is proof they were migrating long distances. No reason they did not go west like everyone else. Ancient egyptians migrated into Africa from the east to settle at the Nile. Also the egyptian woman are portrayed with white skin on the walls and tombs. Most looked like Kim kardashian, she is not black! But to say there were no red haired and blondes , Nordics, is just as ignorant as saying they were black. I’m sure someone slept with a Nubian like they did with usa slaves but it was not common. There is a wall tomb that a king wrote stating Nubians are dirt under his feet. Blacks are tribal and never built anything but huts at that time. They did not then or even now have the ability to make huge monuments. So to think that only one period of time the blacks suddenly became geniuses then never did it again is ubsurd. Egyptians were middle eastern Arab mixed with white but both are caucasoid.
    I’m an anthropology major specializing in dna and forensics.
    Also The Sudan pyramids were built almost 1000 years AFTER the last pyramid in egypt , the Nubians copied some of the egyptians clothing and small pyramids later on that were no where near as sophisticated as the real ones.

  11. ashok
    Jaipur, India
    September 16, 2013, 2:42 pm

    A slight correction to my last comment. The link to the origin of Egyptian civilisation is here

  12. ashok
    jaipur, India
    September 16, 2013, 2:39 pm

    About seven years ago I wrote a blog post on the origin of Egyptian civilisaton and its Sumerian source. It is here

  13. drifter
    July 6, 2013, 2:47 am

    The title of this article is extremely misleading, given the content of the article itself. Instead of, “Uncovering the Origins of Ancient Egypt”, it should be titled, “Covering Up the Origins of Ancient Kmt”. National Geographic is such garbage.

    United States
    June 20, 2013, 1:51 am

    em htpu / whats wrong with this theory is that they are still skipping over the interior of south africa as the origins to / kmt / the customs and rituals and mdw ntr inscriptions imply an african origin pointing to the south /ta-khenti/ in sudan period there are facts that lead to africa as the source to the totems that was used such as the baboon mentioned in the [pert em hru ]

    lets take the baboon for example as being a representation of djuhuti/tehuti/thoth the /ntr/ of writing ,math ,wisdom this as a totem for tehuti/thoth makes perfect logical sense

    the Baboon possess great qualties and skills of survival outside the forest area ,also being that baboons lived on the ground made it easier to observe them ,the baboon also has writing skills or orthographic processing skills our ancestors observed the baboon to learn things as well as hunt and survive and food choices ,and the baboon was the suitable model for ground living hominids ,aside from man the baboon is the most successful ground primate ,the baboon way of life gave insight on the problems of early man ,thus the baboon and his bones was used in african spirituality / divination ,i see that the baboon could have been a logical totem for early african hunter/gatherers

    i give two key historical credible physical evidences of africans an baboon relations

    ishango baboon bone /20,000 b.c :
    found in 1960 by Belgian geologist Jean de Heinzelin
    source: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1204/1204.1019.pdf [ actually wikipedia gives good references ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishango_bone

    lebombo baboon bone /35,000 b.c :

    these baboon bones was used as either for calculations of the moon phases or ancient early african hominoid mathmatical devices

    this subject held my interest a minute ago ,what was interesting was when i researched this it lead me to a baboon bone archeologist call a measuring device found in africa dated 20,000 bc called the ishango bone ,evidence of baboon bones as measuring devices is found in other parts of africa ,this baboon bone was found on the border of congo and uganda ,the lebombo bone which is another baboon bone was found in south africa and swazi land at the lebombo mountains ,this is another connection of baboons and mathematics

    first you have to observe the totem and most of the totems lead back to the interior of africa ,yall problem is that yall are known racist ,kmt is in africa also the oldest humans also oldest genetics link back to africa ,do i have a challenge ? i will present evidence of the oldest homonoids existing in africa period if yall stop being racist and do what ea wallis budge said do yall wouldnt be so confused ,ea wallis budge stated that the religion of the egyptians was purely african ,so why dont yall study africa fools ,you national geographic people are clearly retarded ,all of the greek scholars mentioned the egyptians as africans

  15. james cilia
    June 17, 2013, 7:58 pm

    hello big bird

  16. smartie
    June 17, 2013, 7:53 pm

    i love bob

  17. smartie
    the lab
    June 17, 2013, 7:52 pm

    i dont like big words

  18. bob
    the moon
    June 17, 2013, 7:52 pm

    cookie monster won’t share his cookies

  19. james
    the moon
    June 17, 2013, 7:46 pm

    egypt is pro

  20. Ray ban
    June 7, 2013, 8:52 pm

    Diodous Siculus, Bibliotheke, 3 “Egyptians have black skin, snub-nosed faces, and curly hair”.
    Professor A. J. Boyce. Oxford University “Ancient Egyptians greater similarity to Somalis, Kushites and Nubians,(anthropological), than any other group”
    HERODOTUS “black-skinned and have woolly hair,”
    Aristotle “black a hue marks //as witness Egyptians and Ethiopians ”
    That’s the end of the matter. It is nothing but astonishing that people seem to believe that at a time before planes trains and automobiles at place close to the equator in Africa was somehow white? In Africa? Does the Sphinx look like Brittany Spears? You couldn’t walk to media and Nubia was a black place and didn’t the black pharaohs of Nubia unite upper and lower Egypt ? The truth is black people were subjugated and it would not do to perpetuate slavery if black people were responsible for the kingdom of Egypt, that is the reason why the racism Persists despite the obvious environmental issues with the sun before planes trains and automobiles or any mass inward migration from Europe. Imagine Africans claiming that northern Europe was actually a black place 2000 years ago. Simply outlandish. Ancient Egypt was predominantly a black place for thousands of years it is in Africa not your ancient Egyptians are African and black.

  21. Myra
    California, USA
    May 29, 2013, 3:51 am

    Humans did not originate only from Africa. DNA studies indicate that people are indeed diverse with origins from various places and at different times. The concept of one mitochondrial “eve” and one mitochondrial “adam” has no scientific basis, much like the mythological story book known as the “bible”. It is questionable anytime ethnic groups of people claim to be the chosen ones or constantly claim ownership of a heritage which is not theirs. Why not ask an Egyptian what they are? I know several; they claim to be EGYPTIAN and ARAB first and foremost. They don’t claim to be East, West, South, North or African-American….and by the way, most African-Americans were sold into slavery by their fellow Africans…so much for African unity and heritage. Let the Egyptians claim their own heritage. ..their pantheon of GODS & GODDESSES are similar to the Levantines and the Mesopotamians…so stop trying to blackface or whitewash their culture!

  22. Cain
    May 19, 2013, 5:13 am

    The picture in the article…of a euro Menes, killing an enemy of African descent is a joke..and stirs up rage…unquenchable Fury and leaves little room for sympathy as time moves forward… The Arab and euro slave trade was no accident…they knew full well who they agreed to track and continue chasing, seeking to exterminate… Those family who participated…”neighbors ” were foolish to believe that by betraying us they would gain the vacant seat…in the end they have also become victims.. However the fact remains..no matter how many discovery shows and missionary rescues…zoos or desiganted nature zones…Tarzan will never rule the Nile…neither will sinbad the sailor… Their will be no peace for the usurper…today’s chaos is a result of fragmented ideals and morals divided amongst a consortium of thieves…all who wish to be ” Adam”…. Kemet,kmt or egypt..is similar to many things African…jazz, rap, swag, cosmology, religion, maat…rythm and a smile…We didnt label and sell it…put it in a sacred book to dam others…or use it to conquer the world…It has become plagerized and demonized … But soon.. As told in the book of job… The leviathan will be… Who can withstand sut… Who can understand wrath… All of nature is calling…crying out for our return…The universe is waiting…they watch in anticipation…what will become of the sons of the creator… Old will be new again…haha if kemet was European..or Arab…then y are they studying it… It would seem that they would have no need to study something they all ready know…only when u subdue a thing do u study and try and understand…. Silly rabbits…tricks are for kids..i suppose the creator truly wishes to see what his sons are made of…. From the highest position to the lowest slave…no memory, no language….no land…limbo…can u see toussant, Malcolm, martin,Lumumba…shaka…seqnere, ahmose and ramessu…imagine the lions and hunted beasts who will smile and rejoice…those who hung in trees…chased like dogs…thrown to sharks…sexually hunted…degraded,,, reshaped..even the diamonds call out…they serve as beckon…a mother tear…hatshepsut, harriet and countless others…we sought no land…and all historical evidence is ONE sided…how can evil tell history and then tell the side of those they have attempted to destroy…even asar in the heavens scoffs at this suggestion…But we will prove the creator true…even if we have to come back a million years…again and again….any man can be proud of a son when his sun has everything…but imagine…when he is cast down, slaved, raped and beaten…and the world is against him…if he rises again…against all odds…what a proud day…it’s in us…heru, sut, Montu..The greatest thing is tto rise and forgive…I guess that’s the last hurdle before we receive Devine help..cuz at this point I see sun red…and Hyksos will pay….may the creator cool the fire that burns…so much has been lost… It’s not about color…or race… It’s thieves and retribution…janjaweed and kkkk… Cecil Rhodes…and every tear and lonely heart…it’s for those chased by lions…planes and copters…every safari…there can never be a Ahknaton again….we will kill him….never again …may the sun move closer and FLARE..FlARE for your twins…ur brothers… Come close to us… Scorch the earth…she wishes it…. As for me…like the lizard…I will absorb it all…this was not our wish…but the rule of opposites had to be fulfilled…rubber balls, so called degrees can never placate the seed that’s planted by still waters….

  23. Tristan
    May 16, 2013, 3:48 am

    Mr. Reed,

    You’re right – it is disturbing how racial bias still has a heavy impact on many Egyptologists. There’s plenty of images of dark complexion egyptians in art & they are biologically related to the nubians – who are universally accepted as “black”. Some egyptologists (ex: sally ann-ashton & stuart tyson smith), however, have gladly accepted the fact that the ancient egyptians of the pharaohnic period would be considered “black” in the context of modern racial perceptions.

  24. William Reed
    United States
    May 11, 2013, 7:29 am

    I can recall reading old books where the so-called authorites on Ancient Egypt would state that the egyptians were a dark skin group of white people with negroid features, then others would state that they were a special race of red-skinned people. Absurdity, up to the point of even claiming extra- terrestrial contact for origin of this high level of civilization. Its really unfortunate that 39 years after the Cairo Conference for the Peopling of Egypt and the Merotic Script, that there is still psychological and emotional discomfort with the Black African origins and population of Ancient Egypt (Kemet) up until being invaded by the Assyrians (676 B.C.E.),Persians(525 B.C.E.),Greeks (332 B.C.E.),Romans (30 B.C.E.) Vandals (429 B.C.E.)and Arabs (651 B.C.E.). My suggestion to those with this discomfort would be to study the language that was spoken and also read the literature of what they had written.

  25. Truth
    April 25, 2013, 8:37 pm

    YOU have no idea do you? Ancient egypt is beyond your imagination. Don’t keep building up stories and feeding the public with your little brains, useless tools and assumptions, because Ancient egypt is beyond the mind, our current science or scientific tools. Humanity fell long ago into an apocalyptic era. After the fall, degeneration started to happen which took many thousands of years. You have no way to prove how old some of these places are, because you can’t carbon date structures. Anyways, I am really disgusted by organizations like National Geographic and the likes who have all the means to discover and showcase the truth, but are constantly being pushed around by the demands of the current degenerated society. Wake up please. We have lost our connection with our origin and keep making up stories with our minds. If you don’t see and understand the truth in your hear, then you can’t find it anywhere else.

  26. Tristan
    April 25, 2013, 7:50 pm

    First, in regards to wall paintings, ‘black’ is not just one shade. I know people who define themselves as black and are a range of complexions. again, it’s more a social construct than anything. Egyptians, in non-religious or symbolic contexts, show themselves and even Nubians (i.e. Tomb of Huy) in a variety of complexions. This variety is closer to those socially defined (externally and internally) as ‘black’. the tomb paintings having one black individual and many copper complexioned individuals also cannot be an exact population count. For example: If i take a picture of all the NBA players and use it as evidence for the American population – I’d be grossly inaccurate. At best, it shows complexion variation within the community it depicts.

    Egypt obviously interacted with Levant and Mesopotamia, but that doesn’t mean it is fundamentally ‘African’. The flora and fauna and cultural practices reveal the African background of Egypt. Also, there’s no evidence that the essence of pharaonic culture came from the Near East as the Scorpion findings and even the Qustul incense burner in Nubia show. people in Egypt are on a continent of Africa and are African. Being geographically close to the Near East regions does not mean that ‘the roots’ of ancient Egypt had to from there. More succintly put, Ancient Egypt not a ‘Near Eastern’ civilization in ‘Africa’, rather, ancient Egypt was an ‘African’ civilization that had relations with the ‘Near East’.

    I have not read that specific article from S.O.Y Keita, but I think his approach (dismissing the true negro notion and ‘mixed’ everything) is probably the correct approach to understanding ancient Egyptian diversity. We cannot force data into Negroid and Caucasiod when those are social constructs. ex: many ‘sub-saharan’ Africans have so-called ‘caucasoid’ features if you were to look at their skeleton, but if they go missing in modern times: “black male missing”. Also, the Egyptian climate caters to a darker complexion that we seen in so-called ‘black’ populations today.

    It is rather evident that the reinterpretation of the Narmer palette done by Herget is flawed either way. There is no brown or black complexion being used…when the Egyptians were clearly not like the ancient ‘Greeks’. They did not define themselves as ‘white’ nor would they in a modern reality. Overall, the reinterpretation really reflects the racist mythology about the ancient Egyptian population.

  27. Henry
    April 25, 2013, 4:45 pm

    @ Tristan Samuels _ I am going to dispute a few of your key assertions, firstly if you examine the Nekhen, tomb 100 wall paintings [ the oldest recorded to date in Egypt] you will only find one individual characterized with black and not copper skin tone. This figure is also distinguished by white body paint and one of the furthest from center and a hunter.

    #2 Egypt is in Africa but continents are a modern concept. You, much like our ancestors, can walk from the Kamchatka peninsula to Finnish Keralia and then to the cape of good hope without ever getting your feet wet. Is it then only sheer coincidence that Egypt arose at the North eastern tip of Africa adjacent to the land bridge between continents, and is such close proximity to neolithic Levantine cultures and Mesopotamia?

    #3 If you read S.O.Y. Keita’s “Early NV farmers from El-Badari” published in the Journal of Black Studies (2005) It is rather easy to pick out his very questionable use of Norwegians and Hungarians as his (Eurasian?) control group and then lumps in KhoiSanoid osteologically with Negroid. he uses questionable methodology to support a pre-determined answer, not scientific method to determine an unknown.

  28. Tristan Samuels
    April 25, 2013, 4:34 pm

    terms like ‘caucasiod’ and ‘negroid’ are invalid when describing human physical features when we are diverse in phenotype. ex: many people who are considered ‘black’ do not fit ‘negroid’ type, but if you put them in an egyptian tomb they’re described as ‘caucasoid’. those racial definitions are not objective, they’re social constructs. There is no ‘black’ Africa, even the alleged term ‘sub-saharan’ Africa is NOT geographically consistent. Again, racial identification is a social reality, not a biological one.

    Also, being enemies with Nubia does not mean they are not biologically related, regardless of how each group percieved themselves. Again, socio-political difference can be constructed as a biological reality by both groups when, in fact, there is none. recent bio-anthropological studies show that the Egyptians and Nubians are biologically related.

    Humanity started in Africa, so Egyptian pharaonic culture had to evolve in Africa – as Egypt is African. There’s no reason why native Africans could not develop the fundamental aspects of pharaonic culture. Being in a hot tropical environment, they had to have been dark-complexioned people. Their self-rep and descriptions by Greco-Roman writers, as additional evidence, suggest that they were.

  29. Ahmed Kamel
    April 25, 2013, 8:37 am

    Tristan, I do not agree with you. Instead of “Black and White” I’d say and to be politically correct, “Caucasian and Negro” races. Egyptians were caucasian and they didn’t originate from southern Egypt at all, in fact their enemy was Nubia (Northern Sudan-Southern Egypt) and that’s why Ramses II had Abu Simbel temple there, to scare their armies when they were advancing on Egypt. Egyptians later on in History became a bit darker when they were occupied by the Arabs (who are darker) and married from them. When Egyptians went to Africa it was for 2 reasons, by boat to what is now Ethiopia/Somalia for trade or by land to conquer. Last but not least on a couple of times Egyptians too got conquered by the Nubians 🙂 !

  30. Tristan Samuels
    April 24, 2013, 4:39 pm

    Ahmed Kamel, you’re wrong. Africa was and still is a physically diverse continent. Ancient Egyptian diversity cannot be expressed in the modern racial terms ‘black’ and white, but ancient Egyptian diversity – if comparable to anything – it is comparable to diversity of those socially constructed as ‘black’. It is also evident that they were a dark complexioned people.

    crackerhead, some trace the ancient Egyptian origins to the starting point of the Nile (around Kenya) following the Egyptian records, some point to Upper Egyptian regions or around the Sudan. Overall, evidence suggests that Egyptian pharaonic culture was originated in the south – be it from Nubia or Upper Egypt.

  31. crackerhead
    April 23, 2013, 6:39 pm

    what about the title ? did the people come from the green Sahara ? were they there all along ? evolving there ? strange they were not traced from another location much as native Americans .

  32. Tristan Samuels
    April 23, 2013, 4:38 pm


    You may be right, however, I think it was purposely done regardless of what the tombs themselves show. There are numerous paintings where the Egyptians depict themselves in a dark reddish brown complexion which one of the many complexions that ‘black’ people (ex: African-Americans, Afro-Carribeans, Black Africans, etc) have. National Geographic still clings to the racist attitudes of the late 19th century with this ‘ten commandments’ style depiction of the Egyptian.

  33. Tristan Samuels
    April 23, 2013, 4:37 pm


    You may be right, however, I think it was purposely done regardless of what Herget illustrated or what the tombs themselves show. There are numerous paintings where the Egyptians depict themselves in a dark reddish brown complexion which one of the many complexions that ‘black’ people (ex: African-Americans, Afro-Carribeans, Black Africans, etc) have. National Geographic still clings to the racist attitudes of the late 19th century with this ‘ten commandments’ style depiction of the Egyptian.

  34. Ahmed Kamel
    April 23, 2013, 2:35 pm

    Ancient Egyptians where white. For thousands of years Pharaohs where white with an exception of 5 who were Black. We are Africans, but Africa is a big continent that has Black and white, however it is stereotyped as Black!

  35. lioness productions
    April 23, 2013, 12:41 am

    Nat Geo doesn’t have the more common darker reddish brown skin tone of the ancient Egyptians fairly depicted in their modern illustration at top “the scene on the Narmer Palette” by H. M. Herget. Look to the actual tomb paintings for reference

  36. Tristan Samuels
    Toronto, ON, Canada
    April 22, 2013, 6:58 pm

    I like the discussion overall. I have two major problems, however, with the way ancient Egypt is discussed here. There is very little discussion about Egypt’s connection to the rest of Africa (yes it is African). Also, I do not like how the reinterpretation of the Narmer Palette portrays the ancient Egyptians as tanned ‘white’ people which contradicts their self-representation, most Greco-Roman descriptions, and also the biological data (esp. the data gathered by bio anthropologist S.O.Y. Keita). The Egyptians were clearly a darker complexioned group of a people who would not be allowed to sit at the front of the bus in the 1950s US south.

  37. Getreal
    April 22, 2013, 5:40 pm

    LOL @ that “reinterpretation” thousands of years ago before any invasionsNarmer and his people were Africans native of the land that is today Sudan they were obviously Black.