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The Xenophile Historian

K. U. P.

(Kimball's Unauthorized Perversion)

What Race Were the Ancient Egyptians?

In recent years there has been a fierce controversy over what the ancient Egyptians really looked like, as both whites and blacks would like to claim the culture of the Nile for themselves. I talked about this a little bit on my other pages, so I hope you don't mind me combining all that I said on the subject here.

On the one hand there are those who see Egypt as a purely black civilization. Sometimes this is called the "Black Athena" theory, after a book by that name which claims that the Greeks got all their knowledge from Africa. While I have no problem with Afro-Americans being proud of their heritage, I want to be sure they learn the truth about the past, rather than something taught in the name of "multiculturalism." One of the worst cases of false history I have ever heard involved this. In 1996 a Milwaukee teacher promoted self-esteem among his black students by teaching that the ancient Egyptians were black men with wings, who flew around the pyramids until some evil white men came along and killed them off! Another Afro-centric teacher, Dr. Leonard Jeffries of New York, talked about how the "People of the Sun" lived together in harmony, until the "Ice People" came down from the north with their "homosexual warrior mentality" and enslaved everyone they could get their hands on. I guess that means great African warriors--like Thutmose III, Hannibal and Shaka--were aberations in the course of history; H. G. Wells felt the same way about Alexander and Napoleon.

"White folks was in caves while we was building empires . . . We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it."--Rev. Al Sharpton

Those who believe and promote this stuff are certified racists, and nothing they teach agrees with the plain facts. For example, I'm sure that the real Cleopatra, who came from an inbred Greek family, would be surprised to learn that today many imagine her as a black queen. Well, there's one thing that can be worse than a white racist--a black racist.

Do You Remember the Time, by Michael Jackson.
The Black Athena theory allowed Eddie Murphy and Iman to appear in a Michael Jackson video, playing Ramses II and Queen Nefertari.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who talk about how white the Egyptians were. This probably isn't as common, but I've been seeing a lot of it lately. There's a character I often run into who regularly visits every bulletin board that talks about history, and posts links to a webpage about blond and red-haired Egyptians. He has even done it on boards where Egypt is never the subject (e.g.,'s "Dark Age Europe" and "Asian History"). Whatever name he uses, you can recognize him because he always includes links to several boards dedicated to his off-color (pun intended) ideas. Since he also uses Stormfront, the most notorious neo-Nazi website, as a reference source, I think we know what he is. One of my friends described him as a "seagull," because he'll fly in, crap on everything, and then leave without looking back to see the response.

The two main pieces of evidence cited for blond Egyptians are a painting of a yellow-headed woman from the Old Kingdom, and the mummy of Ramses II. I'll look at them next.

The woman in the painting was the first blonde recorded in history, unless she wore a yellow headcloth with red ribbons. Will Cuppy said this about her in 1950:

"We do not know much about this blonde lady. It seems, though, that Hetepheres II, one of Khufu's daughters, was a blonde, perhaps the first of actual record. She is shown with bright yellow hair, striped horizontally with red, in a wall painting in the tomb of Meresankh III, and certain scholars draw the conclusion that she therefore must have had a mother with the same coloring -- probably a foreigner, since all the Egyptian women were brunettes. I am afraid those are the only facts available at present.
If you want to make trouble, of course, you can say that the picture does not prove either that Hetepheres II's hair was like that in real life or that her mother was a blonde who was buried in G I-b [the middle small pyramid, in front of the Great Pyramid at Giza--CK]. It does prove, rather neatly, that the artist who decorated the tomb of Meresankh III had some red and yellow paint."

(Source: Will Cuppy, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, pg. 14.)

The blond-Egyptian advocates cite Ramses II because his mummy appears in books all the time, and it has reddish-blond hair. Well, bear in mind that we credit Ramses with a reign of 67 years, one of the longest reigns anywhere. Even today, with modern medicine and figurehead monarchs who are no longer targets for assassination, very few heads of state can last that long; the only ones who have done it since 1900 were Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary (1848-1916), Sobhuza II of Swaziland (1899-1982), and Rama IX of Thailand (1946-2016). Assuming 67 years is the correct figure, Ramses would have been a very old man at the time of death, most likely in his late eighties or nineties. Thus his hair would more likely have been white or silver.

When I brought up this issue in my Egyptology class, the professor, Dr. Gaballa Ali Gaballa, argued that the great pharaoh must have colored his hair with henna, to make himself look younger. Nowadays this is a widespread practice wherever the herb-based paint is used, from North Africa to India. In fact, Lucille Ball used Egyptian henna late in her career, so that she would always be a redhead in the eyes of her fans. I think it is also possible that the pharaoh's hair could have been stained by natron or other chemicals during the embalming process; since the embalmers normally shaved their male subjects, we don't have that many ancient hair samples to compare with Ramses.

However, if Ramses really had light-colored hair, it could be because his family, the XIX dynasty, came from northern (Lower) Egypt. Asiatic foreigners, like the Hyksos and the Hebrews, settled in the eastern part of the Nile delta, the same place where the XIX-XXII dynasties placed the capital. Thus, it is quite possible that the Ramessids had some Asian ancestors in their family tree. Blondes aren't common in that part of the world, but they do appear from time to time. I've seen pictures of them in Lebanon, Israel, Iran, Turkey, and even Morocco. If they can pop up there, why not Egypt?

The plain truth is that ancient Egypt was a multi-racial society. Thanks to the practice of mummification, we have their actual bodies, so their race shouldn't be a question at all. Anthropologists have examined thousands of skeletons and mummies by now, and what they have found are the same types of people one sees in Egypt today: some white, some black, most brown. What's more, the handful of DNA tests done so far show a close connection between modern Egyptians and the ancient residents of the Nile valley, even during the Old Kingdom. To show how diverse they can be, compare one famous couple: the late president Anwar Sadat and his wife Jehan. Anwar was dark because he had a Nubian mother, while Jehan has such a light complexion that you could mistake her for a Greek or Italian. Why couldn't some ancient couples be the same?

We don't see much ethnic diversity in ancient Egyptian art, except when they tried to show us what non-Egyptians looked like. The reason is that for them, symbolism was far more important than reality. Men were painted with a red skin tone and women were painted white, because the men spent more time outdoors, and thus were expected to get a tan; compare the famous statue of an Old Kingdom couple, Prince Rahotep and Nofret. Children usually looked like miniature adults in their art, though we know that wasn't the case in real life. And with a few exceptions, all the pharaohs had to look alike. Never forget the symbolism factor when looking at any Egyptian portrait or statue. Overall I get the impression that one's skin color mattered less to the Egyptians than it does to us; if you accepted their culture, you were all right as far as they were concerned. I think the modern world can learn something from that.

If it turns out that I am wrong, and either the "black Egyptians" or the "blond Egyptians" theory is correct, I don't see how it's going to change our history much. I probably won't have to rewrite any of my history papers, for instance. So, to those who advocate such ideas, my response is: "So what?"

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