Were the Ancient Egyptians Black or White ? The race controversy

Were the Ancient Egyptians Black or White ? The race controversy

Black or White: A History of the Biological Anthropology of Ancient Egypt

Few peoples have raised as many questions in the scholarly world as the Egyptian people. Long described as the people who enabled the transition from barbarism to civilization, the people of ancient Egypt have certainly been a privileged object of Western curiosity, as if the most distant past formed the most powerful roots of our present. Linguistics, paleontology, physical anthropology and, above all, Egyptology - as a specialization of archaeology - have contributed, each in their own way, to making Egypt - its past and its people - the topos of the "emergence" of civilization.

Each scientific discipline interested in Egypt's past has tried to bring it back to life according to new archaeological discoveries, but physical anthropology and, to a lesser extent, ethnography, had the particularity of claiming to explain the facts of the past through the observation of the present. Ethnography thus aimed to study the persistence of the past through rites and beliefs, technology or social organization, while physical anthropology studied the continuity and somatic ruptures between present and past peoples.

While physical anthropology of the past century showed that there were often very pronounced morphological differences between groups of individuals who were far apart or living in different ecosystems, it was only able to explain the cause of variability between populations through the phenomenon of interbreeding; generally, it was content to insist on the visibility of a particular biological character (skull shape, stature, skin color, or hair shape) that masked the actual biological variability existing within populations. Hence the illusion of a biological unity of the populations studied and the belief that the human species could be divided into taxa composed of similar individuals, linked together by a common origin. The racial classifications of Egyptian populations proposed in the nineteenth century by the anthropologists were therefore based mainly on morphological characters

A century later, biological anthropology will formulate explanatory models that will seek above all to understand the processes of stabilization of gene pools4 - genetic anthropology and demographic anthropology - and of adaptation to the biotope - physiological anthropology -, abandoning the genealogical question that was then central.
Generally speaking, it can be considered that anthropology used the study of Egyptian physical types both to solve "knowledge" problems that had nothing to do with Egypt and to determine the origin of Egyptian civilization. This concern has proved to be the most fertile source of polemics to date; however, the various theoretical formulations to which it leads are not independent of strictly disciplinary uses.From a disciplinary point of view, the ancient Egyptian has always been of great importance for anthropology; thus, polygenists used them - the "material" consisted then of ancient skulls - to try to demonstrate the antiquity of the separation between racial types. Another question that fascinated and seemed to puzzle anthropologists of the past century was how much analogy contemporary peoples had with those of antiquity. In the case of Egypt, the question was whether the blood of the ancient Egyptians had reached us unscathed or whether, on the contrary, according to a generally accepted thesis based on the genealogical principle, the traces of the invading peoples - in this case, essentially morphological in nature - were inscribed in their biological identity.

From the point of view of interest in Egypt itself, physical anthropology will have, from the mid-nineteenth century, the ambitious project of being an alternative to the lack of archaeological and epigraphic documents, that is to say, of being an instrument of prime necessity for history. However, the majority of historians will consider that physical anthropology "has unfortunately so far given much less results than was expected of it for modern times as well as for the most remote eras. In spite of the enormous number of works published to date, we have no solid natural classification of the recent human races and, a fortiori, we cannot have one for the ancient races, about which observations are all the more sparse and doubtful the older the type is".

This opinion is of course contradicted by physical anthropologists themselves; thus for Chantre, "the ethnogeny of Egypt, the foundations of which were largely laid - it must be acknowledged - by philologists and archaeologists, did not really enter a phase of progress until the day when naturalists gave them the support of their method and their activity.
The hypotheses formulated on the ethnogenesis of the Egyptian populations were based first on the accounts of ancient authors and then on the descriptions of modern travelers. The narratives of the Ancients - Herodotus, Diodorus of Sicily, Strabo, and Manetho - have long been regarded as undisputed and indisputable sources of information. The Bible (Genesis and Exodus) was regarded as a scientific source. The Bible was considered to be a scientific source. Among modern travelers, the most famous is undoubtedly Consul Benedict de Maillet , whose Description of Egypt (1735) is much more than a simple travel story: it is a true attempt to synthesize the country. Describing the Egyptian population, he mentions "the Copts, who are the naturals of the country, the Moors, Arabs, Turks, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, Syrians, Maronites, and the Francs. ». This leads him to conclude, with some insight, that "the Egyptians of today are different from the ancient people.

Unlike Benedict de Maillet, who was enthusiastic about Egypt, Volney had an extremely pessimistic view of the "East"; he saw misery and decadence above all. But what is, of course, essential in Volney's narratives is that he sees the "Negro" element as the foundation of the brilliant Egyptian civilization,14 making him, for some contemporary writers, a precursor of Diop. The "Negro" element is, of course, also essential in Volney's narratives . Others will make them descend from a Celtic colony or from Polynesia or even China.

Theories on Egyptian Ethnogeneity in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century


The French expedition to Egypt left with projects of different kinds: some political-military, others scientific Surgeon and member of the Egyptian expedition, Dr. Larrey attempted to paint a picture of the contemporary Egyptian population based on its "racial" composition. To do so, he used the classification and ethnogenesis proposed by Volney in 1787, which divided the Egyptian population into four "classes": the "Mamluks", the "Turks", the "Arabs", and the "Qobtes ". However, he made some modifications to the origin of the Copts, which he believed to be the true Egyptians, descendants of the Abyssinians and Ethiopians, as Herodotus claimed, and not "negroes of the interior of Africa, " as Volney believed, when he asserted that "the ancient Egyptians were true negroes of the species of all the naturals of Africa.

We can see that it was especially important for Larrey to oppose Volney's theory that "black men have an intelligence of the white species, " a revolutionary theory if ever there was one, and one that will be, as we shall see later, strongly opposed by polygenists. For the scholars of the early nineteenth century, like Larrey, the intellectual superiority of the white man was so obvious that any creation of a cultural order, such as the monuments of Egypt, could only be attributed to Europeans , at least to peoples sharing the same origin as the populations of Europe. Thus we see the Egyptian following the Assyrian in the slow march toward "civilization. He is, according to Champollion, Lepsius or Rougé, of Caucasian race, of Asian origin, and becomes in a way a prototype of the white "race", the one that "has always been at work to advance in the knowledge of the invisible world and in the possession of the visible world ". This opinion, although dominant in the scholarly world, nevertheless had its detractors. Thus, for Bory de St-Vincent, a radical polygenist, the Ancient Egyptians came from the south and their civilization was merely an expression of "hatred of foreigners (...) and sedentary life.

The first craniometric work on the ancient populations of Egypt is that of the American Samuel Morton , Crania aegyptica, published in Philadelphia and London in 1844, and which will become a reference work. For Morton, the ancient populations of the Nile Valley belonged to the Caucasian race - although affiliated with the Libyan branch -, their morphology seeming to him to be intermediate between that of the Indo-Europeans and that of the Semites. The modern Coptic would be a mixture of the Caucasian and the Negro, while today's fellahs would be the most direct and pure descendants of the ancient Egyptians. They would belong to the Libyan branch in which we find the Tuaregs, the Kabyles and the Chleus. With this theory, based on craniological observation, Morton was opposed to the German anthropologist Blumenbach who had given a description of all the endogenous Egyptian races from the engravings decorating ancient monuments. In fact, according to Morton (1844), the description proposed by Blumenbach would concern only the "races" known to the Egyptians. Morton's hypothesis that fellah was the sole descendant of the ancient Egyptian population was quickly rejected; as early as 1850, the English anthropologist Knox claimed that modern Copts were also descended from the ancient Egyptians. The modern Copts were also descended from the ancient Egyptians. Morton himself reversed his own conclusions.

Courtet de Lisle uses Morton's craniological classification but offers an original interpretation of it. Courtet de Lisle's Egyptian ethnogenesis will thus see the ruling castes of ancient Egypt appear to be of Indo-Germanic origin, a position strongly moderated by another author, Jehan de Saint-Clavien, who noted in the same skulls a "form peculiar to the very ancient civilized races, I mean the oval form", but also "a rapprochement with the African character".Courtet de Lisle's ethnogenetic classification of the skulls was also based on the fact that they were of Indo-Germanic origin.

The French anthropological school and Egypt


Since the creation of the Anthropological Society of Paris, its members have been interested in the still obscure fields of Egyptology. In 1861, Pruner bey began research on the ethnogenesis of the Egyptian race. Using the series of skulls provided by Quatrefages and completed by those provided by the Egyptologist Prisse d'Avenne, he was able to distinguish two types. The first, called "fine," supposed to represent the ancient indigenous populations of Egypt, is only established from a "series" of four skulls. Therefore, in order to be able to carry out the anthropometry of the ancient Egyptians, Pruner bey had to resort to anthropological information provided by ancient figures and present-day populations, because "the mummies did not offer the characters of the fine type in all their purity. Thanks to these methodological precautions, he finds that the "fine" type corresponds of course to Copts... but also to fellahs. Unfortunately for the demonstration he hoped to achieve, the second type, called "coarse", is also found among Copts and fellahs. In reality, Pruner bey, who in fact demonstrates nothing, intended to confirm Retzius' theory that there was a strong correlation between cranial morphology and the degree of evolution, the fine, rounded or oval shapes alone marking the aptitude for "civilization". The physical type of the ancient Egyptian - the "thin" type - also resembled that of the present-day Berber, and Pruner bey saw this as evidence of a common membership in the great Libyan lineage. According to him, this theory would be confirmed by linguistics, in this case by an analogy between modern Berber idioms and ancient Coptic. This analogical approach could even have been taken further, since the "ancient Egyptian" physical type is also, according to him, close to Aryan Hindu. However, due to a lack of linguistic correspondence, he abandoned this theory which, if he had adopted it, would have testified in favor of Aryan colonization. The identification of two quite distinct types posed a problem for Pruner bey in that it invalidated the thesis of the unity of the Egyptian "race. Ethnogenetically, he hesitated to make a distinction between a form of crossbreeding with the Negro element and the existence of a primitive race, prior to the formation of the Libyan branch. Faidherbe, who absolutely wanted the Berbers to be of European origin, criticized this conception implying the existence of a common indigenous population base in North Africa, until he made a trip to Egypt that showed him "a great analogy between the Fellahs and the Berbers.

In 1861, Larrey's son-in-law, Périer, set out to answer Pruner bey's theory about the Libyan origin of the Egyptians. There is no doubt in his mind that Egyptian civilization "is of its own making. Egyptian "race" and civilization are indigenous, and even if they were not, the focus should be on India rather than Libya. But Périer, in the same year, rejected this Asian hypothesis in favor of an African one: "It was neither from the East nor the West, but from the South that the Egyptians brought their civilization. The anthropological "theory" - which was not yet Volney's point of view - of an "African-Negroid" Egyptian civilization was later taken up by many authors such as Sergi, Zaborowski and, more recently, Diop who made it the official theory of African historians. Périer, not very concerned with coherent scientific demonstrations since he had just rejected the Libyan thesis, insists on the fact that, among the current populations of Egypt, only the Copts remain comparable to the ancient Egyptians and the Berbers: there would thus be no anthropological unity within the Egyptian population. We shall see that this theory, already put forward by Mariette bey, was used again forty years later, but in a more elaborate way, by Ernest Chantre.

In 1886, Doctor Hamy presented to the Anthropological Society of Paris a communication listing a series of considerations on the races of the lower Nile valley, a communication that turns out to be a real attack on the hypotheses of Volney and Périer consecrating the "Negro" as the builder of Egyptian civilization. For Hamy, if "the Fellah has always remained the same", the Coptic, on the other hand, "a type without character because he has them all, a people without past as well as without future, a bastard and degenerate product " , cannot be considered as the heir of the Ancient Egyptians under the sole pretext that the ancient language survived in the liturgy. Like Larrey, he refused to see any Negroid influence in the Egyptian race, although they both noted a significant presence of Blacks in Egypt: "The facts known to us since Dynasty 6 prove that the millions of Blacks abducted from the Sudan disappeared without a trace in the land of the Pharaohs. " He also quickly refutes the relevance of the Ancients' descriptions: "The best solution, in my opinion, would be to say that Egypt was the country where the Greeks saw the inhabitants of the interior of Africa more easily. (...) They regarded them as part of the indigenous population. »

It was, in fact, appropriate to exclude radically from negritude the representatives of the "Egyptian genius" according to the paradigm, then dominant, according to which the great civilizations could only be associated with the Caucasoid type. This position was criticized at the time by an author such as Firmin, but this criticism did not fit well with the ideology of the time. Scientific discourse was not always so clear-cut, however, and the domination of a theory should not be confused with the existence of a true theoretical monism; thus Gabriel de Mortillet brought from Africa the iron indispensable to the blossoming of Egyptian civilization and noted: "It is thus to Africa inhabited by Negroes that Egypt is indebted for its remarkable civilization " , while noting, as a polygenist, that "the Negro populations are inferior to the white populations ". This argument will be taken up again later by Naville in his article on the African origin of Egyptian civilization.

This can only further underline the importance anthropologists gave to genealogical principles: ethnogeny and filiation made it possible to find lines of continuity between populations of the past and those of today. Answers that were not provided by craniological measurement were then to be found in the interpretation of ancient paintings or by means of comparative ethnography. This is what Owen undertook by using ethnographic elements (objects such as the boomerang, social behaviour, circumcision...) and elements of comparative anatomy (dentition, mode of muscular attachment) to show the level of interbreeding of the Ancient Egyptians with the Syrian-Aramatics, the aborigines of Australia and those of the Adaman Islands. However, a distinction is made, thanks to comparative anatomy, between the dominant classes of the country, represented by statues - "the general character of the face recalls that of the northern german " -, and the other classes, which are always described as having a "coarse" character and would be of southern origin.

Ernest Chantre's research


In the introduction to his work, Emest Chantre rightly noted that "while the ancient populations of Egypt have been much studied by philologists, archaeologists, and even anthropologists, the same is not true of the present populations. They certainly attracted the attention of travelers, but when they were neither learned physicians nor informed naturalists, they were most often neglected. Chantre's work is imposing: it represents more than twenty years of work. The work is presented in two parts: the first offers a synthesis on ancient populations based on the paintings, but also on the measurements and observations made on the bones (based on Morton's work); the second part presents the anthropology of present-day Egyptian populations, understood in a very broad sense: Egyptians (Copts and Fellahs), Bedouin Arabs, Bedja (Ethiopians or Nubians), Eastern Sudanese (Chillouk, Dinka, Nouer, Chadians, Nubians).

With regard to the Egyptians as he defines them (Copts and fellahs), Chantre's proposal is simple; the opposition that can be observed between Copts and fellahs is not racial, since they would form one and the same "Egyptian race"; it is simply linguistic and religious. Thus, in his commentary on the book, Manouvrier notes that the photographs and measurements of Copts and fellahs bear a "very great resemblance. This hypothesis had already been put forward by the monogenist anthropologist Omalius d'Alloy as well as by the Egyptologist Mariette bey , but the originality of Chantre (from his point of view as well as from the point of view of the history of the discipline) is that he wanted to demonstrate this unity through anthropometry: "It should be noted that most of those who have studied the ethnogenesis of Egypt have always confused the question of the origin of race and that of civilization. For me, concerned here mainly with ethnology - while taking into account the multiple data of ethnography - I am more willing to give precedence to the results of anthropometry. " Chantre poses an extremely important problem for the time: the independence that might exist (against, for example, the narrow determinism of Retzius' theory) between a "race" and its "civilization", in a word, the autonomy of the cultural from the biological. In conclusion of his work , it emerges that :
- the ancient and modern Egyptian types present a remarkable unity and the invasions "had no influence on the type";
- the resemblance with the Berbers proves "not a filiation, but a community of origin";
- this origin is indigenous to the Egyptians, and they must presumably be related to those whom ancient historians have called "Libyans;
- Egyptian civilization is therefore indigenous, as is the people who created it.

This conclusion, therefore, rejects any migration to Egypt of exogenous peoples with "genius," whether from the north (Caucaso-centric hypothesis) or from the south (Afro-centric hypothesis). It thus takes up - without quoting it - Sergi's thesis on the Mediterranean "race " , a thesis that makes the Mediterranean a center and no longer a periphery fecundated by the northern "genius". It also takes up - without quoting it - Sergi's thesis on the Mediterranean "race ".

Physical anthropology in Egypt during the first half of the 20th century


When England placed Egypt under British trusteeship (1882), British physical anthropological works developed, and their presence was not significant until the beginning of the twentieth century (Randall-Maciver, 1900; Myers, 1905, etc.). At that time, the productions of the French or Italian schools were much more important. The first British "synthesis" work is due to Randall-Maciver who intends to establish, on the basis of some craniometric indices and engravings, that it was unlikely that the Ancient Egyptians had a Negroid or European origin. Their origin would have been in Asia or, more likely, northwest Africa, and they would bear a strong resemblance to the modern Kabyle. This theory, which was already that of Pruner bey, was taken up again the following year by Petrie, who, while going in the same direction, rejected the Mesopotamian hypothesis. What marks the beginning of the twentieth century is the domination of theses centered on autochnony to the detriment of earlier theses, which were based mainly - as we have just seen - on the idea of migration, of exogenous cultural and biological contributions. While the works of Thomson and Randafl-Maciver and their commentary by Tonnini continue to insist on a clear racial duality in Ancient Egypt between the Negroid and Caucasoid races, the works of Rinders Petrie and Myers as well as the criticisms of Keith against Thomson and Randall-Maciver will insist on a greater complexity of reality, believing that several morphological types would have coexisted. Admittedly, the duality of types remains, but it would be governed by external genetic influences , crossbreeding (or the influence of the environment for some) which would explain the internal variability of the population, and no longer the migration of entire populations.

When Myers , inspired by Pearson's statistical methods, began to work on the Egyptian population, he felt a certain embarrassment in studying the craniometric series at his disposal: the Cairo sample he was working on had a very high standard deviation, similar to an extremely heterogeneous reference sample comprising Australian, Eskimo, Chinese, etc. skulls. Embarrassed by this lack of specificity, he studied a population living around the Nakada site in the same region of the Valley of the NiIe as did their Nakada ancestors about 5000 B. C. ", and will then find that there is no essential craniometric difference between the ancient and modern populations of Upper Egypt. But, because the biometric method will have enabled him to note differences between Copts and Fellahs , he will reject Chantre's conclusions on the relative "racial" homogeneity of the Egyptian population.

Myers' interpretation is given in the general conclusion of his study. He speaks of a regular increase in negroid characters as one moves away from the Mediterranean (which may seem very logical), proving (obviously) the ancient presence of two "races", one negroid and the other Mediterranean or Libyan, which would have undergone a mixing - even if "tne Copts are relatively less negroid than the Moslems " -, which would explain the present homogeneity of the population. Thus, and contrary to his expectations, anthropometric characteristics have not been able to show that the Egyptian population "past or present, is composed of several different races ". Myers acknowledges that prior to these results, he had a diametrically opposed opinion because he believed in a very clear-cut opposition of biological traits within this Egyptian population.

Returning to the question of ancient mixing between highly differentiated populations, Morant, in his study of Egyptian craniology between prehistory and the Roman period, noted the initial presence of two well-differentiated physical types occupying respectively the north and south of the country and forming the extreme types of the Egyptian population. However, if the Lower Egyptian type did not change between the Old Kingdom and the Ptolemy period, the Upper Egyptian type would have changed to a middle type between two extremes. Morant would explain this phenomenon by the action of environment or interbreeding.

The theory of the brown Mediterranean race


At the same time, anthropologists from southern Europe, such as the Italian Sergi, were engaged in anthropological research on the unity of a "brown" or "Mediterranean" race, of which Egypt, then Greece and Rome, would have been the places of intellectual fulfilment. The "brown race" taxon proposed by Sergi, taken up by Guiffrida-Ruggeri and by many others , proves to be hybrid from its conception because, if it implements a "scientific" methodology, it is almost only to settle an ideological question. It is a question, as Macgaffey points out, of countering the theory of a "superior" Aryan race by contrasting it with a Mediterranean race that is the progenitor of the great ancient civilisations. Like other biological explanations of social and cultural phenomena, the brown Mediterranean "race" will not provide a satisfactory scientific explanation, since it only aimed to take up the discourse of the specialists of Antiquity and transfer it to the field of biology.

For other scholars such as the German Hartmann, generally opposed to the theories of his Germanic colleagues, "no important physical evidence can lead one to presume a Semitic origin of the Egyptians " : the primitive type of population would have been significantly transformed by the addition of Persians, Greeks, Syro-Arabs and Negritian elements. Hence the idea of a kind of differential interbreeding, of a closer contact with Egypt's neighboring populations for the fellahs, while the Copts would have been more closed in on themselves. Some French Egyptologists such as Lenormant or Maspero already had a more fact-based conception when they put forward the theory of Mediterranean-African settlement. They insisted on the morphological continuity that the Egyptians presented with neighbouring populations, which amounted to definitively rejecting any theory of an exogenous people who had brought with them the Egyptian genius.

Genetic Markers and Population Mixing


The discovery of genetic markers dates back to Lansteiner and the first work on the Egyptian population was that of Sousha, published in 1928 , in which he found no significant differences between Muslim and Coptic samples. Parr will confirm these results from another Egyptian sample and show that there is a hemotypological heterogeneity between Egyptians and Arabs of the Middle East. For the ND system as for the ABO system, Boyd & Boyd will find no significant difference between Copts and Muslims in the city of Cairo; the only differences will be observed in hair and iris color and skin tone; the same remarks apply between the two groups living in the city of Asyut.

Ammar's work on Sharqiyya province, a north-eastern province of Egypt, in turn shows an important influence of the "Arab" element in the gene pool and in the morphology of the population of this region. The work of Ammar on Sharqiyya province, a north-eastern province of Egypt, shows a significant influence of the "Arab" element in the gene pool and in the morphology of the population of this region. Batrawi will propose a synthesis based on the work of various authors - Chantre, Boyd & Boyd, Ammar, Matta, Sousha... - based on serological and anthropometric data. He will take up Morant's hypotheses, noting both a great biological homogeneity of the Egyptian people and differentiated genotypes and morphotypes between the most geographically distant populations, i.e. those of Upper and Lower Egypt. Dart will lead to opposite results for ancient periods since, on a sample of 3,000 ancient skulls, he distinguishes 9 racial types. Falkenburger also finds great heterogeneity in the measurements of 1,800 Egyptian skulls. Based on clues about the shape of the face, nose, and orbits, Falkenburger divides the ancient Egyptians into four types - cro-magnon type, negroid type, Mediterranean type, and mixed type, a mixture of the first three; he emphasizes the African influence in ancient Egypt by showing that more "negroid" elements were found in ancient burials than in recent ones. Falkenburger's analysis of the skulls of the ancient Egyptians also reveals a great deal of heterogeneity in the measurements of 1,800 Egyptian skulls.

The global haematological data were analyzed by Mourant's team, which shows for Egypt an ethnogenesis having as its cradle of origin a place located somewhere towards Palestine. The most recent phylogenetic analyses place the Egyptians in the "Berber" genetic subset, close to the Libyans, Tunisians and Bedouins.

Studies of human morphology since the middle of the century


 Since the last war, little biological anthropological work has been done on contemporary Egyptian populations. We may cite Mitwalli's work on oasis populations, Rife's work on the dermatoglyphs of the population

Egyptian or those of the Egyptian-Polish expedition on a heterogeneous sample of 678 adult Egyptians. Mitwalli gathers a sample of 1082 men belonging to 5 oases (Siwa, Baharia, Farafra, Dakhia and Kharga) and observes, on the basis of morphological data, a process of crossbreeding between Libyans and natives of the oases that is very important in the north - particularly Siwa - and much weaker in the south. For his part, Michalski, a Polish anthropologist with the Egyptian-Polish mission, noted a great heterogeneity in the Egyptian population; he attempted to identify the different "raciological" contributions: he found a "Berber" contribution representing 21% of the population, a "Mediterranean" contribution representing 19% and an "Eastern" contribution equivalent to 17%. For the rest, there is, in fourth place, a "northern" factor, difficult to detect since it is in fact Aegeans who are strongly mixed with native Egyptians and, in fifth place, the influence of the "armenoid" element. The "negroid" influence would only come later. For this author, Egypt is a privileged domain of white "race" varieties that would enter predominantly, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in the "raciological" composition of modern Egyptians, long before the Asian or African contribution.

This hierarchy of contributions must nevertheless be qualified by two remarks: on the one hand, the author explains in the preamble that the anthropological structure of Egypt is extremely complex and that, moreover, its sampling is rather small; how, then, can he detect the influence of 14 "racial groups ? On the other hand, while acknowledging having underestimated the "raciological" influence of the black African element in a previous work , he does not give it more prominence in this one. His conclusions go in the same direction as those of Wiercinski, who did not accord a large place to the "negroid" element in the "racial" composition of Ancient Egypt but showed, on the contrary, the importance of Hamitic, Mediterranean, Eastern and Armenian influences, with, in addition, the presence of morphological elements coming from a "yellow race" that he brought from the western part of Central Asia. The introduction of statistical analysis methods that are more sophisticated than simple means and variances on skull series may show both a great biological homogeneity of the populations of Ancient Egypt and a south-north gradient of "negroid" influence. But despite its position between Africa, Asia and Europe and the genetic mixing it seems to have been marked by, the Egyptian population would keep remarkably constant the great characters of its morphology.



Any criticism of the history of a discipline implies the recognition of the otherness of the past, thereby preventing any anachronistic value judgment. As far as "raciological" studies of Egypt are concerned, one might have thought that the debate on the question of the contribution of the "negro" to "civilization" was a 19th century anthropological debate. The debate on the contribution of the "negro" to "civilization" was a 19th century anthropological debate. It was, in fact, a logical debate at a time marked by a very strong biological determinism and by a Eurocentric ideology. In the case of Egypt, it was difficult for the majority of historians and anthropologists to accept the presence of "negroid" biological characteristics among the creative peoples of Mediterranean civilisations. In the phantasms of 19th century Western scholars, the Copts found themselves descendants of a population that had produced a glorious past that could only be fully realized in the absolute rejection of "black" influence.

However, this debate is not over and various research continues on this theme. The profound nature - that which would be situated in its biological identity - of the Egyptian population remains under the spotlight of science (and ideology) with the positions of the "diopians "and the "anti-diopians ". The debate seems to be situated both on a historical level - with the problem of the cultural contribution of African peoples to the emergence of civilizations - and on a biological level - with that of the identity (white or black) of the ancient Egyptians. On this last point, biological anthropology is constantly being challenged: recently, an article undertook to refute the hypohesis expressed by an Afrocentric American school of thought explaining that Blacks (including the Ancient Egyptians) would be superior to Whites on the physical, intellectual and supra-normal levels thanks to the specific action of melanin. Thus, biological determinism, driven out through one door, enters through another. This does not mean that we should start taking social objects for biological objects again, i.e., reconstructing a paradigm analogous to that of typological anthropology, which anthropobiology had deconstructed thanks to the discoveries of population genetics.

Translated from the article of Gilles Boëtsch / CNRS - Université de la Méditerranée – Marseille

Gilles Boëtsch, « Noirs ou blancs : une histoire de l'anthropologie biologique de l’Égypte », Égypte/Monde arabe,Première série, 24 | 1995, mis en ligne le 15 mars 2016, consulté le 11 mars 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ema/643 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/ema.643

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