The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPeter Frost Archive
Skin Color and Egyptian/Nubian Encounters
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

In history, when was the first encounter between human groups that greatly differed in skin color? The first recorded contacts were probably between the copper-skinned Egyptians and the black-skinned Nubians, known as nehesy, who had pushed down the Nile valley from sub-Saharan Africa to the land of Kush, just south of the second cataract. How did the Egyptians view the darker skin of the nehesy? Did they see it as being of no importance? Or did they react more emotionally, even pathologically?

Adams (2006) sees this darker skin as contributing to a negative image:

The earliest image of Kush of which we have any historical record was a negative one. The southerners were the “inferior other” against whom ancient Egyptians chose to measure their own superiority; hence they commonly appended hieroglyphic characters to the name of Kush that have been variously translated as “miserable,” “wretched,” or “abominable.” For Egyptians, “wretched Kush” clearly had the same symbolic meaning as had “darkest Africa” for Europeans and Americans of the Victorian era.

In contrast, Snowden (1983) sees an absence of color prejudice, noting that many Nubians entered Egypt as laborers or soldiers. They were reputed for their military prowess, particularly as archers. Nonetheless, there seems to have been at least one attempt to limit their entry into Egypt, as attested by a boundary stele on the Nubian frontier:

Southern boundary that was made in year 8 under the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Khakaure, granted life for ever and ever, in order to prevent any Negro from passing it in faring downstream or journeying (?) with a boat, (and likewise) any cattle belonging to Negroes; excepting such Negro as may come to do barter in Iken or else on an embassy. Every good thing shall be done with them, yet without suffering any boat belonging to Negroes to pass downstream by Heh for ever. (Gardiner, 1916)

This text is problematic for two reasons. First, the word ‘Negro’ is used to translate nehesy (modern translations use ‘Nubian’). Although negative connotations were attached to nehesy, they may have been purely cultural in nature—the kind of scorn that is often felt toward rival peoples. It is not clear that ancient Egyptians reacted negatively to black skin per se.

Second, the motive is equally unclear. It is tempting to see the travel ban as a sort of influx control measure, such as once existed in South Africa. Yet there may have been other reasons. Snowden (1983, p. 22) simply sees an attempt to regulate traffic on the Nile.

Contemporary writings shed little light on this question. For one thing, the corpus of ancient Egyptian literature is quite limited. We know much more about how early Christians thought and felt because they were part of a cultural tradition that copied and recopied their writings up to the present day. The same was not true for the ancient Egyptians. Their cultural tradition was forgotten and even demonized by its Christian and Muslim successors, with the result that much detective work was needed to make their surviving hieroglyphic texts once more comprehensible.

For another thing, the ancient Egyptian language, like Sumerian and other early languages, functioned largely as a memory aid for key events and transactions. Not until the advent of Homeric Greek did people have a language that could truly express their inner thoughts and feelings.

We can gain more insight into this question by studying how Nubians were treated when significant numbers of them entered Egypt as laborers. Did spatial segregation persist between them and the indigenous working class? Is there evidence of assimilation? The anthropologist K. Godde (2009) tried to find an answer by studying cemeteries at Hierakonpolis in Egypt. The cemeteries were divided into three social classes, including one for the working class (HK43). Other cemeteries appeared to contain Nubian burials. When Godde analyzed the skeletal remains, he found no evidence of Nubian burials in the working-class cemetery or Egyptian burials in the Nubian cemeteries. A certain degree of spatial segregation thus seems to have persisted throughout the lives of these individuals. As Godde (2009) notes:

This biological analysis supports the differences in archaeological data between the Nubian cemeteries and HK43 and further substantiates the idea that Nubian workers were buried in separate cemeteries from Egyptians, regardless of Egyptian social status.

References

Adams, W.Y. (2006). The Kingdom and Civilization of Kush in Northeast Africa. In J.M. Sasson (Editor in chief) Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. (Vol. 2, pp. 775-789). Hendrickson Publishers.

Gardiner, A.H. (1916). An ancient list of the fortresses of Nubia. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 3, 184-192.

Godde, K. (2009) The working class at Hierakonpolis. Nubian or Egyptian? American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 138 (S48), 201, 78th Annual Meeting of the AAPA.

Snowden Jr., F.M. (1983). Before Color Prejudice. The Ancient View of Blacks. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press.

(Republished from Evo and Proud by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Egypt, Nubia, Physical Anthropology, Skin Color 
Hide 12 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
    []
  1. Rob says:

    Hi Peter,

    Off topic, If you haven’t seen it yet, there seems to be a correlation between lattitude and sex ratio. Fewer girls are born further from the equator.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/health/21sex.html?ref=science

  2. I’ve been following blacks in antiquity research for a while looking for clues to the historical onset of the intelligence difference. The cemetery method was mentioned by one scholar as a way to determine the “racism” of ancient Rome (that is, to determine if assimilated blacks attained a lower social status than other Romans; a possible proxy for intelligence):

    “[One] avenue of research could involve searching for more evidence concerning blacks in ancient Rome. One method could be the examination of ancient Roman tombstone inscriptions for Romans who were described as black or Aethiops. These inscriptions could contain information about black Romans’ social statuses, vocations, spouses, and children that would be vital in assessing what level of economic power and status Aethiopes reached in ancient Rome.”Both Frank Snowden and Bernard Lewis argue that beliefs about sub-Saharan intelligence didn’t start until some time later… perhaps the 7th century with the expansion of the African slave trade. (There may be a bit of circular reasoning on the parts of both authors though, as there is documentary evidence the belief goes back to antiquity (e.g. Galen), but they use this to argue these texts were interpolated to reflect views that came in the later period.) This is when David Goldenberg traces the association of black with slave in Islamic, Christian, and Jewish literature. In other words, the cross-culturally held perception is at least 1300 years old.

    Scholars agree that blacks since antiquity were viewed as more sexually virile: more promiscuous and with larger sex organs. In other words, the cross-culturally held perception is at least 2000+ years old.

  3. Rob,

    I’ll be writing a post about that study.

    Jason,

    It’s widely believed that most sub-Saharan Africans entered the Greco-Roman world as slaves, so I’m not sure that a cemetery study would prove much of anything.

    For what it’s worth, early Christian literature indicates low status. In the Acts of Peter, a black woman is dressed in filthy rags and has an iron collar and chains. In the Acts of Thomas, Satan is depicted as a black man wearing dirty clothing. Low social status is also suggested by a secondary meaning ascribed to Aethiopia in Late Latin. In one of his exegeses, Ambrose noted that “the meaning of Ethiopia in Latin is ‘lowly and vile’.” He concluded, “What is more lowly, what is more like Ethiopia, than our bodies, blackened, too, by the darkness of sin?”

    You make an interesting point with respect to stereotypes. In Antiquity, blacks are described frequently as macrophallic, yet rarely as unintelligent. Could it be that the IQ gap was narrower back then?

    On the one hand, mean Greco-Roman IQ may have been only about 90 or so. This would be in line with Greg Cochran’s thinking: mean IQs in the 100+ range seem to be a recent evolutionary development.

    On the other hand, most blacks entering the Greco-Roman world were Nubians who, by the time of Christ, had been acculturated by the Egyptians for some two millennia. They would have already been exposed to selection pressures for literacy, compliance with time scheduling, and navigation in a milieu characterized by state formation and social stratification.

    All of this may have changed by the dawn of the Islamic era. Black slaves were being recruited from locations further into sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, the Christian and Islamic worlds, with their emphasis on study of the Bible/Koran, may have increased selection for ability to process written texts within a much larger percentage of the population.

  4. Tod says:

    Nubian rule as the 25th dynasty (ca770-656)is easier to understand if they had been exposed to selection pressures for literacy, compliance with time scheduling, and navigation in a milieu characterized by state formation and social stratification” for a millennia.
    Semen Displacement as a Sperm Competition Strategy in Humans“A longer penis would not only have been an advantage for leaving semen in a less accessible part of the vagina, but by filling and expanding the vagina it also would aid and abet the displacement of semen left by other males as a means of maximizing the likelihood of paternity.”

    This kind of competition is different from the selection for male-male competition for mates that said to have resulted in black Africans evolving. The size in pygmies equals that of black Africans according to Racial Adaptations It may be that first prize goes to pygmies in a relative sense not for brains though.

    Brainpower was increased by the need for courtship and social grooming. A older stategy by pygmies?

  5. Tod says:

    “Human pygmies do not appear to have evolved through positive selection for small stature—this was a by-product of selection for early onset of reproduction.” here mean Greco-Roman IQ may have been only about 90 or so. This would be in line with Greg Cochran’s thinking: mean IQs in the 100+ range seem to be a recent evolutionary Wouldn’t this put the the IQ in parts of

  6. Tod says:

    (cont.)
    mean Greco-Roman IQ may have been only about 90 or so.
    If so the barbarians in parts of Northern Europe never civilized by Rome would have had still lower average IQs, under 90.

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Tod, about your link

    “To test this hypothesis, Gallup, Burch, Zappieri, Parvez, Stockwell, and Davis (2003) simulated sexual encounters using artificial models and measured the magnitude of artificial semen displacement as a function of phallus configuration, depth of thrusting, and semen viscosity.”

    and so on and so on, like “Can a female be pregnant from a male she never had sex with ? we believe the answer is yes…”

    Are these people funded to do that kind of research ?
    Can you imagine the grant application:

    “…semen displacement will be measured by using artificial models…”

    Bunch of sick people. Give me back my taxes !!

    RG

  8. N/a says: • Website

    “If so the barbarians in parts of Northern Europe never civilized by Rome would have had still lower average IQs, under 90.”

    Quite possibly true in the specific case of your ancestors.

    Roman cities were poulation sinks, and the Roman upper class certainly failed to replace itself from late Republican times onward. I’ve seen nothing to indicate Roman “civilization” would have meant selection for higher IQ in subject populations, nor is there the slightest reason to believe Northern European “barbarians” ever had lower IQs than Romans.

    If we’re going to speculate about ancient IQs, the scenario laid by Michael Hart has the benefit of at least being plausible.

  9. Tod says:

    The Romans knew how to breed pigs, pigs reverted to a long legged and long snouted type in Britain after they left. Low IQ slaves would be a liability so I doubt they were given the same opportunities to reproduce. Moreover slave owners would often father children with female slaves.

    So, whatever the average of those inside the Roman Empire area Europeans outside it may well have averaged lower . This entails an average of under around 90 which, (to be clear), I find a bit hard to believe myself.

  10. LG says:

    “For another thing, the ancient Egyptian language, like Sumerian and other early languages, functioned largely as a memory aid for key events and transactions. Not until the advent of Homeric Greek did people have a language that could truly express their inner thoughts and feelings”
    From someone with decades of experience in studying and teaching both Egyptian literature and language, as well as Greek and Latin literature, this sounds like absolute twaddle. And of a racist nature. It would be nice to know who to blame for this ignorant notion.
    Egyptian literature is quite capable expressing “inner thoughts and feelings” as any decent translation will show.

Current Commenter
says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Peter Frost Comments via RSS