Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 6: The Whitening of Ancient Kemet/Egypt

Egyptology and Scientific Racism cont.

People To Know

Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop (Dec. 29, 1923 – 7 Feb. 1986) was a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist, and a politician who studied the human race's origins and pre-colonial African culture. He successfully proved that the ancient Egyptians were Black Africans.
In addition to using skulls, monuments, and Biblical tales to counter Herodotus’ claims of a black Egyptian civilization, Morton argued that the eyewitness account of Ptolemy, published in the 2nd century, A.C.E., was far more reliable. More than 500 years after Herodotus, Ptolemy recorded geographical accounts of the Egyptian population. For Morton, the demographics were “ample evidence” of a non-Black origin. It was appalling for an educated scholar to suggest that the people of Egypt remained virtually the same over a period of 500 years or more. Just as the U.S. population in 2014 does not reflect the nation’s demographics in 1514, the people who occupied Egypt after periods of foreign invasion and decline were not the same people who built the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Morton was not alone in his determination to establish Egypt as a Caucasian civilization. In 1851, Irish writer John Campbell dismissed African origins of Ancient Egypt in his book, Negro-mania: Being an Examination of the Falsely Assumed Equality of the Various Races of Men. He explained:

There is one great difficulty, and to my mind an insurmountable one, which is that the advocates of the Negro civilization of Egypt do not attempt to account for, how this civilization was lost. We know that the white never loses, but always gains. A nation or tribe of the white race may become extinct, from a variety of causes, but the civilization of the race progresses notwithstanding. Egypt progressed, and why, because it was Caucasian.

The study of ancient Egypt is inherently a study of how Western scholars have used race to control how we understand the past—and present. Despite the absurdity of Morton’s many theories, he was widely respected and his racist ideas had a lasting impact on science, history, and politics. These racist theories by leading scholars were used to justify slavery, colonialism, and other forms of oppression.

Egyptology and Eugenics

Scientific racism continued to undergird Egyptology over the course of the nineteenth century. British archeologist W. M. Flinders Petrie, a pioneer in the field, led some of the most significant excavations in the Nile Valley region in the 1880s and 1890s. His discoveries were groundbreaking in terms of recovering ancient Egyptian knowledge, culture, and architecture. In fact, W.E.B. DuBois believed Petrie’s findings supported a Black origin of Egyptian civilization, and he invited Petrie to serve as a board member for a major project to produce an encyclopedia of African history. Yet, Petrie’s interpretations of ancient Egyptian history differed from DuBois’ views in significant ways. Petrie was less explicit in his belief in white racial superiority, but he continued the work of earlier scientists through careful classification of the Ancient Egyptians into different races or “types,” which perpetuated a hierarchy of humankind and a non-African origin of Egyptian civilization.

According to Petrie, the depictions of ancient Egyptians inside of tombs indicated the presence of at least three races: “an acquiline race” with a slender nose, a “snouty race typical of the lower classes,” and a “large eyed race,” all of which demonstrated to Petrie that the Ancient Egyptians were not descendants of a single source in Africa. Rather, Petrie suggested the Egyptians were conquered by an “invading race…a high class race” that migrated to Egypt from the Red Sea. Similar to Morton’s theories, Petrie described the Egyptians as “a kindred race to the Phoenicians” and claimed the invading “Dynastic race” was responsible for Egypt’s unparalleled achievements.




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