The Ancient Egyptians are perhaps one of the greatest civilizations in ancient history. For most of human history, it has been assumed that modern day’s Egyptians are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians but there has never been substantial evidence to back up or disprove this claim. However, recent research might shed some new light onto this historical inquiry.
Genetics Researchers examine Ancient Egyptian DNA
In 2017, researchers from the University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute of Human History organized a team to analyze the genetic material of some ancient Egyptian mummies. Advancements in the field of genetics meant that finally they could examine the origins of one of the most studied peoples in human history.
The team’s goal was to test whether the conquest of Alexander the Great and other foreign invasions had left a genetic imprint on the ancient Egyptian population. To do so, they planned to analyze DNA from Egyptian mummies dating from around 1400 BCE and 400 CE.
This team of scientists examined DNA from around 151 mummies from the archaeological site Abusir-el-Meleq which rests along the Nile. While they ere unable to gather genetic material from all the mummies’, they were able to isolate mitochondrial genomes from 90 individuals (material needed to develop their genetic make-up).
Study finds Ancient Egyptians to be genetically more Arab/European
The material they found was ground-breaking. The researchers discovered that the genetic make-up was more closely relatable to those of ancient populations in modern day Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon as well as some European populations. Hach, leader of the Max Planch Institute, stated that this community did not undergo any major genetic change during the 1300-year timespan they examined, suggesting little to no change by foreign colonization and rule.
In fact, the Sub-Saharan African genetic make up of modern Egypt’s population can be attributed to changes that occurred long after this period. The data shows that modern Egyptians share 8% more ancestry on an average level with Sub-Saharan Africans than did the ancient Egyptians. If the ancient Egyptians were to be direct ancestors of any modern ethnic group, the data would show them to be Turkish.
The team who conducted this study were ecstatic to extract a reliable source of DNA from Egyptian mummies and were confident this could contribute to a greater understanding of Egyptian historical lineage. In addition, the breakthroughs in the field of genetics that led them to extract DNA from the mummies in the first place could further studies of mummified remains in other archaeological sites.
Findings of the study likely to be controversial
While this study’s findings are a massive breakthrough, they are foolproof. Senior author of the study Johannes Krause said himself that “the potential preservation of DNA has to be regarded with skepticism”.
One major source of contention is likely to be from African societies who have looked to the Ancient Egyptians as a source of historical pride. Many Black activists in the United States even claim African Americans are the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. These theories claim that today’s African Americans were the creators of ancient Egyptian societies and had only fled to West Africa to escape the slavery of the Romans and later the Arabs.
During the Black Power movement of the 1960s, revolutionary activist Malcolm X was keen to dispel any notion that the Egyptians were African as an attempt to whitewash history, pointing to King Tutankhamen as a clear indication of their blackness. Many have already claimed that the historical starting point of 1400 BCE influenced the findings of the study and ignored the Africans who had already created the foundation of the society before this period.
Often cited as the great ancient civilization of Africa, this new knowledge of the ethnic origins of the ancient Egyptians will be weaponized by many alt-right activists to use this study to give credibility to their argument of European supremacy. While this is obviously unfounded since the findings display the Egyptians to be ethnically Turkish if anything, the comment section of many videos documenting these findings clearly shows a growth in this viewpoint. Many in turn, will attempt to dismiss these studies as “white supremacy” or a “whitewashing” of African history.
However, the racist weaponization of the findings doesn’t disprove them entirely, and our new look into one of the greatest ancient societies should be recognized as the ground-breaking and exciting discovery it is.