Science: Egyptian Kings and Queens Were Not Africans

The racial makeup of Egypt’s ancient rulers has long been the subject of speculation. The first ever genetic analysis of mummies performed by the Max Planck Institute throws a wrench in the Black Egyptian hypothesis made popular by Afrocentric academics, who claim that the kings of Egypt were black.

The research, published in Nature Communications,  shows that Egyptian pharaohs were more closely related to West Asians than Africans, with strong genetic links to the Neolithic Levantine, Anatolian and European populations. The study found that modern Egyptians share more ancestry with Sub-Saharan Africans than the ancient Egyptians.

Algerian actress Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet in ‘The Mummy’

An international team of researchers sampled 151 mummies from the archaeological site of Abusir el-Meleq, along the Nile River in Middle Egypt, and recovered the mitochondrial genomes from 90 individuals, and genome-wide datasets from three individuals.  The mummified Egyptians, who lived between 1400 BC to 400 AD, provided a rich source of genetic material for scientists to study. They were able to parse the data that they gathered to test previous hypotheses and studies from modern DNA, and released their findings.

“The genetics of the Abusir el-Meleq community did not undergo any major shifts during the 1,300-year timespan we studied, suggesting that the population remained genetically relatively unaffected by foreign conquest and rule,” said Max Planck Institute’s Wolfgang Haas in a press release. The data shows that modern Egyptians share 8% more ancestry with Sub-Saharan Africans than ancient Egyptians.

“This suggests that an increase in Sub-Saharan African gene flow into Egypt occurred within the last 1,500 years,” explained Stephan Schiffels, also of the Max Planck Institute.

The scientists cited mobility down the Nile River, increased long-distance trade between Sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt, and the rise of the trans-Saharan slave trade that began around 1,300 years ago as reasons. Given the migration of the regional populations in the past thousand years, it’s no surprise that the genetic makeup of modern Egyptians differs from those who lived in the region thousands of years ago.

The groundbreaking study is further evidence that disproves Afrocentric claims that the Nile Valley’s ancient population would be considered “African” in a modern context.

Algerian actress Sofia Boutella was previously accused of looking “too white” for her role as the Egyptian queen Ahmanet. Critics of the film demanded she be replaced by a darker-skinned actress, because “Egyptians were black people, not Arabs.” With the release of the new study, both Boutella and the studio can rest easy knowing the casting decision fell on the right side of history.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.