Wednesday,28 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)
Wednesday,28 June, 2017
Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The Pharaohs were Egyptian

Despite ill-conceived attempts to prove the contrary, the origins of the ancient Egyptians were in Egypt, writes Zahi Hawass

Some scientists these days want to be famous by creating theories about the ancient Egyptians, and a new theory has recently been published in newspapers all over the world saying that the ancient Egyptians were Syrians or Europeans.
 
The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, published this idea in an article after conducting “high through-put” DNA analysis on 131 mummies from the site of Abusir Al-Melek in Egypt by radiocarbon dating to the pre-Ptolemaic, Ptolemaic and Roman periods. These mummies are at the University of Tübingen in Germany and the Felix von Luschan Skull Collection at the Museum of Prehistory and Early History of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
 
The title of the article is “Ancient Egyptian Genomes Suggest an Increase of Sub-Saharan African Ancestry in Post-Roman Periods”. But the title does not fit the conclusion of the article because at the end the researchers state that all the genetic content analysed in the study came from one site, and so further analysis of a larger sample is required to verify their conclusions. This could mean that their study is not accurate, so why did they submit their work to be published in the newspapers?
 
The team working on the project compared the DNA of the ancient collection of mummies with modern Egyptian DNA and indicated that there had been an influx of Sub-Saharan African ancestry after the Roman Period, which they believe was probably due to the increase in the trans-Saharan slave trade that continued until the 19th century, as well as increased trade with Sub-Saharan Africa.

The study also revealed that ancient DNA from the sample showed a high percentage of affinity between the inhabitants of Abusir Al-Melek and the modern inhabitants of the Near East and Levant. It has been proposed in other studies that the average proportion of non-African ancestry in the Egyptian population is around 80 per cent and that this mixture started 750 years ago. But the results from the sample of Abusir Al-Melek claim to have proven that this mixture dated to an earlier time in the Graeco-Roman Period.

The above is a summary of the article. Johannes Krause from the Max Planck Institute then gave an interview to the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda introducing a new and strange conclusion that was not in the original article. He said that the DNA of the 90 mummies studied (in the article 131 mummies were cited) showed that the Pharaohs were not African but that some of them had southern European origins and that others were from Syria and Georgia. He also stated that the Pharaohs were not originally from Egypt, since the Egyptians were living in Europe 9,500 years ago and the people who then migrated to Egypt became the Pharaohs.
 
I have never seen a scientist announcing hallucinations like this, and I think that what this shows is that these scientists are seeking fame by publishing material without supporting it with evidence. They even say in their article that more research is needed on further mummies in order to draw firm conclusions.

I would like to raise further questions about this issue. First, all the mummies that came from Abusir Al-Melek were Greek and Roman, and so we have to look at two other pieces of evidence. The people who lived in Egypt at that time could have been Roman, Greek or Egyptian in origin, and as a result mummies from this period cannot be used as evidence for the origins of the ancient Egyptians as a whole. Moreover, while we know that mummification can preserve DNA, work that has been done on analysing DNA from Roman mummies has not been successful.  
 
The mummies of Abusir Al-Melek do not belong to rich or high-status people, but to ordinary ones, and mummification in such cases involved the insertion of sticks to support the mummy and the covering of the body with linen. It is known that this type of mummy, if left outside of its tomb, completely deteriorates.
 
Even if we accept that the researchers were able to extract DNA from these mummies, how were they able to carry out DNA analyses on the modern inhabitants of the Near East and Levant? Did they analyse the DNA of modern Egyptians? I have not heard of any such study being done. Yehia Gad, who worked with me on the Egyptian Mummy Project and is an emeritus professor of genetics at the National Research Centre in Cairo, has stated that the researchers’ attempt to reach such major conclusions based on one location and such a limited sample constitutes mere “speculation” as this sample may not represent all ancient Egyptian population groups.

As a result, I think the Max Planck Institute should now apologise because what it has published cannot be considered as science but only as hallucinations. What it has announced will be sent to the garbage heap of history.

Another strange theory was published recently by a company called iGENEA on a website that my assistant Maryan Ragheb has described as being full of spelling mistakes and in general being badly organised. The company says that it has compared the DNA of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun with the DNA of certain modern Europeans. It says that many Europeans have been found to be the relatives of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, which means that half of the men in Europe today are relatives of Tutankhamun.

According to the company, in some European countries the percentage of such relatives can reach 60 to 70 per cent of the population, including in France, Spain and the United Kingdom. It says that the DNA haplotype r1b1a2 is found a lot in Europe, but in Egypt it is only found in one per cent of the population. I think people should laugh at this, because it seems that the company has reached its conclusions by watching TV shows.  
 
Egyptologists have long discussed the origins of the ancient Egyptians, and some have stated that they were Semitic and Hamitic, meaning that they came from Asia and Africa. This theory is based on the physical characteristics of people living in the Delta today, who look Semitic, and the people of Upper Egypt, who look Hamitic. The Senegalese academic Cheikh Anta Diop once published another theory saying that the ancient Egyptians were black based on the black statues that exist of Tutankhamun and Ramses II. UNESCO held a conference to discuss this theory, the results of which were published in the 1970s, and the conclusion was that it needed more research.
 
This was a polite way of saying that it was another hallucinatory theory, because if we look at ancient Egyptian images of the Pharaohs and the prisoners that they are shown as smiting, the ancient Egyptians always showed their African and Asiatic enemies with a skin colour different from that of the Pharaohs.

More proof can be found in the remains of a cemetery discovered by the British archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie in Naqada in Upper Egypt. These indicate that the people buried there could have been the ancestors of the ancient Egyptians. They were from the region, and they were the ones who created this great civilisation that was unparalleled in any other region of the world.
 
The origins of the ancient Egyptians were in Egypt.

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