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Beyond Black Athena - Rewriting history: It's about time

12 Feb 2006

"Now the Ethiopians, as historians relate, were the first of all men and the proofs of this statement, they say, are manifest."

- Diodorus of Sicily
(Book III: 2)

Recently, I attended an inspiring event at Ryerson University highlighting the 20th anniversary of the passing of Senegalese pioneer scientist Cheikh Anta Diop. Dr Diop was both revered and attacked for his published works arguing for the acknowledgement of the African essence of ancient Egyptian civilization. As discussed in Part I of this article, Diop's ideas have helped to give life to the modern-day Afrocentric movement. The Ryerson University event was an interesting gathering with a varied group of people from several generations. A recurring theme of the discussion, following the screening of an interview given in the U.S. by Cheikh Anta Diop shortly before his death, was how to go about picking up from where Dr Diop left off. A particular audience member also warned about the dangers of idolizing Diop, or any other Afrocentric scholars, and to not be afraid to take a second look at their work and take it forward by identifying where they might have gone wrong. As with any scientific endeavour, revising and developing any basic premise in light of evolving discoveries and research is very important.

I couldn't agree more. It would be too easy to simply assume that the only reason why established modern Western scholars, in the fields of Egyptology, the Classics and archaeology in general, are so reluctant to entertain the idea of the African origins of Egyptian civilization is based on pure and simple racism. Undoubtedly, As Martin Bernal's Black Athena book series brilliantly demonstrated, 19th century European scholars were greatly influenced by their own racial prejudices when they displaced the more African-positive Ancient Model for the benefit of the Eurocentric Aryan Model. But the fact is, those who erected the edifice of the Aryan Model have built a deep scientific foundation based on a crucial pillar, which is the chronology of the ancient world.

By chronology, I mean the established sequence of events of when things happened in the ancient world, which king reigned at what time, and which empire came before or after the next. If we are to successfully undermine that Aryan Model edifice, the main attack should be directed at the established chronology of the ancient world.

So, in my opinion, the road forward isn't to continue having a debate of the deaf about just the colour of the ancient Egyptians; but really to focus on the chronology and interactions of "cultures." In fact, another point that was brought out at the Ryerson University event was how we, as proponents of Afrocentric ideas, tend to focus too much on dynastic Egypt and not enough on the Nubians and other ancient African cultures. When referring to dynastic Egypt, I mean the 31 dynasties of Egyptian kings which have been universally accepted (including by Afrocentric scholars like Diop and Bernal themselves) ranging from about 3,200 BC to shortly after Cleopatra''s reign in 30 BC.

But evidence definitely exists of a pre-dynastic culture dating to between 4,000 BC to 3,600 BC. A University of Chicago excavation, headed by Professor Bruce Williams, in modern Sudan, during the 1960s, produced the discovery of an incense burner at a site named Qustul (see image below) which shuffled the cards in the game. This was proof-positive evidence that the 1st Dynasty of Egypt didn't just erupt out of a thin air. The building blocks of Egyptian civilization could be found in modern Sudan. The carvings show a definite royal palace scene with a king wearing a well-known pharaonic crown. As McGill University Nubiologist and anthropologist Bruce G. Trigger adequately points out:  “... evidence that both the Red and the White Crowns were originally southern Egyptian symbols suggests that most of the iconography originated in Upper (southern) Egypt.”


Qustul Incense Burner - Lower Nubia (modern Sudan) 4,000 to 3,600 BC. (Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago)

But before, and even after, the discovery of the Qustul incense burner, the very idea that ancient Egypt’s pharaonic culture might have been fundamentally African was, and still is, so remote to Western scholars that early Egyptologists developed the “dynastic race” theory — which essentially argued for an outside invasion by a superior non-African Asiatic race, possibly from Mesopotamia, that was responsible for introducing civilization into the Nile Valley in the late fourth to early third millennium BC. Even Martin Bernal himself adopts that idea in Black Athena. On the contrary, Cheikh Anta Diop, in his book Civilization or Barbarism, points to the above Qustul incense burner as the proof that pharaonic culture was born in Africa. But the "dynastic race theory", although not often specifically called like that since the end of World War II because of the negative connotations with the Third Reich, is still predominant despite this evidence.

This is where the burden falls on Afrocentric scholars to dispel the generally accepted theory. It is from there that Cheikh Anta Diop's legacy falls or survives. In my own attempt at contributing to this mission, I developed, over a 4-year period, a set of radical theories which I published, in the year 2000, in a book entitled: Planet of the Greeks - The Great Time Warp of History (see right side-bar).

The publication of the book allowed me to enter into discussions with some of the main scholars in the field, including a brief, and somewhat argumentative, e-mail encounter with Martin Bernal. The basic premise of the book is that we need to not only acknowledge the African origins of dynastic Egypt, but that the actual sequence of reigns for the 31 dynasties need to be drastically altered. While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into the details, Planet of the Greeks argues that the Sudanese kings from the early period (the Anu) not only ignited pharaonic culture in Egypt, but also continued to exist parallel to dynastic Egypt and also periodically returned north to Egypt to exert their power and influence -- making up themselves some of the most illustrious Egyptian dynasties. Among those were the 4th dynasty of pyramid-fame and the 12th Dynasty (18th century BC) which represents the era when I believe that the Biblical story of Joseph and his jealous brothers took place.

12th Dynasty Pharaoh Amenemhat III - Middle Kingdom, 18th century BC
(© Photo by Meres J. Weche)

 

In his Black Athena series, Martin Bernal argues that Egyptian colonization of Greece started as early as the time of Egypt's 12th Dynasty (18th century BC). He makes an interesting parallel between the rise of several ram cults, generally associated with Zeus in Greece at that time, with the central ram god Amon which Egypt's 12th Dynasty pharaohs chose as their patron deity. Bernal mentions the ancient legends told by Herodotus and other early Greek historians about wide-ranging expeditions by the Ethiopian or Egyptian prince Memnon - which the later Greeks wrote as "Ammenemes." This was a common name for 12th Dynasty pharaohs, like Pharaoh Amenemhat III (pictured Left). As the picture shows, the 12th Dynasty kings had very clear African facial features. In Chapter 8 of Planet of the Greeks, I offer further evidence for what I called a Colonization Model where the 12th Dynasty of black Egyptian kings held vast influence over the Aegean.

Although this thesis is being strongly resisted by many Classicists, the archaeological evidence speaks for itself. Reporting on his extensive excavation work in ancient Crete, famed British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans wrote in his book The Palace of Minos at Knosso, published during the 1920s, about how stunned he was to find African-style ostrich-egg pottery in Aegean sites dating to the time of the Egyptian 12th Dynasty. Sir Evans wrote: "It is indeed astonishing to find that a purely African form of vessel ... should have been adapted to from what seems to have been a principal sacred utensil of Minoan cult. ... [this] is striking proof of the extensive personal contact of the Minoans with Nilotic regions far above the Delta."

The very idea that black African kings could have ruled Egypt, and even colonized distant lands in Greece, in such remote times comes entirely contrary to the accepted theories of Western history. Western scholars only accept the existence of a black African dynasty much later in Egyptian history -- that is between 747 BC and 656 BC when and Ethiopian dynasty, known as the 25th dynasty, ruled Egypt. This dynasty is particularly famous because of one of its great kings, Tiharqa, who is mentioned in the Old Testament --- Isaiah 37:9 "And he heard say concerning Tirharka king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee." & 2 Kings 19:9.

"After Egypt’s New Kingdom, they [the Nubians] had supposedly become so thoroughly Egyptianized that a Kushite (Nubian) dynasty, the conventional 25th Dynasty, even came to rule Thebes [capital of Egypt] itself. A period which British Egyptologist Arthur Weigall (1880-1934) spiteful qualified as “a period of nigger domination.” The obsequious pupil had actually managed, perhaps through subterfuge, to transcend the master."

 - Excerpt from Planet of the Greeks

Conventional history contends that the Ethiopian kings of the 25th Dynasty had been "Egyptianized Kushites (Nubians)" who’d been exposed to pharaonic culture through the Egyptian occupation of Nubia by the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty (the dynasty of the famous Ramses II - the Great). Theban priests of Amun, sent to Gebel Barkal (in modern Sudan) during the New Kingdom (1,559 BC - 1069 BC), are believed to have introduced the Nubians to the worship of the god Amun. Later on, those same Ethiopians allegedly managed to conquer their Egyptian tutors’ homeland and, somehow, were received in Thebes as genuine pharaohs in the mid-eighth century BC.

But that''s the story as told by European scholars. The ancient Nubian kings themselves, and even the early Greek historians of that time, like Herodotus and Diodorus of Sicily, had an entirely different story to tell.

King Taharqa (690-664 BC) one of the Nubian rulers during the 25th dynasty in Egypt

 


When those Nubian pharaohs, hailing from their southern capital at Napata, took over the reigns of power in the Theban capital, they legitimized their rule to the native Egyptian populace by claiming that they were descendants of ancient kings. They were in fact received in Egypt as rightful and legitimate kings. If, according to Western Egyptologists, the 25th Dynasty was the Nubians'' first and only ascension to the Egyptian throne, then what was this "ancient legacy" that the Napatan pharaohs, and the early Greek historians, were talking about?

Historians think that after the Ethiopian kings' reign over Egypt ended in 656 BC, they left Thebes and remained in Napata for a few centuries. Then, they ultimately moved further south to a new capital called Meroe in around 295 BC. From Meroe, they supposedly continued a so-called pseudo-pharaonic civilization until the year 300 of the common era. Although pharaonic Egypt was terminated by the Roman Empire around the year 30 AD, somehow ancient historians believe that the Nubians of Meroe went on "pretending and posing" as a pharaonic culture well into the third century AD.

But what if historians have had it wrong all those centuries? What if the Nubians ruled in Meroe "before" and not after they ruled Egypt from Napata? That would explain the strong pharaonic iconography in Meroe. It would also go a long way in explaining the 25th Dynasty Nubian pharaohs' claim to a long history of kingship. Granted, this is a radical hypothesis. What concrete proof is there to support moving the kings of Meroe back in time by a thousand years earlier than generally accepted? The late dates for Meroe''s pharaohs have been accepted by even the staunchest Afrocentrists themselves. Everyone has just accepted this chronological sequence without questioning it.

But a crucial carved mural from the temple-walls of the Meroitic temple of Naqa built by the Nubian King Natakamani and his wife, Queen Amanitere, which has been conveniently ignored by archaeologists, may just be the key to prove my revolutionary thesis. Historians currently believe that the temple of Naqa was constructed sometime between the years 2 and 23 AD. But there''s a strange anomaly. The temple-wall shows the Meroitic rulers having captured a Philistine! Problem is, the Philistines (or Peoples of the Sea), the same Philistines referred to in the Old Testament, came into the picture in the ancient world in the 12th century BC, and soon afterward dissolved into the local Canaanite and Aegean populations. As the comparative drawings to the right show, the Nubians of Meroe depict the same Philistines which were likewise carved on the temple-walls of the Egyptian king Ramses III''s temple at Medinet Habu in the 12th century BC. Why would the Nubians in Meroe bother to depict a scene on their temple from over a thousand years earlier and claim it as contemporary? Strangely enough, Nubiologists have absolutely no problem assuming that King Natakamani was just pointlessly imitating a scene from a time long-gone and boastfully claiming a deceptive victory.

(Left): Philistine captive represented on the Nubian temple of Naqa.

(Right): Relief of Philistine soldiers from Ramses III’s temple at Medinet Habu - 12th century BC.

 


The fact is, accepting that the Temple of Naqa carving is real would mean nothing less than the destruction of Egyptology as we know it today. It would mean that the Nubians didn''t acquire pharaonic culture from a colonial campaign from dynastic Egypt. If that is accepted, then the next question would be: "Is pharaonic culture indigenous to Nubia?" The answer to that question is, I believe, a resounding "yes". As I argue in Planet of the Greeks, the pharaonic roots of the Meroitic and Napatan dynasties run as deep as the 5th millennium BC -- back to the culture depicted in the Qustul incense burner as seen earlier. This culture was known as the A-Group Nubians. It''s always been thought that the Nubian "Kushites" which the Egyptians have lorded over for millennia, known as the C-Group, were one and the same as the earlier A-Group Nubians. But I believe it can be proven the Afroasiatic C-Group Kushites were an entirely different group which never adopted full pharaonic culture. Believing this deception, many Afrocentric scholars have preferred to concentrate on the greatness of dynastic Egypt and entirely missed the boat on liberating Nubian history from the shackles of the faulty Western historiography.

Since Planet of the Greeks has been available online, the debate has erupted in several parts of the world. I've received e-mails from historians and archaeologists from the U.S. to as far a Poland who are intrigued by this radical theory. The debate has begun and there are people on both sides. I have even been labelled a heretic by a scientific website. But science and physical evidence speak for themselves. Old ideas die hard, but new ideas always find their way.

In conclusion, the battle for ancient Egypt really resides in, and begins with, reclaiming Nubia''s rightful place in ancient history. Once that is done, the racially-motivated Aryan Model will start crumbling down. The fact is, Egypt was the "result" of Nubian civilization. It''s time for Afrocentric scholars to stop relying so much of trying to prove the mere colour of the ancient Egyptians and focus much more on establishing "cultural predominance" through archaeology and a radically revised chronology -- which is currently dominated by Western scholars. Culture in itself will prove the colour. But while black pharaohs were among the more dominant and illustrious kings of ancient dynastic Egypt, it is also undeniable that several dynasties were likewise made up of Asiatic Hyksos rulers, Macedonians, Persians and others. Only a rigorous and scientific attack against Western chronology and archeology of the ancient world will prove the case of the African origins of Western civilization.

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