Analyzing Mummy Genes: Were Ancient Egyptians closely Related to Middle Easterners?

Analyzing Mummy Genes: Were Ancient Egyptians closely Related to Middle Easterners?

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Egypt has been thought of by many as a quintessentially African civilization. There is, however, evidence that the ancient Egyptians may have been less African than modern Egyptians, at least genetically. Recent genetic studies have shown that the people of ancient Egypt had ties to ancient Near Eastern populations such as Armenians. This is also consistent with the idea of a large migration out of the Middle East to settle parts of North Africa and Europe and mingle with local populations in those areas.

Modern Egyptians have a lot of genetic and cultural ties to Sub-Saharan Africa. It has long been believed by archaeologists that the Egyptian civilization grew from villages developing along the Nile which were similar to people farther south. So far, genetic studies of modern Egyptians as well as archaeological research have confirmed this. Studies of the ancient Egyptian mummies, however, tell a slightly more complex story.

Egyptian Mummy in Laboratory (Bigstock)

Egyptian Mummy in Laboratory (Bigstock)

Checking the Genes of Egyptian Mummies

In a recent study, genetic samples were taken from at least 90 mummies. What geneticists working alongside archaeologists found was that the mummies had closer genetic connections to the Middle East, specifically the Levant and Anatolia. This is an interesting find since it suggests that modern Egyptians are more African than ancient Egyptians.

One possible explanation for more genetic similarities between ancient Egyptians and Middle Eastern populations such as Syrians or Armenians would be the Hyksos. The Hyksos were a Middle Eastern people who occupied the Nile delta sometime before 1650 BC and came to rule Egypt until they were ousted by a native dynasty.

Scarab bearing the name of the Hyksos pharaoh Apophis. Made of steatite, from the time of the Second Intermediate Period.

Scarab bearing the name of the Hyksos pharaoh Apophis. Made of steatite, from the time of the Second Intermediate Period. (Keith Schengili-Roberts/ CC BY SA 2.5 )

This explanation fits well with the fact that it is the mummified remains of Egyptian nobles and royalty who have the Middle Eastern lineage, although it is also true that commoners were typically not mummified - so we don’t have their remains from which to extract genetic material to test the “Hyksos” hypothesis. In addition to many of them being Hyksos, there was probably intermarriage between the Hyksos and the native nobility.

One problem with this suggestion is that most of the mummies tested date to between 1380 BC and 425 AD, well after the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt (around 1550 BC). It is possible of course that the Egyptian pharaohs continued to be of at least partly Hyksos lineage even after the original Hyksos were expelled.

Hyksos chariot painting.

Hyksos chariot painting. ( Public Domain )

A Controversial Connection

One reason that this connection between ancient Egypt, the Levant, and Anatolia might be controversial is that many Africans take pride in ancient Egypt being an African civilization. The suggestion that it might have had more ties to the Middle East might appear, to some, to once again deny the virtues of African civilizations by saying that ancient Egypt was another Middle Eastern civilization and not truly African.

Of course, even if this is true and ancient Egypt was more Middle Eastern than African, Africa still has had many unambiguously indigenous civilizations including Mali, Great Zimbabwe, Aksum, the Swahili city-states, and Benin to name just a few. Africa still has a civilizational legacy without ancient Egypt.

The Aksum Obelisk, returned to Aksum, Ethiopia.

The Aksum Obelisk, returned to Aksum, Ethiopia. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

 Middle Eastern Influence

Interestingly, this evidence may hint at a larger pattern that suggests a great movement of people out of the Middle East beginning in the Neolithic. In 2016, genetic evidence was found that Europeans are at least partially descended from farmers who had migrated into Europe from Anatolia perhaps 8,000 years ago.

It is possible that just as farmers migrated from the Middle East into Europe, they may have also migrated into Egypt and mingled with the native African populations to create the Egyptian culture. This Middle Eastern influence on the Nile valley is supported by the fact that Middle Eastern domesticates such as wheat, barley, sheep, and goats were all prevalent in ancient Egypt.

Agricultural scenes of threshing, a grain store, harvesting with sickles, digging, tree-cutting and ploughing from the tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty Thebes.

Agricultural scenes of threshing, a grain store, harvesting with sickles, digging, tree-cutting and ploughing from the tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty Thebes. ( Public Domain )

Comments

It is quite obvious that scientists all agrees that DNA does not categorize races of people, but instead, identifies geographical locations...Basically 99.9% of all DNA regardless of racial classification in all H. Sapiens are the same, and the 1% difference in genomes does not classify races of people...There are approximately 7Billion people on earth, and the fact that there are 7 Billion different genomes which differentiates people, DOES NOT MEAN THAT THERE ARE 7 BILLION DIFFERENT RACES JUST BECAUSE THEIR GENES ARE DIFFERENT.  The fact that people of the same phenotypical physical and behavioral traits who are isolated great distances from each other, can have greater difference from each other than a different race of people who resides closer.  That fact simply means that VAST differences in DNA can exist between people of the same race who are isolated great distances from each other, but their racial classifications remain the same….Phenotypic traits of organisms is what defines racial classifications, and nothing else..

Charles Bowles

Looks like serious researchers are getting over the bigoted invented Afrocentic hysteria. "genes do not determine race"?? then what does? Wannabee imagination & Invention?

So a small sampling of Egyptians from a late antiquity somehow is proof that the very first Egyptians were related to Middle Easterners? Dynastic Egypt began in the 4 Millennium BC, this study uses Mummies from 14 century BC and later. That's an over 2000 year distance. Can't make such a strong claim based on such a discrepancy in time especially given the history of Egypt. The Hykso's weren't the only non-Africans to migrate to Egypt.

That Osiris is related to Asshur underlines this genetic tie. Those worshipping Asshur migrated to the Nile Valley and set up as Osiris with Istar becoming Isis.

Dear Yusuf,

Egyptian civilization is part of ω civilization which start in Europe. First egyptians was shepherds who came from nord, occupied nord Africa 7-8.000 years ago. They were white people. Are the same population with Indo-europeans who made the kurgans (gorganele) in modern Romania and Ukraina. See - Sumigu mic, Gataia, Romania an big tomb.
Sorin

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