As the guy at National Geographic responsible for keeping track of a bunch of scientists, I never know who or what I'll engage with each day. It could be dinosaurs for breakfast, poisonous frogs for lunch, and Inca gold for dinner. I'll post the highlights here as I encounter them. If you have questions or comments about archeology, paleontology, paleoanthropology, or any Society-funded projects, this is the place to post. I'll check things out and invite experts to weigh in on postings from time to time.
Nefertiti's Eyes
Posted Dec 10,2008

NefertitiNefertiti is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of ancient queens. Was part of her beauty due to an epicanthic fold in her eyelids? Photo by Victor Boswell.

In the March/April issue of Archaeology magazine art historian Earl Ertman suggests that Nefertiti had an epicanthic fold in her eyelids. He says this produces "an East Asian appearance." Ertman goes on to suggest that this trait, if a true reflection of Nefertiti's appearance, may be due to a genetically-based syndrome, that is abnormality. He also points to depictions of Nefertiti's daughters and even King Tut (the wooden head depiction) that show this trait as well, suggesting the trait could be inherited by offspring.

This is an interesting observation, but I immediately thought of the Khoisan, a fascinating group of sub-Saharan Africans who have an epicanthic fold. They also show the largest genetic diversity in mtDNA of all human populations. I'm no geneticist, but why look for genetic abnormalities in Nefertiti when the genes for an epicanthic fold are right there among the African ancestors of all humans?

And since we're talking again about Egyptians and African ancestry, here is a bit more information my colleagues and I pulled together on ancient Egyptians.

GEOGRAPHY

Egypt’s population was influenced by human migration long before the first dynasty of pharaohs emerged around 3150 B.C. The geography of northeast Africa makes it an easily traversable region. To the north and east are the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The Nile Valley creates a continuous north-south corridor that is surrounded by oases, stepping stones in the desert making it possible for humans to travel in every direction.

Both archaic and modern forms of humans probably passed though Egypt on their way “out of Africa.” We also know that the Sahara desert was drying between 6700 B.C. and 3600 B.C., and drought drove refugees from across northern Africa into Egypt, Nubia (what is now southern Egypt and northern Sudan), and Sudan. These immigrants mixed with people already living in the fertile Nile Valley.

As towns and villages sprang up along the Nile, people and goods moved up and down river contributing to population diversity. By the time the Egyptian state formed, people living along the Nile were in regular contact with their neighbors and, while we can detect some diversity in the general physical characteristics of northern and southern populations, these people shared a way of life that became the foundation for Egyptian civilization. The early Egyptian state is simply a politically complex expression of this indigenous African culture.

After 3150 B.C., Egypt entered into a number of peaceful and hostile relationships with foreign powers in Africa and the Near East. We know that Libyans, Nubians, the Hyksos (from the Levant), and Persians all came to Egypt as traders, diplomats, and conquerors—likely further contributing to population diversity.

Sounds like a melting pot to me.

Posted by Chris Sloan | Comments (3)

Comments

Mr. Man
Dec 10, 2008 10PM #

"melting Pot"

Yeah I agree that Ancient Egypt became a melting pot after several dynasties, But it's original inhabitants were primarily Northeast Africans.

Ladislao Errazuriz
Dec 10, 2008 10PM #

That Old Misr! Melting pot it certainly was, at all times and through all historical periods. The real point is, today "Interesting Egypt" is defined by many as post-18th Dynasty, a more recent time that appears to be quite rich in events but in historical terms is only a very short one. Thus the period for foreign influences to take hold and become enmeshed with local culture was never long enough after the New Kingdom. It was longer before and it shows, the older the better. The most discernable influences are pre-dynastic when Hamitic and Semitic customs, culture traits and populations were absorbed and became native in a setting thar had previously been largely Iberian: those that had migrated from the Saharan steppes as they dried out, into greener pastures to be found in Egypt and elsewhere: - Canary Islander Guanches, Maghrebi Berbers, Spanish Iberians (currently called Basques), Celtiberians along the Ebro, Sardinians, Etruscans, and Georgians in the other Iberia at the foot of the Elbrus, as well as other locations where their tracks faded away. Their local names and languages have common roots, but in Egypt they managed to reunite dispersed tribes of a common ancestral culture settled along the Nile, and eventually knit up the famed Two Lands as History got to know them.

MS> MANN
Dec 10, 2008 10PM #

Egyptians originally were Africans who came from Cush in the southern region closer to Sudan and Ethiopia. If one has any further question on the matter look up their distance relatives the Oromo of Ethiopia.

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