Dynastic Race

Dynastic Race
c.3400-3100 BC.
    There is a marked change in predynastic Egypt when the existing advanced neolithic culture with its complex tribal character was replaced by two kingdoms, one in the north and the other in the south. Three major developments also suddenly emerged, with no apparent background within Egypt—the concept of writing, monumental brick architecture, and significant advances in the arts and crafts.
    There are two possible explanations for these changes: either they developed naturally from the indigenous culture in Egypt, or they came about because of the advent of a new people in the Nile Valley—the hypothetical 'Dynastic Race' who, although some evidence exists to support their occurence, are nevertheless discounted by many scholars. Excavations have indeed revealed human remains which display two distinctive and differently shaped types of skull and it has been suggested that one of these groups may be representative of an incoming people. The original homeland of such a 'race' is also speculative; some evidence suggests a strong association with Mesopotamia, or it has been proposed that these people may have come from an as yet undiscovered region, from which immigration occurred to both Egypt and Mesopotamia.
    The similarities between the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia reach their height during the years prior to Egypt's First Dynasty and the Babylonian Jemdet Nasr period. Evidence of hieroglyphic writing first appears in Egypt in the First Dynasty, and at an earlier date in Mesopotamia. Although the languages have some affinities, it was probably only the concept and some general underlying principles that were transmitted, and Egypt soon developed its own characteristic language and script.
    The great Egyptian mudbrick tombs, their facades decorated with recessed brick panelling, date from the First to the Third Dynasties and are typified by the mastaba tombs at Nagada. It has been suggested that a much earlier prototype exists for these in the form of the Mesopotamian temples.
    With regard to design the Egyptian maceheads are reminiscent of Mesopotamian art; the earliest cylinder seals in Egypt are indistinguishable from the Mesopotamian examples of the Jamdat Nasr period, and these seals were also in use in Elam, Anatolia and north Syria. On the knife handles and stone palettes in Egypt, the artistic designs show composite animals which are typically Mesopotamian. One example—the Gebel el Arak knife, now in the Louvre Museum, depicts two scenes on its ivory handle: one is a hunting scene which shows a bearded man in Sumerian costume holding apart two lions, while the other represents a sea-battle against invaders, in which native Egyptian ships are apparently ranged against craft, belims, of the early Mesopotamian type.
    However these facts are interpreted, it is most unlikely that any newcomers arrived in Egypt as a horde invasion; neither is indirect trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia a convincing argument to explain these features found in Egypt, since the influence seems to be one way and no evidence has been found of Egyptian transmission to early Mesopotamian culture. It is possible that the newcomers infiltrated Egypt over many years and perhaps came by different routes: some may have arrived via the Red Sea and perhaps the Wadi Hammamat and Koptos, whereas others entered through Syria and the Isthmus of Suez into the Delta. The Gebel el Arak knife indicates that at least some of the invaders came by sea and used military force.
    These people may have settled in the Nile Valley and adopted native customs, and the lack of any permanent foreign influence on Egyptian culture would suggest that any infiltrations had ceased by the beginning of the First Dynasty. However, it cannot totally be ruled out that a hypothetical people may have provided an impetus for the development of Egypt's civilisation and that their descendants became the ruling class whose burial customs in particular were distinct from those of the indigenous population in the earliest dynasties. Nevertheless, even if there is some truth in this theory, it is clear that the two races had fused in the early historical period and had become indistinguishable in the general population.
BIBL. Kantor, H.J. Further evidence for the early Mesopotamian relations with Egypt. JNES 11 (1952) pp. 239-50; Derry, D.E. The Dynastic Race in Egypt. JEA 42 (1956) pp. 80-5; Engelbach, R. An essay on the advent of the Dynastic Race in Egypt and its consequences. Ann. Serv. pp. 193-221.

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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