This is the third part of my review of Robert Bauval’s and Thomas Brophy’s 2011 book Black Genesis, about the “black” origins of Egyptian civilization. In this installment, the race-based zaniness truly begins.
When last we left our erstwhile heroes, they were about to tell us how Nabta Playa was somehow both inaccurate in its solar alignments but somehow so astonishingly precise in its stellar alignments as to prove it encoded information about a pre-Ice Age world. At first, all seems well: They note that the upright stones at the center of Nabta Playa align with Orion in 4920 BCE, about the time of the site’s construction. But then they decide, without any solid evidence, that a second set of stones within the circle must also align with Orion—but that they only fit in 16,500 BCE, and then only with the shoulders or Orion, not the belt. Yes, the authors choose to see Nabta Playa as yet another “image of Orion” on the ground, but even their own charts show that the correlation is incredibly imprecise, not as they say “elegant and profound.” Oh, and it also occurs at sunset on the summer solstice, which is not, so far as I know, of any relationship to the spring equinox sunrises that Bauval was so enamored of in The Orion Mystery and Mystery of the Sphinx (Keeper of Genesis). Therefore, the connection he and Brophy imply escapes me. Later, the authors concede that the site’s stones may have multiple meanings, though they seem to have unique insight into the “best” one.
Your enjoyment of the rest of this book depends entirely upon how badly you want to believe that there is any evidence that three stones, whose exact position is somewhat hypothetical based on a reconstruction of the site, are perfectly aligned to an event 12,000 years before its construction—and not for any other purpose. Your enjoyment will also be affected by how much you enjoy hearing the two authors speak collectively as “we” even when referring to just one, such as when “we” earned a PhD in astrophysics.
The rest of their arguments about alignments concern their attempt to prove that various other megaliths at the site targeted Sirius and other stars in 6100 BCE instead of 4500 BCE. Frankly, it’s more or less irrelevant to the idea of a “Black” origin for Egypt, so I’m fine either way. However, the authors need a date around 6100 BCE so they can relate it to Egypt in a ridiculously convoluted way that I’m not sure I have space to explain. The short form is that they want to prove Nabta Playa in 6100 BCE marked Sirius and Alkaid (in the Big Dipper), then marked Sirius and Dubhe between 4500 and 3000 BCE so that they can claim (seriously) that the appearance of Alkaid in images of the Pharaoh Djoser (c. 2670 BCE) was “monumentalizing the time when his distant ancestors at Nabta Playa around 6100 BCE initiated the ritual of using the Bull’s Thigh constellation to track the rising of Sirius with Alkaid.” In short, if two stars are marked in the archaeology of two places, the authors believe they must be connected even though no direct evidence links them. What then should we make of the fact that in Apollonius’ Argonautica (3.957) the hero Jason is said to be the star Sirius? Is this proof of Nabta Playa’s influence there, too? Or, like Robert Temple, are we to take this all as information from the Fish Men of Sirius?
There are some interesting ideas about alignments and their relationship to rituals, but the authors provide no proof that later Egyptian Orion-Sirius rituals are related to hypothetical ones as Nabta Playa. Worse, they are focused single-mindedly on the site to the point that they offer not a thought about whether other Neolithic cultures contributed to the Egyptian rituals they want to make descend (millennia later) directly from Nabta Playa. Upper and Lower Egypt both had their own Neolithic cultures, and surely they contributed something to the proto-dynastic period.
The authors engage in some more sleight of hand when they try to relate the ritual burial of cows at Nabta Playa to the “empty” sarcophagi of the Giza Pyramids:
…we may wonder if the empty tombs and cow-bone burials are part of some mysterious star ritual related to some ancestral cult of rebirth. This provocative thought occurs because, as we will see in chapter 6, the same empty tombs have baffled Egyptologists when the Old Kingdom pyramids were explored and found to contain no human remains.
The “empty tombs” at Nabta Playa are known archaeologically as “complex structures,” but there is no firm evidence they were meant as tombs, symbolically or otherwise. Similarly, while Old Kingdom pyramids are today empty, there is no way to say they were always empty. The Arabs, for example, reported a tradition that when Al-Ma’mun opened the Great Pyramid his men found within “a large room filled with dead bodies, each of which was wrapped in a shroud longer than one hundred dresses sewn end to end. Time has altered these bodies, and they have become black; these bodies, which are not larger than ours, have lost nothing of their tissue or their hair.” These are obviously mummies. If the authors believe the Qur’an holds memories of Nabta Playa 5,000 years after the fact, why should we doubt Al-Maqrizi’s reports of Al-Ma’mun’s activities a mere 500 years later, copying from an earlier source?
The authors further state that “some of the great pyramids of Giza” contained “the bones of cows,” though I am not aware of this fact. The only cow bones I know of are the food remains from the workers’ village, and my reference books on Egypt don’t mention cow bones inside the Giza pyramids.
Chapter 4 finishes with a brief account of Bangold’s Circle, another stone circle in the Libyan Desert and probably dating to the Neolithic. Although the authors fail to mention it, the fact that this circle exists and may well be separate culturally from the Nabta Playa one argues against the thesis that Nabta Playa was the sole conduit for ancient “Black” wisdom.
Chapter 5 tries to find out where “Black” people came from. Now we start getting into the crazy.
The authors start by suggesting that Egyptology “frequently” identifies ancient Egyptians as Black “Hamites”—which I don’t think has actually been the case for most of the past century. Do you believe that the word Hamites has “often been adopted by scholars, particularly Egyptologists and anthropologists,” to describe Egyptians? Even Afrocentrist writers concede that the word “Hamite” was obsolete decades before the 1980s Afrocentrist effort to revive it as a term of racial pride; in 1966 Wyatt McGaffey wrote that “Hamite” had become obsolete “recently,” which I guess puts a date of around 1960 on the end of that usage—fully in keeping with alternative history’s insistence that everything published between 1890 and 1960 is unchanging dogma ruthlessly defended by close-minded elites.
What is one to make of discussions of the “race” of the Egyptians in terms of a “Negroid-Hamitic race of black-skinned people with fine Caucasian-like features,” even when attributed to Victorian science? The authors ask us to accept that the ancient Egyptians were “Black Africans” and that to do otherwise is “racist” and “Eurocentric.” The authors, though, treat all “Black” people as though they were one and the same—as though the Nubians, West Africans, and Southern Africans were identical, despite the obvious range of physical traits displayed among them. Modern scientific studies suggest that ancient Egyptians were related to East African and Nubian populations. Bauval and Brophy want us to view this academic consensus about the ultimate origins of the Egyptians as both shocking and as a thesis the authors are uniquely advocating against a racist academic mainstream.
While the authors are correct that historically Egyptologists have been loath to ascribe an African (rather than Mediterranean or Levantine) origin for Egypt, today that is not the case so far as the mainstream consensus is concerned (as always individual scholars’ views vary). At any rate, though, Egypt was peopled thousands of years before Nabta Playa, which means that the ultimate ancestors of the Egyptians had been in place for millennia and were for all intents and purposes indigenous by the time Egyptian culture arose. Given that the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans placed no particular value on lighter or darker shades of brown skin, I don’t see what the purpose is of trying to force the Egyptians into a modern box of “Black” (or “White”), which is entirely a European classification system imposed on a rainbow of skin colors that only roughly align with morphology (e.g., people in India have dark brown skin yet are classified as Caucasian).
The authors, citing examples from Henri Frankfort’s Kingship and the Gods from 1948 (!), write that “jargon is unfortunately still used to avoid directly stating that there is a Black African origin of the pharaohs’ culture and race.” Still? 1948?! (Frankfort actually advocated for an African origin for ancient Egypt, along with E. A. Wallis Budge.) “Black” is a socially constructed a category, and Herni Frankfort wrote before most readers were even born! Afrocentrists have the same problem: West Africans and Nubians present very different physical traits, and yet we are to accept all these people as identical because of their skin color, to the exclusion of all their other cultural traits! The authors then go back to the 1920s and 1820s to give more examples of race denial, supposedly still defended by the academy, leading to a discussion of Black Athena and how it led to an “uneasy feeling” among Egyptologists that they were wrong on the blackness of Egyptians’ skins—and their own racist souls.
If the authors can afford to fly to Egypt and traipse around the desert, surely they can afford a trip to their nearest library to check out JSTOR. Things have changed since 1960, though alternative historians don’t seem to understand that.
In discussing Afrocentrism, the authors get into queasy territory when they praise Clarence Walker for denying that “his own Blackness should affect his scholastic conclusions,” all while criticizing him for denying the primacy of Egypt in Black history. The authors reaffirm that the Egyptians were “Black Africans” (whatever that is to mean—skin color über alles) and that Afrocentrism, in general terms—though not in its extremes—is “accurate” because that newfangled “evolution” thing suggests all humans originated in Africa, so “the world was created by Black people”—as though modern African populations were not equally the descendants of the first humans (“Black stock” they call them) as every other population. For the authors, evolution seems to be something that happened only to other races, who became melanin deficient.
I should stop here and point out that the timelines are all askew. Every human, the authors tell us, can trace his origins to Africa, but the Egyptians, tracing their origins to sub-Saharan Africa within 5,000 years or so of dynastic Egypt could do so faster and therefore are “blacker” because somehow evolution only applies to White people, who are melanin-deficient Blacks. Does that make Native Americans “really” Asians because their ancestors came from Siberia sometime (depending on which group) between 1,000 and 15,000 years ago?
I guess I am just not getting the point.
Here I’d like to present this line from the authors, citing an Afrocentrist scholar (who, unchallenged by our authors, claims on the basis of melanin levels that the Dravidians of India are African—against all evidence), about academia’s refusal to assign Blackness to the Egyptians: “Thus generations of readers have been misled to the false belief that the ancient Egyptian civilization owes little or nothing to Africa.” Culture is not biological, and the racial origins of a people 5,000 years before implies nothing about their later culture. For example, Americans are overwhelmingly Christian, a religion that sprouted among Semitic people and Mediterranean Greeks, and yet somehow shockingly Americans are overwhelmingly neither Semitic nor Greek by demographics. Culture is not biological. I am ethnically Italian and Polish, but aside from pasta I owe virtually nothing to either culture since I am (surprise!) American and speak English, from which sources come my cultural inheritance.
Several pages of personal attacks on Zahi Hawass and his alleged anti-Semitism follow by way of implying that modern Egyptians see any attempt to link Egypt to “Black Africa” as a Zionist conspiracy, and then the authors complain that one of Brophy’s articles on astronomy at Nabta Playa was rejected by an academic journal with a comment that he and his coauthor were “acting like arrogant Westerners,” but without the name of the journal there really isn’t any way to evaluate this. It’s just more anti-academic conspiracy-mongering. The authors conclude that Nabta Playa is a “threat” to mainstream academia because it might unleash Black power.
But where are the aliens? Brophy advocated for aliens in his first book, and now suddenly they’re all gone and replaced with conspiracies about Egypt and Israel struggling for control over Egyptian history.
An endless section on Saharan rock art follows, which would have been interesting on its own but has very little to do with what came before. The authors conclude that some images on the rock art at the Cave of Swimmers (with shamanic imagery) in the Libyan Desert near the Libyan border could be precursors to elements of Egyptian mythology. It’s possible, but not yet provable; but even so, the Greeks had elements in their mythology from Babylon, but that does not “make” them Babylonian. More evidence is needed to connect the desert site to the pharaohs.
Again, though, the timeline issue bothers me. We have thousands of unaccounted for years and the authors’ own acknowledgement that many other factors contributed to the development of Egypt. So, if an indigenous people (originally from East Africa) were already in Egypt thousands of years before Nabta Playa, how does that make the Nabta Playa people the origins of Egypt? If everyone on earth is “really” African, how does one distinguish degrees of “Blackness” except by racist criteria of what it means to be “truly” (stereotypically) Black? The authors are very interested in deep skin color, wide noses, thick lips, and “kinky” hair, but these are traits of equatorial West Africa, not East Africa, where tall people with thin noses and lips are more frequently encountered.
Next time: I’ll finish up this weird book by reviewing the authors’ final evidence for how “Black” Africans birthed ancient Egypt: Mythology!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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