Ancient Egypt in Africa

By Kendall, Timothy | African Studies Review, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Ancient Egypt in Africa


Kendall, Timothy, African Studies Review


David O'Connor and Andrew Reid, eds. Ancient Egypt in Africa. London: University College London Press, 2003. In Encounters with Ancient Egypt series. Distributed by Cavendish Publishing, c/o International Specialized Book Services, Inc., 5824 NE Hassalo St., Portland, Ore. 97213-3444. 245 pp. Figures. Notes. References. Index. $47.50. Paper.

Ancient Egypt in Africa presents twelve probing essays addressing aspects of the question, "To what extent can ancient Egyptian civilization be characterized as 'African'?" In the traditional view, formulated by European and American scholars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Egypt, despite being in Africa, was not of Africa. The racist/colonialist view that Africa and African peoples were incapable of high cultural attainment naturally resulted in the view that Egypt was a non-African country, more closely connected to the Near Eastern and Mediterranean worlds and populated by peoples more akin to "civilized" Europeans. To these scholars, inner Africa was perceived only as a source of raw materials and slaves. Such interpretations of ancient history were important in order to maintain European authority and power within Africa. In reaction, African and African American scholars, mostly in the latter twentieth century, adopted an opposite paradigm: that ancient Egypt was not only an African civilization, populated by "black" Africans, but also a civilization that imparted its culture to the rest of Africa as well as Europe.

O'Connor and Reid's introduction provides a fascinating overview of how current ideas about ancient Egypt and Africa have been shaped and distorted by modern ethnic, cultural, and religious bias. "For the most part," they write, "locating Ancient Egypt has been an exercise in ideological definition, serving less to understand Ancient Egypt itself and more to define the position of the commentator" (4). From this point they introduce the essays, which document the conflicting and changing views of ancient Egypt within Africa, and examine recent archaeological work in Africa that renders irrelevant race-based theory, creates a more sophisticated view of ancient African cultural diversity, and offers commonsense directions for future research. …

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