March 2, 2016
How did the Nubian pharaohs rise to power in Egypt? New study has an answer
A middle-class tomb just east of the Nile River, in what was Upper Nubia and is now northern Sudan, has revealed how ancient cultures influenced each other, despite having a colonizer/colonized relationship.
A Nubian woman was found buried in an Egyptian tomb, but in the Nubian style; placed in a flexed position on her side and resting on a bed. Around her neck she wore amulets of the Egyptian god Bes, the protector of households.Stuart Tyson Smith, a professor of archaeology and chair of the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara, said that the find represents a fine example of "cultural entanglement."
Along with Michele Buzon of Purdue University, Smith published a paper in American Anthropologist detailing their investigation of cultural identity and transformation in the ancient village of Tombos, which became an important colonial hub after the Egyptians conquered Nubia around 1500 BCE.
"You get this really interesting entangled culture blending different elements in really different ways, but also there seems to be a lot of individual choice involved," Smith explained. "It's not just a matter of the two cultures mash up and then you get this new hybrid thing that's consistent. There seems to be a lot of individual choice — whether or not you want a Nubian bed and/or an Egyptian coffin and/or to be wrapped like a mummy or whether or not you want an Egyptian-style amulet and/or Nubian ivory jewelry."
A new way of thinking
The researchers believe that the Nubians came to think of themselves as more authentically 'Egyptian' than the rulers they eventually overthrew, with the Nubian conquest of Egypt and the 25th Dynasty of Egypt around 750-650 BCE.
The project's excavations are centered in graves from the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BCE) and the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1070-615 BCE).
"We're looking at the social dynamic from which those Nubian pharaohs emerged," Smith said, "and how that blended culture might have contributed to the cultural dynamic that allowed the pharaohs to come in, not just as conquerors, but as the legitimate restorers of the proper order of things in a decadent time. That's exactly how they presented it."
Burial practices and other evidence found in graves gave evidence of cultural crossovers, while the pair also measured craniofacial features to establish biological relationships and mixing between Nubians and Egyptians.
Their work shakes up traditional academic thinking, in which Egyptians were assumed to have simply imposed their culture on the Nubians. Instead, it is now suggested, intermarriage and cultural mixing in colonial Nubia led to a new identity and the development of the Nubian pharaohs.
"What we're looking at is a more nuanced model of Egyptian and Nubian culture entangling, and how individual choices drive this kind of ethnic and cultural change, and ultimately enable these Nubian pharaohs to take over," said Smith. "The local people, and the colonists coming from Egypt who become locals over time, are driving the trajectory of the civilization as much as larger policies of colonial Egypt or, later on, these emerging pharaohs.
"That goes over very well with the local population. They like that idea. It's not just Egypt imprinting their culture on Nubia; the local people are really influencing things and making it possible for the Nubians to eventually rule Egypt."
Image credit:Wikimedia Commons