Friday, December 08, 2006

A new picture of ancient ethnic diversity

Source: The

By Tom Avril

The Philadelphia Inquirer


PHILADELPHIA - Scholars have long believed that ancient Egypt was a genetic stew of ethnicity, as the fabled kingdom was both a center of international trade and often the victim of foreign invasions.

Now, new evidence suggests that may have been true even in the upper echelons of society, according to researchers who have used a blend of art and science to re-create what the ancients looked like in real life.

They have used CAT scans to model the skulls of seven mummies from various museums, including one unveiled last month at Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, revealing physical features that range from Mediterranean to African.

All seven were buried with the trappings of a high status in society, including two clearly connected to the priesthood, said project leader Jonathan Elias, director of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Akhmim Mummy Research Consortium.

He cautioned against drawing firm conclusions from such a small sample, and he stressed that ethnic traits were a small part of his research. But he said the findings suggested a society where race had little to do with class.

"They all identified themselves as Egyptians," Elias said. "These are people. You can't slice them up like they're chocolate cake or vanilla cake."

Philadelphia sculptor Frank Bender has created plaster busts from five of the seven skull models, including one of the anonymous young woman - dubbed Annie - whose 2,200-year-old remains are on display at the Philadelphia academy.

Bender sculpted her with a nose and cheekbones that Elias described as "northern Mediterranean" - the location of modern-day Greece and Turkey. Another one of the five has what Elias called "Sudanese" features: full lips and a "prognathous" profile - meaning the jaw protrudes farther than the nose. The others have a blend of ethnic facial characteristics.

Anthropologists who have heard Elias speak about the work have been impressed.

"In the past, Egyptology has been very much based on architecture and artifacts and text," said Robert Yohe, an anthropologist at California State University, Bakersfield. "You got reconstructions of culture based on things and people's impressions of things."

No comments: