Egyptian interactions & Egyptocentrism

In addressing the Neolithic and Predynastic of (mostly Lower) Egypt, we encountered evidence of cultural and economic interaction among distinct and unique cultures. Evidence from multiple sites in Lower Egypt (e.g., Tell el’-Omari, Ma’adi) makes the link between Lower Egypt and the Levant clear. Circular houses and trade goods like carnelian and turquoise link the Fayum A culture to extralocal neolithic cultures.

Because the history and pre-history of Egypt is fairly well-documented and excavated, it provides a frame of reference for many surrounding cultures. We saw this a few weeks ago when Ethan mentioned the cross-reference dating of Pharaonic kings with Byzantine rulers. Similarly, the exchange of culture and goods is evidence for long-distance interaction. However, there is a fine line between sharing material culture and diffusion/ cultural dominance, which indicates an uneven relationship.

Meroe pyramids by Flickr user Retlaw Snellac

In a fair amount of 20th century scholarship, one finds an Egypto-centric perspective of ancient Nubia. Remnants of this remain: whenever Nubia is mentioned in passing, it is noted that it was periodically conquered by Dynastic Egypt or merely that it benefitted from its interactions with Egypt. We acknowledge the distinction between Lower and Upper Egyptian cultures while remaining aware of their interactions – Nubia must be treated the same way. (Of course, in this class, such a mention makes sense, since it is an Egyptian Archaeology class. I mean to point out that this is the case in a wider swathe of scholarly writings.)

Not only were these 2nd-4th cataract peoples as unique as Lower and Upper Egypt, but they too were surrounded on all sides by extralocal cultures with whom they interacted. Goods such as frankincense and ivory from eastern Nubia, known as “Punt” in the textbook (Bard 2007), cross-desert trade with Arabia after the domestication of the camel, and East-West trade through the region of Africa known as the Maghreb brought exotic trade goods and cultural memes to the kingdoms of Nubia. Bard minimizes the importance of these relationships when she notes that Group-A (neolithic Nubian) goods were rarely exported north. The presence of Egyptian goods in the south and the interactions that would have occurred between traders would still affect Egyptian culture.