The art of ancient Egypt always impresses me, but one of my favorite aspects of the monuments and carvings from that period has been the depiction of the people. Pharoah Akhenaten stands out from all other ancient pharaohs with his depiction as a long headed and pot bellied man. His royal family is also long headed and pot bellied. There are many theories on why there is this drastic change in the appearance of the pharaoh and his family, but since his mummy has not been positively identified there is no ability to test theories that he suffered from some type of genetic disorder. There is also a theory centered on the presence of alien life forms that point to an extraterrestrial influence on the pharaoh (there are several ‘interesting’ blogs on the topic). The mystery will likely remain until Akhenaten’s mummy is discovered and tested for genetic disorders as well as examined for skeletal evidence of his distinct cranio-facial features.
Akhenaten is not the only person that stands out in ancient Egyptian art. The representation of the foreigners present on the temple walls is also distinct from Egyptians. While in Egypt, I remember being fascinated by these depictions. The stark differences in skin tone and cranio-facial structure along with distinct dress and hair styles demonstrates that the Egyptians were aware of several things. First and foremost, they were interacting with their neighbors in some capacity whether it was through warfare, peaceful trade, or the formation of alliances. They were no longer isolated by their physical boundaries which they had used to keep to themselves for centuries previously. The Egyptians were also defining their ethnicity as being very distinct from these other populations, both physically as well as culturally. Most depictions were created to show that the Egyptians were in a powerful position over these foreigners.
The Egyptians used art to distinguish between their own people as well as themselves from foreign outsiders. They implied their power and dominance over these foreigners through their graphic depictions of battles. These artworks were created by and for a higher status group of individuals. It is important to keep in mind that these depictions represent an idealized version of the differences between individuals and that these differences may not have been as important on an individual basis.