Our modern boundaries on our world maps appear to be rigid declarations marking the exact territories that belong to a specific group of people. We know that the formation of these lines and the maintenance of these boundaries can be carried out several different ways but most often are enforced through politics and military power. The borders of ancient Egypt were no different. For the research paper for this course I plan on writing about the fluidity of the southern border between Egypt and the region known as Nubia. I would like to focus on the dynamics between these two populations seen through time based on historical documentation and the archaeological artifacts and human remains excavated from that area.
The ancient Egyptians had predominantly kept to themselves for several centuries viewing non-Egyptians as ‘the other’. Drawing from concepts written about by Said (1978) I would like to briefly analyze this mindset and determine what occurred historically to begin the relationship between ancient Egypt and its Nubian neighbors. Smith’s book, “Wretched Kush: Ethnic Identity in Egypt’s Nubian Empire” (2003) will also be used to analyze the ethnic identity of these populations throughout time and discuss the concept of the Egyptian southern border.
I will follow the history of the Egyptian and Nubian interactions at the political level, but would also like to view their relationship at a smaller scale pulling evidence from archaeological sites near the area. Comparative studies of the patterns of skeletal trauma seen in human remains from Kerma and Tombos, both located near the Third Cataract of the Nile, provide evidence of a transition in the relationship between the Nubians and ancient Egyptians (Buzon and Richman 2007).
Several scholars have studied the physical anthropology of these populations trying to determine the ‘racial typology’ that distinguishes these groups (Batrawi 1946) using what is now considered as outdated methods. Other work has focused on the biological distance between these two groups and the evolutionary perspective which could explain any differences seen (Carlson and van Gerven 1979). Recent work has examined the archaeological artifacts and human skeletal remains in this region and discovered that at the site of Tombos that there is a mixture of ethnicities seen both in mortuary practice and craniofacial measurements (Buzon 2006). This work also determined that there was no clear cut suite of measurements that would distinguish a Nubian from an Egyptian. This is evidence for the fluidity of the southern border allowing cultural ideas to be exchanged, material goods, and genetic flow to take place.
The northern portion of Nubia has been of great interest to archaeologists and physical anthropologists because of the interactions between these two populations. This paper will examine the historical evidence of the relationship between Nubia and Egypt through time considering the cultural implications on a personal scale as well as a political scale. Evidence from archaeological sites in this region will be used to support the concept of the southern border of Egypt as a fluid and ever changing boundary and its effects on the occupants of both sides.
Batrawi, A. (1946). The racial history of Egypt and Nubia: Part II. The racial relationships of the Ancient and Modern populations of Egypt and Nubia. “The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland,” 76(2):131-156.
Buzon, M. R. (2006). Biological and ethnic identity in the New Kingdom Nubia: A case study from Tombos. “Current Anthropology,” 47(4): 683-695.
Buzon, M.R. and Richman, R. (2007). Traumatic injuries and imperialism: The effects of Egyptian colonial strategies at Tombos in Upper Nubia. “American Journal of Physical Anthropology,” 133: 783-791.
Carlson, D. S. and van Gerven D. P. (1979). Diffusion, biological determinism, and biocultural adaptation in the Nubian corridor. “American Anthropologist,” 81(3):561-580.
Said, E. (1978). “Orientalism.” New York: Random House.
Smith, S. T. (2003). “Wretched Kush: Ethnic Identity in Egypt’s Nubian Empire.” London: Routledge.