Egypt: The World's First Melting Pot

The World's First Melting Pot

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

It can probably be said that a region's favorable climate presents an opportunity for it to become a melting pot of humanity. In modern terms, this climate may be less physical, consisting of a free society which provides unique opportunities for individuals, such as the United States. In the ancient world, good geographical location attracted people. In this regard, Egypt had it all, including a fertile land as well as a central location for trade.

From the Tomb of Seti I, From left: four Libyans, Nubian, Syrian and Egyptian

From the Tomb of Seti I, From left: four Libyans, Nubian, Syrian and Egyptian

So when we attempt to decipher the question of race in early Egypt, we find a complex equation from the outset. In fact, some scholars argue that the question is so complex as to be irrelevant. Much like someone from mid America, with ancestors who might have been Swedish, Irish, Spanish and Indian, he or she is no longer any of those, but simply an American.

Yet it does matter to some extent because we often retain selective customs and traditions from our heritage. It may effect our religion, the structure and operation of our family and many other aspects of our lives, whether we realize it or not. On the other hand, archaeologists are usually more interested in "industries" because this is the manner in which they classify ancient customs, tools and social attributes.

How Ancient Egyptians Saw Themselves

Clearly, ancient Egyptians during the dynastic period saw themselves as Egyptians. Their art, and literature pointedly reveals that they showed no identification with either Africa or Asia. In many regards, the symbolism with the modern United States is striking. People who were obviously of foreign origin very often melted into the Egyptian culture, and became high officials as Egyptians, and it was possible for many different racial types to consider themselves Egyptian.

Early Migration

Egypt is a land that has been heavily populated for thousands of years, and therefore finding the sparse evidence of the earliest humans is difficult. We believe as a general principle that people of East Africa probably migrated towards the rest of the Old World about 1.8 million years ago, and therefore crossed Egypt, were some of them probably settled. However, it must be remembered that this long ago, Egypt was at times much more tropical area, and those who settled in the region had little reason to concentrate along the Nile during these periods. At other times, the region was closer to that of today, with little water and large deserts, and during these periods, Egypt was probably somewhat depopulated, creating a void that might be filled again during the next wet period. In fact, we see a definite pattern where Egypt seems to have been populated and depopulated on a number of occasions in very ancient times.As time passed, it is also clear that people from Southern Africa moved northward, inhabiting what would become Nubia, and there is no doubt at all that these Nubians mixed with people in the region that was to become Egypt. Yet Nubia's racial mix is likewise not completely clear, as a number of other races seem to have eventually mixed with them as well.


We know that the basis of the early Egyptian language came from a group known as Afro-Asiatic, or Hamito-Semitic. These languages came from parts of Africa and the Near East. However, Spanish may be spoken by people of Spain, but also people of southern and Northern America. In addition, roots of the Spanish language can also be found in Italian. Likewise, the language of the early Egyptians could have come from vastly different racial types.

Human Remains

Examination of human remains from the Predynastic period shows a mixture of racial types, including negroid, Mediterranean and European. However, by the time that the dynastic period was clearly established, the racial types were already mixed to a large extent.. Therefore, the issue of race usually surfaces in regard to the protodynastic period (3100-2900 BC). Some scholars, such as W. B. Emery, believed that the predynastic Egyptians were conquered by a new race from the east. Skeletal evidence does in fact suggest that there was a physical or racial change during this period, but other scholars believe that the change was more gradual.. They think that the indigenous Egyptian population was gradually infiltrated by people from Syria-Palestine though the Delta region.

Recent studies by anthropologist C. Loring Brace, along with his co-researchers, taking a look at cranial measurements, suggest that the early Egyptians were similar to people from Southwest Asia and Neolithic Europe, as well as North and Northeast Africa. However, the study seems to rule out commonality with Africans from.

The Pharaonic Period

During Egypt's 3,000 year Pharaonic period, Egypt was both a captor and a captive of other lands. They both ruled Nubia, and were ruled by Nubia. There were Hyksos and Persians, and later certainly Greek and Roman populations within Egypt, as well as slaves from a number of different areas. Again, these cultures mixed, along with marriage, to a lesser or greater extent.

The Arabs

Most believe that whatever the racial mix at the end of the phraraonic period, the Arab invasion some 1,400 years ago probably had a considerable effect upon the indigenous population. Populations from any number of Arabic countries, from modern Saudi Arabia to Turkey came to Egypt, mixed with the Egyptians and largely resulted in the race of Egyptians we know today. Interestingly, however, DNA studies at the University of Cairo report that there is little differences between modern and ancient Egyptians. Of course, books on Egypt often point to members of the Coptic Christian faith as being closer in race to the ancient Egyptians, because they supposedly do not marry outside the ancient faith.Regardless of what race came to Egypt first, what is most clear is that it has always been a melting pot of humanity, as it surely remains today. Ancient Egypt was a crossroad of civilizations, who often came to Egypt for one reason or another, and very often stayed on to become Egyptians themselves.