Researching Kemet

why are the noses missing from Egyptian statues. The sphinx at Giza

Researching Kemet

Eurocentrics have been doctoring images since the advent of photoshop in order to support their view of ancient Kemet. However, I have noticed an increasing trend of people wishing to demonstrate support for an African origin for Kemet doing the same to prove their point. This is entirely unnecessary given the strength of cultural, visual and linguistic evidence to demonstrate that Kemet was an indigenous African culture in every sense. And in producing doctored memes, those who seek to support an African origin do the opposite, because they undermine the solid evidence that exists without their adaptations. In light of this phenomenon, I have been asked recently how I would suggest beginners should go about exploring Kemet within its rightful African context. This is what I would suggest. Other readers may have other ideas and it would be great if you could share these for novices.


Exhibitions usually follow a theme (there is supposed to be some rationale behind assembly objects in a temporary space). The catalogues or on-line exhibition websites are often a good way to obtain an introduction to a subject. On the Brooklyn Museum of Art website for example is information dating to 2006 , which explores Western interest in Ancient Egypt, and the contribution of African American scholars on Egyptology. Such places and also old catalogues can be a good place to start and second hand copies are often cheap and easy to find. But remember to look at the text critically. Statements should be backed up with evidence to support them. Do not mistake opinion for documented evidence.

Museum on-line catalogues

These are a great source, often with good images and an increasing number of museums are happy for people to download and use high resolution photographs for non-profit activities. Generally, the dates and identification of material is correct. Here is an example.

Example of the on-line catalogue from The Brooklyn Museum of Art

First thing to note is that the statue does not have a provenance (excavation site). It was purchased on the art market with a museum fund (Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund). This means that it could of course be a forgery. Next is the date, which is Ptolemaic and around 50 BCE. This is perfectly reasonable; I would probably date it the the century before because of the style of hair, which has parallels during the reign of Ptolemy VI but the period is certainly correct.

The material, here a stone known as Diorite is listed. Museums sometimes get the exact stone incorrect, because some of the Kemite stones look very similar to the eye.

The description. These vary and can be subjective and are often outside of a wider African context. Here, you will note the author makes a distinction between indigenous Egyptians and Greeks. They often include information about the condition of the object and if there are any restorations that may not be noticeable from the photograph.

References. Finally, this head has been in 3 exhibitions, which are listed alongside links to their pages. So, if you were interested in similar material this they would be a good place to go. Some on-line catalogues also contain a bibliography or reference list of publications that have included an object.

An African context

There are some on-line resources that combine material from Kemet and the rest of the African context. Triumph, Protection & Dreams  was an exhibition that I co-curated a number of years ago. It explored similarities in use and design of headrests in East Africa and there remains a dedicated site showing the items that were on display. If museums don’t offer this facility then you can undertake the research yourself, by using the on-line resources for contemporary African cultures. Rather than selecting a department or culture you could search generically for ‘head rest’ and obtain a range of different dates and cultures, which you can then compare.

Most museums will not stress the African origin of material from Kemet, or offer an interpretation within a African-centered framework. However, having access to material that is not even displayed through the digitisation of collections is an invaluable resource for those wishing to explore Kemite material culture. You just need to be able to work around the framework and build up your own library of parallels from elsewhere in Africa.

9 thoughts on “Researching Kemet”

  1. one thing that i found amazing was your hair picks display and the amazing thing is when i was researching the Beja people they still wear afros and walk around with the exact style of hair combs like the ancients i really believe the beja are the closest to ancient Egyptians well ever see

  2. Would you be able to tell readers who the Eurocentrics are so we can be critical when viewing images they put out ? Do you also think you could name any current Egyptologists who are Eurocentric/anti-black and why ?

    1. The usual Eurocentric technique is to either change the darker pigments on wall paintings to paler colours (clearly missing the point that people of African descent have a huge range of complexions anyway) or to mis-interpret colour that is used for symbolic purposes (yellow/gold to represent divinity or white, that represents ritual purity or is simply the remaining plaster base for a pigment) and insist that the people of ancient Kemet were European. Many Egyptologists simply don’t connect Kemet with the rest of Africa; this is partly due to the way in which the subject is studied (isolated from other cultures) but also because the origins of the discipline are based on racist ideologies.

      1. Who are some current Egyptologists who assert the Ancient Egyptians were European ? Ill make sure I ignore them.

        @Carlos Coke – thanks, any others you would suggest to be critical of and why ?

        1. Yes, I can provide other examples of Egyptologists where I’d suggest applying critical filters when their published work touches on the population backgrounds of the ancient Egyptians.

          What did you think of the examples I gave of Redford and Wilkinson?

    2. ^^ Donald Redford and Toby Wilkinson are examples of current Egyptologists who offer, ahem, highly questionable interpretations in their work.

      This from Donald Redford’s “From Slave to Pharaoh: The Black Experience in Ancient Egypt”:

      “Studies somewhat related to the purpose of the present work center upon what an earlier generation might have termed ‘race relations’ between Mediterranean [sic] and Nilotic peoples” (p.x).

      “[T]he aversion springs spontaneously and unconsciously in the human psyche and is always based initially on observable traits, as color, language, costume, and social practice. The Id cannot tolerate differences in another human body, for they constitute a threat” (p5).

      “Even at the best of times Nubians were irresponsible and lazy…”(p7).

      “Within Egypt they [Nubians] found certain occupations reserved for them by common consent: paramilitary police with a reputation for tough treatment of the civilian population…” (p9).

      In a footnote, Redford interprets the content of the Letter of Amenhotep II to User-Satet, Viceroy of Kush:

      “The meaning seems to be that if no Egyptian official is present to inventory and physically transfer the taxes to Egypt, it will have to be left to the natives themselves, and inefficiency, losses, and excuses will be the result” (p155).

      Funny thing is, Redford positions himself as objective:

      “Although the more extreme positions of Eurocentrists and Afrocentrists alike have now been abandoned, neither they nor their more sober counterparts show much inclination to adopt a dispassionate empirical approach. What I tried to do is to allow the Egyptian texts to speak for themselves, whether or not their statements appear to us moderns to be “politically correct.” It matters not a whit whether the ancients bolster or destroy our prejudiced positions: listening to their voices is the first thing we ought to do. Perhaps their words will have the salutary effect of marginalizing some prejudices and rendering them of no real moment” (px).


      Then there’s Toby Wilkinson, in “The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt”, where he describes a goblet commissioned by Libyan ruler Bakenrenef:

      “In a lower band, captive Kushites – their arms bound behind their backs or above their heads- alternated with monkeys stealing dates from palm trees. It was a cheap racial slur and a piece of propaganda in the best pharaonic tradition” (p423)… ???

      And when he writes of the meeting between Nitiqret and two Kushite princesses at Thebes, Shepenwepet II and Amenirdis II, Wilkinson says:

      “How strange these two dark-skinned African women must have looked to the Delta princess!” (p439).

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