Nubians in Ancient Egyptian art.

The best defined images of Nubians are probably these tiles, and this drawing of a Nubian from the Belzoni illustration of the tomb of Seti (the original sadly very damaged by moisture) is probably the best known. As can be seen, the standard depiction is of a jet black skin, afro hair, a big hoop earring, and totally negroid faces with big lips, wide nose and prognathic in profile.

This is probably closer the appearance of the Southern Nubians, as studies of a Northern Nubian cemetery (Semna South) shows about 60% Eurasian ancestry, which makes sense as the ancient Egyptian  Southern border area (Luxor) shows at about 70% Eurasian. In case you are interested, the hair study is here, and the DNA study is here.

A recent study of the Sudan suggests 40% Eurasian from the Y chromosome, although it’s probably less overall, so the percentage of Eurasian ancestry in these people probably dropped off pretty quickly as they moved South.

I’m assuming it’s the Southern Nubian ‘type’ depicted as a kind of understandable stereotype in the artwork, as a Northern Nubian probably didn’t look definably different to a Southern Egyptian, and would not be  recognisable as a Nubian if represented exactly in the artwork. A similar thing is seen in the depictions of Libyans (North Africans) who are generally given a very white skin and often fair hair, when in reality they would have been just as heavily tanned and dark haired as the average lower Egyptian, and hard to tell apart without cultural trappings.

Two Nubians (ambassadors I think).  Nubian archers, From the tomb of Mesehti, a prince from the region of Assiut (Middle Dynasty, about 2000 BC).

Nubian slaves, the Great Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt.

More Nubians…


21 responses to “Nubians in Ancient Egyptian art.

  1. But the distinction may have been sharper in the past.

    While Nubians and Egyptians were generally in good relationship (what also must have meant significative exchange through the border, even before such border even existed at all), it must be acknowledged that Nubia/Sudan has been since Roman times a refuge area for opressed Egyptians. Fist the followers of Egyptian religion that did not want to be forcebly christianized, then Christians who fled Islamization and even Muslim refugees from the Mameluke sultanate… in all times Egyptians found refuge in Sudan (not to mention the Arab invaders), what surely has in the long run altered the Nubian phenotype towards a more “mulatto” type.

    So, IMO, it’s very likely that the Nubian archetype was more truthful in the past than you suggest.

  2. I can’t agree there Luis.

    The Northern Nubians show the same amount of Eurasian ancestry as modern Nubians do from the hair amd mtDNA studies I’ve studied, there doesn’t seem to have been any mass population movement around there, same now as then. The Semna hair studies showed a major Eurasian element to the hair, as well as in the DNA.

  3. Interesting. I agree. This is very confusing for me as just a High School student. The one thing that is confusing to me is that not all dark-skinned people look alike. We have the Negroids, the Capoids, Congoids, Negritos, the Malayasians, Polynesians, the Australiods, and Sidroids, who ALL are genetically different. Most East Africans, even before the arrival of Arabs or the Arab Slave Trade in East Africa, and in Ancient History show to look more Eurasian-looking in Physical features and are more closer to Eurasians than Negroids. And DNA shows that ALL Eurasians Ancestors genotype was similar to the East Africans. Trying to find out the “race” or “races” of the Ancient Egyptians (one of my goals)is hard when anthropology and genetis are mixed b/c genetics are confusing when it comes to sub-races of Human and conquering of another ethnic group by another. Interesting, but very confusing when you think hard about this.
    Mathilda what language did the Ancient Egytians speak? Some say it was Nilo-Saharan or one of those in the Afro-Asiatic family. If so, which ones? This could make it easier to narrow down certain ethnic groups.

  4. I am trying to find the exact ones as sub-racial ethnic groups of the EARLIEST PEOPLE of the Civilizations, not labeling them as “white” as Eurocentrics, not “black” as Afrocentrics, because even the Ethipoians, Samolians … etc. are their own racial sub-groups in the correct viewing, even if they have Sub-Saharan influences.

  5. Now on the Nubians: Nubians, as you stated beofre are TODAY racially Eurasian and Sub-Saharan African. So, if like this in ancient times, they are probably a complex group, with alot of racial mixing, but that could be due to invasion and conquering from civilizations in West Asia. I’m still confused about this and sound it too. Lol.

  6. There’s a page on this blog about ancient population movements in North Africa that would clear it all up a bit. Ethiopians have a fair amount of Eurasian ancestry in them, which why is why they can look like black Arabs at times (mostly the Amhara).

    Ancient Egyptians spoke an Afro-Asiatic language. The modern Copts still use a version in their prayer services.

  7. mathilda37

    60 percent of the Language Today has never changed even through the Ancient time.

    Most people think we speak in Arabic, No so, You can get me anyone from any Arabic speaking country and I still won’t understand them.

    Let me give you a link on our spoken Language.

    Here, I hope this helps..

  8. Your last paragraph above regarding Nubians and Libyans sums it up pretty well, Mathilda and I agree. I believe the Egyptians did an excellent job of depicting (to near exact proprtions) the physiological characteristics of not just Nubians but, of themselves in all their distinct variations. The images you’ve posted in this section are clearly Nubians as the Egyptians saw them, and we undoubtedly respect their art in THAT regard… Which gives me all the more reason to question how some images of “royal” Egyptian figures have been deemed “inaccurate” for true Egyptians while other depictions are accepted without reserve.



    • Somalis are essentially mixed race Maqil. And you can’t spell ‘flawed’. Typos are one thing but an illiterate 13 year old pretending to be DNA literateisn’t going to wear….

    • Look at all the mummies with the fine wavy hair (majority). You can’t spell BTW.


    • No- not all genes are ‘African’ in origin. Some are very specific to Europe, Asia America etc. Whatever cereal packet you got your info from has misled you Maqil.

      What exploring Africa isn’t telling you is that post dynastic immigration into Egypt came more from Africa than anywhere else, and modern Egyptians are still about 85% the same people they’ve been since the neolithic.

  11. The 18th dynasty proclaims it’s southern ancestry in boy king Tut, Amenhotep’s, and Queen Tiye. They were all Nubian, unmixed Africans. This dynasty actually comes in after expelling the foreign powers that siezed power in the 13th dynasty. The same with the 25th dynasty from the south. The majority, if not all egyptologists that have been studying for more the 5 years knows the true identity of ancient Egypt. If you research the tomb discovered in Nubia in the 1980’s by American archeologists, (I can provide names if you like later) the tomb revealed that the priest-king system, burial process of the dead, hierglyphs, and more derived in Egypt. According to the findings, the tomb dated at least 300 years before dynastic Egypt. Google the first dynastic king, Narmer Aha Menes, clearly African. Egyptologists do not debate this subject b/c they know. Note, straight hair is an African phenotype as well as thin acq. nose. The Africans spread far into Asia, India, Europe, and the Americas. Check the Olmec heads. Let’s find a different subject to debate, maybe the ethnicity of the inhabitants of Venus, b/c ancient Egypt’s African ness can be proven time again. UNESCO validated this fact when Dr. Diop and Dr. Obenga argued the case. When, which dynasty do we find “wavy” hair in Egypt? What about the wigs in the Cairo museum, clearly kinky? The statue of Amenemhet has dread locks. Queen Tiye has an “Afro” as you say. Too much evidence, but I applaud your effort to discover for yourself. Last thing, the ancient world, up until the 19th century had no problem with egypt’s blackness, remember that African slavery was justified b/c Christian Europe said that Africans were to be enslaved b/c of biblical Ham’s curse against Noah. Since blacks were Hams descendants, then they were doomed to servitude. Egypt is a child of Ham or Chem, so is Nubia, Kush, Somalia, and Lybia. To name a few.

    Thanks for listereading
    Dr. J. Bey

    • Dr Jey-

      the male ancestry of Egyptians makes it biologically impossible for them to be anything other than the population thats been there for at least the last 8k- they have more African male ancestry in them than half of the Sudan and Ethiopia and they overall haplotypes are the same too.

      BTW, so far the mummy maternal DNa has shown more immigration from balck Africans into Egypt than from historical Eurasian immigration.

      The only reason Afrocentrists whine is that modern Egyptians are too light skinned- its just racism. I have over 2500 comments to wade through- so excuse my curtness.

  12. Why is this still an issue? It’s patently obvious from the language, culture, religion and iconographic representations of Ancient Egyptians that they were a mixed population. The Upper Egyptians are generally more “African” (to use an in artful term) than the Lower Egyptians. For example, look at the difference in facial features from the 18th (Southern) to the 19th (Northern) Dynasties.

    The extremes of both arguments (all black/all non-black) are preposterous. Racists and extreme Afro-Centrists are both blind to reality.

    The notions that the Ancient Egyptians were “White” in the modern Western European sense or “Black” in the modern West African sense are
    both ridiculous.

    Also, the arguments above don’t seem to allow from differing ethnic types among Blacks/Africans as is generally accepted for Asians and Europeans; ex: A Nordic European and a Sicilian are both “white” and European but are quite distinct ethnic types. Are we to say that the Nordic is White but the Sicilian isnt?

    Likewise, a Nigerian and an Ethiopian are both Black and African but generally represent different ethnic types.

  13. Nice post, Gman and your final statements are precisely why this “race thing” is still and will remain an “issue.” Not only are the “different ethnic types” you’ve mentioned NOT DEFINABLE within any biological or scientific guidlines, no one person (ancient or modern) can be accurately defined at all based on this “modern social construct” we call “race.”

    There lies the problem in and within itself – a concept for Humanity that has no agreeable or measurable definitions, no plausible descriptions or foundations (other than subjective ignorance and debate), and one that just so happens to be believed in and supported by the vast majority of authors, educators and scientific experts the world over? And just as to be expected, all we do is revert back to the same damnable sources and data when making reference to the most racially diverse, most influential and longest lived civilization that ever appeared upon the face of the Earth… Ancient Egypt. There sir, is your answer.

  14. There is absolutely no doubt that Nubians were the ancient Egyptians. Of course interlopers like the Arabs, Greeks, Romans and Turks would ultimately enter into the picture in Egypt and gradually would usurp power and eventually displace the Nubians. And lest one forget’s, we cannot minimize the power of race mixing, which by introduction of these new arrivals, impacted skin tone and hair texture. But one has only to see how the Nubians of that period depicted themselves on the various temples and sites to understand the blackness of their racial identity.

    In more modern times, European colonian prejudice based on white racial superiority (until then unkown in that area) would help put the final nail in Nubian relevance to Egypt’s historic identity until now.

    Europe through its prejudices has played a role destructive to the contributions to middle eastern history by Africa’s dark skinned races. You dont have to be Einstein to realize after having discussions with the current inhabitants of much of North Africa, that the folks there today have no understanding of the accient culture, and no connection to it roots. But one has to just travel further south on the Nile to the Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea to find people who dont just look like the depiction on the walls of those temples, but also continue to practice the same culture.

    It is indeed a pity that this ignorance has lasted this long, but with the advent of technology a lot of this is being revealed and the record set straight.

    • Yet again, multiple DNA and anthrolopogical studies have shown ancient Egyptians are the same as ancient. In fact their native African Y chr make mass immigration impossible Fred.

      Its a pity you feel the need to air your ignorance so openly, but at least I can set the record straight for you..

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