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Don’t you just love seeing ignorance get smacked?

Ah, racists…simultaneously so smug and so stupid. One racist white guy wrote in anonymously to People of Color in European Art History with a slightly leading question:

Can you explain why Europeans were much more technologically advanced than the indigenous populations of Africa? I mean, these cultures hadn’t even invented sewage systems, which is something the Romans were able to design and implement in 800-735 BC (a long fucking time before "the white man" colonized it)… I mean fuck, without "the white man", they would probably still be in the fucking bronze age.

Go read the answer. You’ll learn more about brown people’s ancient plumbing, at a time when Europeans hadn’t quite figured out sanitation, than you ever knew before. Flush toilets in the 18th century BCE, elaborate hydraulic systems in 3100 BCE, pressure inverted siphons in 1600 BCE, while Europeans’ most sophisticated approach to sewage was dumping their chamber pots in the street.

Comments

  1. anteprepro says

    You’ll learn more about brown people’s ancient plumbing, at a time when Europeans hadn’t quite figured out sanitation, than you ever knew before. Flush toilets in the 18th century BCE, elaborate hydraulic systems in 3100 BCE, pressure inverted siphons in 1600 BCE, while Europeans’ most sophisticated approach to sewage was dumping their chamber pots in the street.

    It’s because, unlike those other Inferior Races, white people KNEW that their shit didn’t stink.

  2. says

    I like how the response included the Dark Ages. If Roman civilization (in other words, white people) were so smart, how did they lose their knowledge? There’s also the matter of “borrowing” ideas from other cultures. Romans never did figure out the number zero, did they?

  3. atheistblog says

    In the west these Fucking white Ethnocentric racists. And in the East because of these white racists and 300 years of colonial era, now ultra east nationalists are spawning everywhere.
    In Africa, there is fucking war between two groups and they associate themselves with 2 major stupid religions. I wonder why ? Imperial Europe and sheep hoarders stupid monotheistic organized religions totally destroyed world, just look at Americas and East, Colonialism and Abrahamic BS totally destroyed world.

  4. octopod says

    Aaaand a rimshot for anteprepro@#2.

    (No, but seriously, this is really cool. Harappan municipal plumbing! Wow!)

  5. anuran says

    There are plenty of (European and Middle Eastern) travellers’ accounts of African cities from before the Europeans and Arabs started getting into wholesale slavery. They generally describe them as organized, clean and well-run.

    Recall that it was into the twentieth century before Southerners in the US were taught to bury their excrement at least six feet down to avoid parasites. No. That is not an exaggeration. Hookworm and so on were epidemic South of the Mason-Dixon line among bare-footed Southerners until this bit of public health information made its way into Dixie.

  6. draconius says

    shitrichcollegekidssay:

    I don’t really know what kind of history books bigots like you read.

    Stormfront is a kind of history book? /bamboozled

  7. magistramarla says

    The first things that came to this former Latin teacher’s mind were the Minoan civilization and Alexandria in Egypt.
    The Hanging Gardens of Babylon also come to mind. The Romans were in awe of the seven wonders of the (now ancient) world, and they wrote about their travels to see them (or their ruins even then) extensively. None of those wonders were built by people whom the bigots would consider to be “white”.

  8. Desert Son, OM says

    PZ in subject post:

    Don’t you just love seeing ignorance get smacked?

    The delicious [insert flavor-topping-of-choice] on the delicious [insert dessert-of-choice] would be a follow up from the anonymous racist that was thankful for the reply, genuinely apologetic for both the duplicity and the assholery of the initial challenge, and indicative of a new resolve to go out into the world and combat their own historical and socio-cultural ignorance by endeavoring to learn more.

    But then, I always did have an overdeveloped sense of fantasy.

    As an aside, the racist’s challenge smacks of the kind of racism underlying Space Aliens Built The Pyramids! flimflam: “Wait a minute, how did people who do not have my melanin expression possibly develop architecture of complexity on a scale like this, with art, language, accounting systems, agriculture, social cohesiveness, industry, public works, infrastructure, and technology to boot? Must’ve been space aliens!”

    Chaco Canyon, similar. Turns out there really were aliens. They arrived much later, bearing small pox.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  9. rpjohnston says

    Man, they never taught me any of this cool stuff in school. All history was Western (European and American) history. Sounds like I need to go on a Wikipedia run.

    I’m bothered, though, by the fact that the racist specifically asked about Africa and that’s pretty much the one continent that wasn’t actually addressed in the response. It sounds evasive, why did the responder ignore it? The only African civilizations that I know by name are the Malinese and Zulu, and even then I don’ know much more than that the former’s capital was Timbuktu, they were highly prosperous and had many trade routes. Anybody want to name-drop some African civs for me to wiki?

  10. brett says

    It’s a fascinating answer, although the “shitting in the streets” thing didn’t characterize British and/or European town and city waste disposal either. This post on Quora has a pretty good summary of how sanitation worked in medieval Europe, and the book The Ghost Map (about a major cholera outbreak in 19th century London) talks about the development of the city’s sanitation.

    Short Version: People were usually responsible for keeping the area of the streets out in front of their home clean, and could be heavily fined for letting it go foul. Larger buildings had buried cesspits into which enclosed latrines would empty, and these would be emptied out by workers called “gong farmers” who would then take the waste out of the city*. Smaller homes usually had a latrine over a bucket, and they would unfortunately dump it into the nearest river.

    * You started seeing the whole “sewage in the streets” element when 19th century London grew so big that the gong farmer set-up was overwhelmed, but before they installed sewers and a more centralized sanitation system.

  11. yubal says

    The guy who asked the question is probably a little out of time line. 800-735 BC is a little early for the Romans to develop sanitation. If I remember my history 101 correctly ,sanitation was a gift of an emperor to the people of Rome after they colonized most of the Mediterraneans. So, more like 200-50 BC.

    (Please ignore my comment)

  12. brett says

    He was probably drawing on the wikipedia article Sanitation in Ancient Rome, which does say that the earliest sewers appeared sometime between 800 and 735 BCE. But it isn’t sourced, and what I found when I looked it up varies – the Cloaca Maxima was built in the Sixth Century BCE, although it may not have been originally intended as a sewer drainage system. In any case, they did eventually develop a complex sewer system in the city.

  13. says

    rpjohnston#11

    I’m bothered, though, by the fact that the racist specifically asked about Africa and that’s pretty much the one continent that wasn’t actually addressed in the response.

    Except in the first paragraph….

    The Great Libraries of Timbuktu? The steel metallurgy of the Haya? Dentistry? Caesarean section? Premature neonatal care? Mathematics, architecture, engineering?

    In addition to the Haya and the aforementioned Great Zimbabwe, I would also recommend you look into the Nok, Aksum,and Kush

  14. yubal says

    Yah. Well. The ability to shit into floating water seems to be particularly important here as measure for the advancement of a culture. Why?

    If we just knew more about the Numidian empire, or all the other great civilizations in Africa that rose and went over time….I sometimes regret not being involved in anthropology or archaeology or whatever discipline learns about the life of people before us.

  15. Akira MacKenzie says

    rpjohnston @ 11

    Man, they never taught me any of this cool stuff in school. All history was Western (European and American) history.

    Neither did I. Humanity in general has accomplished some fantastic feats. However, if the early 90s and the academic fight over “multicultrualism” was anything to go by, I’m pretty sure any attempt to expand the scope of the basic history would be answered with howling about “liberal revisionists trying to dilute the curriculum and vilify Western civilization!”

    You could be sure that the asshole mentioned in the OP would be among them.

  16. Muz says

    A really comprehensive sub-Saharan African version of that post would be great.
    As mentioned, despite those cursory notes, knuckleheads get to the end of that and say “Still ok to be racist toward anyone darker than Indians. Phew! That’s all I really care about” (that and the Jews, because they’re too smart. Everything in moderation obv.)

  17. Graculus says

    The only African civilizations that I know by name are the Malinese and Zulu

    Egypt is chopped liver?

  18. vaiyt says

    History as I learned in school was a disjointed affair that made entire people and civilizations disappear when focus shifted to another area. Persians and Egyptians go poof after Alexander; Phoenicians take a hike after the ancient middle east and suddently reappear to fight Rome; the Ottomans are never shown as the menace that had half of Europe crapping their pants for centuries.

  19. says

    It’s not that good of an answer, because it doesn’t answer the question. Nearly all of the answer is devoted to civilisations that were not in Africa when the question specifically mentioned Africa. Some of the comments here provide much better examples because they use African civilisations. Though I’m not sure Egypt and some other North African civilisations would be good examples because they would be in constant contact with Arab and European civilisations. Also, examples of specific advancements doesn’t preclude that overall there was a technological gap between them.

    I’m more familiar with sub-Saharan Africa and I’d guess the difference is that there was, to my knowledge, no indigenous writing system. Without writing you can’t easily transmit information and develop technology because everything has to be taught orally.

  20. Ichthyic says

    because it doesn’t answer the question.

    fail. please reread the full question, and try again.

  21. coldthinker says

    I have difficulty understanding this idea of taking personal pride of having some special cultural ancestry, but much less can I understand how some people seem to take pride in the level of melatonin of their skin (or the genitalia they’ve been born with, for that matter).

    Personally, I have not done any of the major scientific or technological discoveries that benefit the humankind. But I’m in awe of the ingenuity of the brightest ones of this ape species of ours, even more so, when it has lead to development through complicated systems of human co-operation.

    It doesn’t matter which continent the discoveries come from. As a fairly light-skinned human being, I am no more or less entitled to be proud of the Scandinavian cultural heritage, than I am of the Indian, Chinese, Malinese or Mayan.

  22. lostintime says

    This sounds like Yali’s question, and Jared Diamond provided the non-racist answer. Interesting that Europeans were so far behind in plumbing and sewerage systems.

  23. randay says

    @ 3 Sudunlap Apparently the Babylonians, the Indians, and the Mayans invented or discovered zero independently. In the Dark Ages, the Catholic Church opposed its use because it came to Europe through the Arabs and was thus satanic.

  24. dhall says

    I teach history at a four-year college where I am currently the sole history professor. World History is one of those essentially impossible courses to teach. It is seriously difficult to teach a truly in-depth, exhaustive history of about six thousand years of world civilization in two semesters. You cannot cover everything. Not even close, and quite frankly, sewer systems are not even in the pile of things I have to cover unless I’m talking about the 14th century Bubonic Plague pandemic. Personally, my own background is western civ., not because of any racism or anything like that, but I happen to like the British Isles and maritime/naval history. However, I have done the bloody best I can to cover the rest of the world in those courses, as well as in the geography courses I must also teach. I carefully choose textbooks that go into the details I cannot, due to lack of expertise or time, but good luck getting students to actually read the textbooks.

    What I’m trying to say is that the blame for the lack of understanding regarding the history of the rest of the planet comes from a place that’s a lot deeper than many seem to realize. For one thing, history itself is increasingly seen as a waste of time by both administrators and students, “’cause you can’t getta job in it, y’know.” For another, when I have to deal with students who know next to nothing about the history of their own country–and their ignorance is truly amazing and depressing–I lose even more time for other civilizations. When I have students ask me how those who devised the Underground Railroad could build such long tunnels for their trains, or how the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, I really have to get down to the absolute basics. I have students who do not know who was fighting in the US Civil War, much less what it was about or who won it. There is very little time left for the kinds of information many of you are talking about.

    I honestly don’t know what is being taught in grades K-12, because I end up with far too many students with little to no prior knowledge. That leaves me with even less opportunity to go beyond the basics. Sorry for the rant, and there’s no excuse for racism, but if the writer was not given a reasonable foundation in world history to start with, and he never went to college–or he did but avoided history–then he probably really doesn’t know any better. We have glorified ignorance in the US for the last several decades while bashing any signs of intellectualism, and the results of that stupidity are manifesting themselves on a daily basis now. I have no idea how we can turn it around either, because that ignorance has become such a useful tool for many of those in power, whether in the economic, political or religious spheres.

  25. twas brillig (stevem) says

    re OP(-1):

    Simplistic answer: Climate/Weather. Europe’s climate is so perfect, no need for people to civilize to share food and knowledge from generation to generation, or keep groups hygienic to keep from spreading disease. While Africa is so harsh that only the stupid would not huddle together and share the little crops they grew. /satire

    Seriously, though. I don’t think it had anything to do with the “inferiority” of the people who lived in Africa (obviously), it could well have been the climate of Europe, that motivated the people there to form civilization. Remember: “Correlation is NOT Causation”. Just because; Blacks are correlated with less Civilization and Whites are correlated with more; does NOT mean, White = Civ, Black = Savage. Other factors could be causing both. The climate of the two areas could easily be the cause of each and is reasonable (falsifiable, even) and not just a bigoted attitude. That last bit is my own bigoted attitude: that Bigots just believe only “Correlation = Causation”. All Bigots are the same.

  26. Pen says

    The post is about a question which is as stupid as ‘if we’re descended from monkeys why are there still monkeys’ and is either not worth answering or requires an answer six volumes long.

    I’m rather fascinated by the idea of site called ‘People of Color in European Art History’ because:

    a) I’m an art historian, but never mind that,

    b) ‘People of Color’ is a broad term that only seems to make any sense at all in contemporary US society. Once you take it out of that context it makes absolutely none, grouping people who have absolutely nothing, but nothing in common, except not being indigenous Europeans, which is basically nothing. By some standards it even includes some indigenous Europeans. I don’t think I would have started an investigation like this by importing such a foreign concept.

    The blog author bangs up against this point themselves in another post:

    There was this question: Are there poc from history that weren’t slaves or servents? ( I’m sure there were, but were there any well known ones?)

    And the answer begins: I get why you asked this question, and I get why you framed it the way you have. But I want to take this moment to break down what you’re really asking, here. Let’s take your question on a world tour.

    It’s another mind-bogglingly stupid question, especially when POC is defined in such a way that it includes the aristocracies of all Asia, Africa and South America, as the blog author explains, but a blog entitled People of Color in European Art History does tend to set itself up for that kind of framing. POC is a stupid term outside contemporary America. Nobody is stupid enough to ask ‘so was there ever such a thing as an aristocracy outside of Western Europe, then?’

    Taking it a bit further, the blog says its mission statement is to counteract the idea that Europe was ‘all white’ prior to the enlightenment (or even later). Hmmm. A real interaction with that question must start by deciding whether Greeks, Spaniards, Sicilians, Gypsies, Jews, Romanians count as white because they’re European and how much it matters that they often look identical to North Africans and West Asians. That’s before you get round to the presence of an infinitesimal number of visitors to Europe from further afield, or the explorations of European artists abroad.

    c) The idea of how indigenous Europeans represented other people and how that fitted in with the purposes and structures of art is so inherently interesting. Right up my street. It’s also a six-volume question and also forces us to wrestle with the boundaries of Europe and Asia at the very least but it’s fascinating. I scanned through a whole bunch of posts and they have some interesting examples, but I didn’t see a whole lot of analysis. I may persevere with it for a while.

    d) The question of how other Old World cultures represented Europeans, or each other, or represented ethnic difference at all, is equally interesting.

  27. twas brillig (stevem) says

    The delicious [insert flavor-topping-of-choice] on the delicious [insert dessert-of-choice] would be a follow up from the anonymous racist that was thankful for the reply, genuinely apologetic for both the duplicity and the assholery of the initial challenge, and indicative of a new resolve to go out into the world and combat their own historical and socio-cultural ignorance by endeavoring to learn more.

    Oh, you WISH! My cynicism expects the best from him would be to double-down. Saying we passed his test, that he just posed the question to root out all the REAL racists, that he only asked a quasi-rascist question to see who were the non-racists; who would call Him a Racist. No apologies, nor thanks for education, just smug deflection/denial. But I’m just a cynic: Racist questions come from Racists, period.

  28. garnetstar says

    Jared Diamond wrote an excellent book on this subject, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, debunking the idea that the native peoples of the Americas were stupid or inferior for not having developed more technology, and therefore being easily and rightfully conquered and massacred by Europeans.

    I don’t recall as many mentions of Africa, but definitely some discussion and debunking there too.

  29. dhall says

    garnetstar: You’re right; it’s a great book. He does mention Africa, particularly when he explains that none of the large animals native to the continent are suitable for domestication. His big point was: why invent the wheel for anything but pull toys if you have no animals large enough to pull wagons? His comparisons of zebras to horses, and Cape Buffalo to cattle, make for great reading. His main point is that humans invent the things they need and can use. If they can’t use it, why invent it. It’s one of the books I assign in my classes that very few seem to actually read. BTW, some of my least productive, engaged and interested students have been education majors.

  30. woozy says

    the overall blog People of Color in European Art is worth an eyeballing.

    ===
    As to African plumbing: The poor guy is some blogger posting stuff about European art. He can’t be expected to have all knowledge of every esoteric subject at his fingertips. He found enough to discredit the premise and that is enough. The sewage management of Ancient Africa would be a fascinating subject but one can hardly expect this guy to create it entirely on his own at a moments notice.

    And it’s possible Africa didn’t have sophisticated sewage treatment. Or more likely, no one really knows. Or maybe they had elaborate systems and the blogger simply didn’t have access to any book that discussed this issue. At any event the premise “only europeans created significant technology” was properly addressed.

  31. says

    There are two reasons why white Europe “won”: they were a massively war-like culture who weaponized fireworks into gunpowder, giving them an incredible military advantage; and when they invaded the western hemisphere, they brought novel diseases that wiped out a huge percentage of the population. In fact, there are points when the Europeans actively engaged in biological warfare: the stories about sending smallpox infected blankets to First Nation tribes are not just stories.

  32. Pierce R. Butler says

    From Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, pg 126:

    Tenochtitlán dazzled its invaders–it was bigger than Paris, Europe’s greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gawped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. Boats flitted like butterflies around the three grand causeways that linked Tenochtitlán to the mainland. Long aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains across the lake and into the city. Even more astounding than the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens–none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren’t ankle deep in sewage! The conquistadors had never conceived of such a thing.)

  33. says

    rpjohnston #11 asked about African civilizations he could wiki. First, Wikipedia often contains erroneous or garbled accounts of historical events, the most common mistake I find is someone transcribing a movie plot as if actual, verifiable history. Yikes. Might I suggest speaking to a librarian? Even if the library does not have a given book, most any public library can obtain a book from another library. Although the wikipedia article on The Ghana Empire is a bit of a mishmash, please consider reading books listed in the bibliography as these may give you a better picture of this civilization. The wiki article on the Ethiopian empire is a hot mess, with the warning at the top that the article “has multiple issues.” This is another pre-Roman civilization created by black people.

    The big problem with scholarship of sub-saharan early civilizations comes from the overt racism of the archaeologists. Much of the late 19th and early 20th century scholars bent over backwards to find excuses to identify the builders of the ruins as white. One particularly bizarre attempt was the assertion that the Zimbabwean ruins were actually foundations of Crusader castles (yes, someone in all seriousness proposed that Europeans, a lost band of knights of the crusades, traveled that far south and built castles. I could not make up something like that — I don’t have the imagination).

  34. says

    @ lostintime #30
    gamestar #36
    dhall #37

    Thank you all for your mention of Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel. I have followed his writing for many years and found that many of his articles published in Discover contained insights into this question — in particular, the fact that people build with what materials they have available. Not all environments have stone suitable for building nor do all civilizations have need for stone buildings. He recounts the fact that much of what we know of the technology of the people of New Guinea comes from their very well crafted wooden boats and artifacts. Extinct civilizations utilizing materials which break down over time would wrongly look very primitive to an ethnocentric archaeologist. Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

    There’s also the question of isolation and of technology transfer. Recently some anthropologists realized that for the same amount of money it costs to travel to New Guinea to visit the aboriginal people there, they could bring the New Guineans to the U.S. When they did this, they found that American culture did not “contaminate” the New Guineans. The New Guineans “took what they needed,” and that was technology. During the visit the anthropologists took their subjects to an archery range (something the two cultures have in common). The New Guineans met a man who made his own arrows. As it turns out, fletching (feathers on arrows) was new to them. Through the translator they asked the hobbyist lots of questions. Before this contact they used arrows three times the diameter of ones with fletching in order to have enough accuracy to hunt. Now they know how to make arrows with greater range, accuracy and effectiveness.

    Europeans enjoyed a unique set of accidents of geography and circumstance.

  35. robro says

    Jason Bosch @#26

    Though I’m not sure Egypt and some other North African civilisations would be good examples because they would be in constant contact with Arab and European civilisations.

    Given that Egyptian civilization predates any European civilization, heavily influenced Europeans, particularly the Greeks, and founded by people who were clearly African (as in Black), then I think they certainly count as high African civilization. A stunning counter example to any claim that Africans didn’t produce civilizations, of which there are many other examples.

    Furthermore, Arab and Levantine civilizations were also African. The dividing line between Africa and the Middle East at the Isthmus of Suez is a European invention driven by Christians to distance their beloved religion’s foundations from it’s African roots.

  36. Paul Brown says

    #40 What Pierce R. Butler said …

    Mann’s book also makes the interesting point that a great deal of the material culture of pre-columbian america was organic; textiles, ropes, and so on. So it’s likely that relatively little survives into the archeological record. We in the west privilege stone and pottery because that’s what’s left. And we tended to look for our own technological solutions while staring straight past the often superior methods we encountered … rope suspension bridges, chinese wheelbarrows, etc.

    Another interesting antidote to the nonsense is Ian Morris’ “Why the West Rules – For Now”, which makes a pretty solid whack at quantifying material development by totting up things like plumbing, bronze casting, water wheels, steam power, etc. Bit like Sid Meier’s Civilization. Mostly his book focuses on Europe and China. But what is shows is that, if you measure a civilization’s level of development by its material culture, then what we’re looking at is not stasis or steady progress but rather a two-steps-forward, collapse, one-step-back cycle. So it’s completely ahistorical to claim “they didn’t invented X”. Perhaps they had, but it was forgotten. Or else you could reasonably expect that the technology was just a matter of time.

  37. dhall says

    Robro;
    The ancient Egyptian civilization was not predominantly of sub-Saharan Africans. The Egyptians were, and are, predominantly of Indo-European ancestry, and spoke an Indo-European language. In their own artwork, they clearly depict the skin color of those they illustrate, and you can easily see the distinctions they made. There were a few pharaohs who came from the Kingdom of Kush, farther south along the Nile, who were black, and the farther south you went, the more sub-Saharan Africans there were, but like the Berbers and other North African people, the Egyptians were no more black than they are now. The argument you’re making comes from the “Cleopatra was black” group, who were also wrong, as Cleopatra is a Greek name, and the Ptolemaic Dynasty was itself Greek in its heritage, founded by one of the generals of Alexander the Great. The Arab people, and those of the Middle East, were not, and are not, black either. They are also of Indo-European origin, and many of them did and still do, speak a Semitic language. This would include the Phoenicians, Hebrews, Arabs, Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, etc.
    If you’re looking for black African civilizations, you need to go farther south, to the kingdoms of Kush and Ethiopia, for instance.

  38. brett says

    Define “African”. The Levantine societies were, along with Egypt and the Hittite Empire, part of that general eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age era, but genetically and culturally they didn’t come from Africa in the way that the ancient Egyptians did.

    It was never really considered to be part of Africa in ancient times, either. The ancient Greeks usually considered the Nile to be the dividing line between Africa and Asia.

  39. anuran says

    RE: Who is White?

    I am was the first person born White in my family. When my grandparents were in Eastern Europe they definitely weren’t White. When they came to America they still weren’t, and neither were my parents. But by the time I was born Jews had been Blessed with the Sacred Mantle of Whiteness.

    My father-in-law was Black when he grew up in Yonkers. When he moved to East Africa he became White. My wife was White while she grew up there. When the family repatriated she suddenly became not-White but not really Black.

    The Irish weren’t White until the 20th century. Italians weren’t until somewhat further in. Greeks aren’t White according to Stormfront but have become so according to most People Who Matter. The Romany still kinda sort aren’t. Latinos, well at least the ones who don’t have too much *shudder* indio in them are becoming White as are the “right” sorts of East Asians.

    Arabs and Persians weren’t White. Then they were. Now they’re not White anymore since they became the new Hated Feared Other.

    There’s a logic at work here, but it has nothing to do with biology or Pantone matching and everything to do with history.

  40. brett says

    @dhall

    The ancient Egyptian civilization was not predominantly of sub-Saharan Africans. The Egyptians were, and are, predominantly of Indo-European ancestry, and spoke an Indo-European language. In their own artwork, they clearly depict the skin color of those they illustrate, and you can easily see the distinctions they made. There were a few pharaohs who came from the Kingdom of Kush, farther south along the Nile, who were black, and the farther south you went, the more sub-Saharan Africans there were, but like the Berbers and other North African people, the Egyptians were no more black than they are now.

    I thought the genetic research suggested that ancient Egyptian ancestry traced from the upper Nile and populations similar to subsaharan Africans, but it’s been a few years, and the wikipedia article on it suggests more complexity than I remembered.

    It’s hard to tell, considering the whole area has been swept over by outside invasions for millenia.

    @Paul Brown

    Another interesting antidote to the nonsense is Ian Morris’ “Why the West Rules – For Now”, which makes a pretty solid whack at quantifying material development by totting up things like plumbing, bronze casting, water wheels, steam power, etc.

    The big killer for the Chinese was that they didn’t copycat new technologies and weapons in the late 18th/early 19th century, and that came back to bite them in the ass in the First Opium War in 1839. Compare that to the Japanese after the Black Ships Incident and the Ottomans (who bought/made the weapons even if they couldn’t get industrialization rolling) and it becomes more apparent.

    To be fair, it was probably hard for them to initially see the need for it. China in the late 18th century was coming off of an economic and political expansion period that had lasted for most of the 17th and 18th centuries, as they expanded into new territories and incorporated new crops that revolutionized agriculture in the country (particularly inland).

  41. edmundog says

    @sadunlap “the most common mistake I find is someone transcribing a movie plot as if actual, verifiable history.”

    Can you expand on that?

  42. Pen says

    @edmundog – Right now, people are doing it constantly with that Twelve Years a Slave film, which differs considerably from the original Northup memoir. Sometimes it differs for reasons connected to the medium or to McQueen’s artistic motivations, sometimes it’s due to error and on a couple of occasions, it’s due to misunderstandings about what is possible/likely under the system of slavery. This Hollywood vs. History* article is interesting, though unfortunately it contains a few errors of its own and doesn’t even include half the differences. It’s shocking how people have no idea they’re watching a work of historical fiction when they go to the movies.

    * Are these guys the ‘Bad Astronomy’ of history? I’m upset they made some errors themselves.

  43. vaiyt says

    I’m rather fascinated by the idea of site called ‘People of Color in European Art History’ because:

    (…)

    b) ‘People of Color’ is a broad term that only seems to make any sense at all in contemporary US society.

    That’s the whole point! Who do you think the blog is written for?

  44. Pen says

    @ anuran 47 RE: Who is White?

    I certainly didn’t become white until I started living in multiracial parts of Europe, and even now I’m only white on and off. No such category exists in the villages of many of my family and friends. It does change everything that I can pass for a northern European now, instead of looking distinctly Mediterranean as when I was younger. I suppose I’ve been European all my life, though most of my ancestors wouldn’t have dreamed of admitting they were. Incidentally, I’ve also been very distinctly ‘foreign’ for all but the first two and a half years of my life. That’s certainly been the dominating feature of my identity construction – after all, nobody else let me forget it. Until recently, race was a New World concept. The Old World is dominated by nationality and even smaller regional ethnicities.

  45. Amphiox says

    There are two reasons why white Europe “won”: they were a massively war-like culture who weaponized fireworks into gunpowder, giving them an incredible military advantage

    One point here. It was not the Europeans who first weaponized gunpowder. It was the Chinese. The Chinese in fact started weaponizing gunpowder almost as soon as they invented it. Rockets, cannons, mortars (fireworks incidentally are mostly modified mortars), and guns, you name a class of gunpower weapon, and it was first invented and first deployed in China.

    The Europeans obtained gunpowder technology, and then proceeded to improve it. The fact that Europe was divided and the European nations were constantly at war with each other likely provided some impetus to that continual improvement. However it came about, it was this improvement on someone else’s invention that ultimately provided Europe with the military technology gap that enabled them to kick off their imperialistic expansionism. It was also Europe’s good fortune that the moment when they HAD this comparative and temporary military technology gap coincided in time with the advent of transportation technology that allowed them to extend political control around the world. Because military technology gaps of similar size existed previously in the other direction at other times, but the Europeans never found themselves conquered or colonized by the Chinese or others because at the time when that gap existed, there did not concurrently exist means of travel that would allow an empire based in China to extend political control all the way to Europe.

  46. lpetrich says

    Africa is split by the Sahara Desert. Sahara being the Arabic word for “desert”, making it the Desert Desert. Split into a thin northern strip and most of the rest of Africa, “sub-Saharan Africa” from north = upward.

    That northern strip has mostly Caucasoid people (yes, African honkies), while most of Africa has Negroid people. Culturally, that northern strip is rather distinct from the rest of Africa and is much like the Middle East and at least used to be much like southern Europe. It used to have Phoenician and Greek colonies, and it used to be part of the Roman Empire.

    South of the Sahara, most people are Negroid, the stereotypical African appearance.

    Caucasoid people vary a lot in coloring, from very pale northern Europeans to dark-skinned Indian-Subcontinent people. I once saw a movie about some white guy who tried to make himself seem black, but he looked like an Asian Indian to me.

  47. lpetrich says

    As to the ancient Egyptians’ language, it was not an Indo-European one, but an Afro-Asiatic one, likely closest to the Semitic languages. Those well-known Middle Eastern ones.

  48. dhall says

    Semitic languages are Indo-European; Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Arabs, Hitites, etc., all migrated into the Middle East from the north northwest, in waves, and/or gradually split up into their various ethnic groups/cultures, to eventually be conquered by the Persians from farther east, with the exception of the Arabs. The Phoenicians settled in colonies along the North African coast and came to be known as the Carthaginians by Roman times. Alexander the Great then conquered Egypt, Asia Minor and farther east, into what’s now India, and led to the infusion of Greek culture. My understanding was that the same was true for the ancient Egyptians–they were Indo-European migrants–although Upper Egypt had many people of Sub-Saharan ethnicity, and this is clearly shown in Egyptian artwork and writings. To say that their language is Afro-Asiatic is really not refuting what I wrote before, as it would have been an Indo-European language that reached Egypt by way of the people moving through the ancient Middle East, ending up in what’s now Egypt. In the course of thousands of years, the languages spoken by more southerly Africans would have lent words and phrases to the Egyptian language through the normal course of commerce, as well as when the kings of Kush also became pharaohs of Egypt at one point. The people of Kush shared the religion of the ancient Egyptians, and built pyramids as well. Naturally, there was a lot of cross-cultural exchange, and intermarriage, etc.

  49. A. Noyd says

    Oh yes, let’s use racist, pseudoscientific concepts like “Caucasoid” and “Negroid.”

  50. Graculus says

    The ancient Egyptian civilization was not predominantly of sub-Saharan Africans. The Egyptians were, and are, predominantly of Indo-European ancestry, and spoke an Indo-European language.

    The genetics are not Indo-European. The ancient genetics are generally North & East African. The language was Afroasiatic, not Indo-European. The pre-historic cultures that led to the civilization were Nilotic & Saharan Cattle Culture.. both African. There’s a reason the other ancient civilizations of the West thought Egypt was alien and mysterious.

    You are the only one that brought up “Cleopatra was black”, as some kind of non sequitur strawman. As for skin colour in Egyptian art.. well, men were portrayed generally as black or red (perhaps they were Beothuk) & women as white or yellow (Chinese?). Nor does the fact that sub-Saharan people are generally darker in tone make the Egyptians “not African”.

  51. vaiyt says

    Africa is split by the Sahara Desert. Sahara being the Arabic word for “desert”, making it the Desert Desert. Split into a thin northern strip and most of the rest of Africa, “sub-Saharan Africa” from north = upward.

    Your attempt to define Egypt as not African by arbitrarily defining Africa away from Egypt is noted, and dismissed.

    Anyway, if black people found their way to Denmark 500 years ago, what makes you think they wouldn’t be living in the much closer Egypt 4000 years ago?

  52. Amphiox says

    Last I checked, the comment that is the topic of the OP said “Africa”. No “Sub-saharan” qualifier.

  53. Amphiox says

    Also, last I heard, the earliest peoples who founded the Egyptian civilization were descended from Saharan hunter gatherers, who migrated to the Nile Valley as the Sahara region dessicated following the last Ice Age.

  54. Howard Bannister says

    Nobody is stupid enough to ask ‘so was there ever such a thing as an aristocracy outside of Western Europe, then?’

    Oh, you didn’t get to that Ask, then?

    Keep reading. The well of ignorance is DEEP.

  55. Pen says

    @vaiyt 51 – That’s the whole point! Who do you think the blog is written for?

    People who are trying to do things/understand things better? I naively thought so anyway.

    History 101 says ‘Don’t import your foreign concepts. History, by definition, involves investigating which ones the local people are using. The opposite is called propaganda, not history, regardless of who’s doing it.

    PS – the same applies to the whole ‘is Egypt African?’ debate. I’m not an expert on this era but I somehow doubt whether either ‘Africa’, or ‘black’ were active concepts at the time, at least in the way we use them… although the paintings made in Egypt of people of non-Egyptian ethnicity are certainly interesting evidence about their perceived relationships with others.

  56. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    Who is this lpetrich person and why must they insist on ruining my moment of happiness by clogging up the blog with so much stupid?

  57. Pen says

    @57 A Noyd – Oh yes, let’s use racist, pseudoscientific concepts like “Caucasoid” and “Negroid.”

    You’re right – let’s use ‘white’ and ‘black’ instead and pretend they don’t mean the same thing.

    No really, he’s right Ipetrich… please drop that outdated terminology. You were right on a lot of the other stuff. Except that Africa is split by the Sahara desert with the exception of the Nile Valley corridor. Also, the ethnicity of the north African strip has almost certainly changed since ancient Egyptian times due to an influx of people from the Middle East. The Egyptians of today are not the descendants of Ancient Egyptians in any simple sense, and the Ancient Egyptians were, I believe, a nilotic people, connected to other Africans all the way down the Nile Valley, although there are considerable changes in appearance along that way.

  58. A. Noyd says

    Pen (#66)

    You’re right – let’s use ‘white’ and ‘black’ instead and pretend they don’t mean the same thing.

    They don’t. “White” and “black” are descriptions of perceived groups—identifiers for social constructs in certain racist societies—and are acknowledged to be fluid, relative and imprecise. (They are also the terms preferred by a great many people of color.) “Caucasoid” and “Negroid” are supposed to be objective, scientific terms based on skull shape and features. They’re part of the legacy of scientific racism (really pseudoscience) that sought to legitimize race as something other than a social construct.

    (PS, I’m not a “he.”)

  59. says

    @robro #43

    Given that Egyptian civilization predates any European civilization, heavily influenced Europeans, particularly the Greeks, and founded by people who were clearly African

    -Good up to here.

    (as in Black),

    -Nope; as in Libyan/North African.

    then I think they certainly count as high African civilization. A stunning counter example to any claim that Africans didn’t produce civilizations, of which there are many other examples.

    -True, though Egypt was by far the most original.

    Furthermore, Arab and Levantine civilizations were also African.

    -Now you’re getting firmly into the realm of the ridiculous.

    The dividing line between Africa and the Middle East at the Isthmus of Suez is a European invention

    -The Pelusiac as the dividing line between Egypt and the Levant is an Ancient Egyptian invention.

    driven by Christians to distance their beloved religion’s foundations from it’s African roots.

    -Completely wrong. Christianity has no “African roots” (apart from some borrowing from Egypt in the Old Testament).

  60. vaiyt says

    People who are trying to do things/understand things better?
    Contemporaneous people.

    History 101 says ‘Don’t import your foreign concepts. History, by definition, involves investigating which ones the local people are using. The opposite is called propaganda, not history, regardless of who’s doing it.

    The people who erase the history of dark-skinned people in Europe; who whitewash the miscigenation of ancient times; who project colonialist slavery and domination into times where it didn’t exist and even into speculative fiction; are all doing this based on contemporaneous concepts. And yet, the people who counter this are the ones doing propaganda?