Many popular media outlets reported recently on a fascinating new scientific study published in Nature Communications. Here’s how Britain’s Daily Mail interpreted the story.
The first ever full-genome analysis of Ancient Egyptians shows they were more Turkish and European than African.
Scientists analysed ancient DNA from Egyptian mummies dating from 1400 BC to 400 AD and discovered they shared genes with people from the Mediterranean.
They found that ancient Egyptians were closely related to ancient populations in the Levant – now modern day Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.
They were also genetically similar to Neolithic populations from the Anatolian Peninsula and Europe.
The groundbreaking study used recent advances in DNA sequencing techniques to undertake a closer examination of mummy genetics than ever before.
The study is interesting and seems to deliver a devastating blow to the Black Egyptian Hypothesis which has been advocated by many serious people, including W. E. B. DuBois. Contrary to the hypothesis, the ancient Egyptians don’t seem to have been appreciably more black than were, say, the ancient Greeks, although the study did not include evidence from southern (Upper) Egypt, where sub-Saharan admixture may have been relatively greater.
What are we to make, however, of the Daily Mail‘s claim that ancient Egyptians were “Turkish”? The study itself did not make that claim. What the study showed was that ancient Egyptians shared genetics with ancient inhabitants of Anatolia. But the ancient inhabitants of Anatolia did not include any Turks. The Turks were an Asian tribe that did not enter Anatolia until the medieval period. The door opened to large scale Turkish migration to Anatolia after the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.
Of course, modern Turkey must today include many people descended from those ancient Anatolians who were related to the ancient Egyptians. But over the centuries there has occurred so much movement of peoples, including the Turks, that modern populations are very different genetically from the ancient populations who occupied the same territory. So direct comparisons to modern populations are exceedingly hazardous. If anything, it’s probably more accurate to say the ancient Egyptians were “Greek” than to say they were “Turkish,” although the Nature Communications study makes neither assertion.
What the study suggests is merely that the ancient Egyptians were a Mediterranean people, and not sub-Saharan. But under no reasonable interpretation could the ancient Egyptians be called “Turkish,” and I doubt anybody with even a passing familiarity with the history of the Turks or the Byzantine Empire would differ with this conclusion.
And so we have just one more data point, as if any more were needed, that journalists don’t know much. But that, of course, doesn’t stop them from trying to lecture to the rest of us.