A conference on Nubia and the ancient Kingdom of Kush last week at UCSB’s Mosher Alumni House took a fresh look at the historic neighbor of ancient Egypt.
Organized by UCSB Anthropology professor Stuart Tyson Smith, who specializes in Egypt and Nubia, the conference seeks to continue to push back against the “Egyptocentric” interpretation of Nubia — located in modern day Sudan — as a backwater civilization that was dependent on Egypt.
Around 25 academics were present, some from as far away as Germany, while others were from UCSB, UCLA and Cal State Los Angeles.
The Kushite Kingdom lasted for a thousand years, first rising in the city of Napata in the Nile Valley in 850 BCE. The Kushites conquered Egypt in 750 BCE and ruled as pharaohs for a hundred years before they were driven out by Assyrian invasions and retreated back to Nubia, according to a UCSB news release.
Dr. Smith told the News-Press that he hopes to “refocus” studies on the Kushite Kingdom and Nubia as a separate and independent entity, instead of thinking of them as a civilization that is dependent on Egypt.
Influence between Nubia and Egypt was not a “one-way street but a two-way street,” he said.
The origins of this interpretation started in the 1970s. Kerma, a city in Nubia, was thought to be an Egyptian colony. However, a Swiss archaeologist, Charles Bonnet, found that Kerma was not established by Egypt but by an “indigenous civilization.”
“For the past several years, say five to 10 years, there’s been a lot more archeological work done and this continuation of this older trend re-evaluating the relationship between Egypt and Nubia,” Dr. Smith said.
“Kush plays a central role in those re-evaluations of Africa as not the ‘dark continent,'” Dr. Smith said.
Nubia is part of sub-Saharan Africa and rose independently of Egypt, he said.
Dr. Smith also said that this conference is a continuation of the pushback against the “racist” narrative that Egypt was not an African civilization.
“With the racism in the 19th century, Egypt was pulled away from Africa,” Dr. Smith, explaining how Egypt was seen as more European and not engaged with Africa. But the close relationship between Kush and Egypt showed that “Egypt was very much engaged with Africa.”
“People have recently written that Egypt is in Africa, but not of Africa. And from our perspective as people who have studied Kush, this is completely not true because Egypt was deeply engaged in Kush,” Dr. Smith said.
Egypt had long ties with other parts of Africa, he said.
Kush has played an important role in establishing black studies and Africana studies, along with being held as an example of African civilization by black intellectuals such as W.E.B Dubois, Dr. Smith said.
“One of the things we’re finding is that Egypt and Kush had a common origin in Northeast Africa as a cattle culture. You saw a lot of that cattle symbolism in both cultures. You can see two traditions from this common core and developing along different trajectories but then going back and forth and interacting over a period of thousands of years. Egypt lasted for 3,000 years, Kush … a thousand years. These are astonishing huge spans of time for civilizations. It’s really some of the most remarkable achievements in human history,” he said.
Speakers included Elizabeth Minor from Wellesley College, who analyzed Kerman religious symbols of the time before the Kushites were in Napata. Lisa heidron, Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, explored the history of Egyptian control of Lower Nubia in the 9th century BCE. Timothy Kendall of UCSB discussed the origins of the Kushite kingship of Egypt.
Saturday’s presentations focused on identifying and correcting Egyptocentric and racist bias in the characterization of Kush, according to the news release.