Ancient Egyptian family trees: are present-day Egyptians the descendants of the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids?

There has been a long-standing debate over the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians...

This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine

Pyramids at Giza. (DEA/A Vergani/De Agostini/Getty Images)

There is no evidence in the skeletal record of any significant change in the mix of human types between the time of the pharaohs and the present day. Artistic representations support this both in terms of facial features and also the use of reddish-brown (male) and yellow (female) for representing skin colour in Egyptians. This contrasts with the facial features and black pigment used when showing those deriving from what is today Sudan.

Egypt has always experienced immigration, going back to the earliest times when it was the centre of an empire that stretched from northern Syria to the northern part of modern-day Sudan.

Further major waves of immigration came when the country was ruled by the Greeks and Romans, and then, again, after the Arab and Ottoman invasions in the 7th and 16th centuries.

However, the core of the farming population, particularly in southern Egypt and among communities that remained Christian the longest, seems to have been relatively unaffected by these incomers. Thus a significant proportion of the present population are indeed descended from the builders of the pyramids and temples of ancient Egypt.

Answered by Dr Aidan Dodson, senior research fellow, University of Bristol.

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