A group of archaeologists has exposed the truth behind an over 3,000-year-old myth surrounding Hyksos remains in ancient Egypt, suggesting that their rule over the Nile Delta was not the result of conquest over the pharaohs but instead the rise to power of longtime immigrants.
About 3,600 years ago, the pharaohs briefly lost control of northern Egypt to the Hyksos. These new rulers looked and acted like people from an area stretching from present-day Syria in the north to Israel in the south. The established narrative for this historical event is that the Hyksos were an invading force.
A group of researchers analyzed human remains from extensive burial sites in the ancient Hyksos capital, about 120 kilometers northeast of Cairo, and arrived at a different conclusion. They argue that the new rulers were descended from numerous Asiatic populations who had been living in Egypt for generations.
“Utilising the extensive burial areas to contribute one of the largest isotopic studies of ancient Egypt to date, this study is the first to use archaeological chemistry to directly address the origins of the enigmatic Hyksos Dynasty, the first instance in which Egypt is ruled by those of foreign origin,” the researchers wrote.
Back in the 1940s, researchers identified the ancient Hyksos capital city, Avaris, at a site in the Nile delta about 120 kilometers northeast of Cairo. In their new study, archaeologist Chris Stantis from Bournemouth University and colleagues analyzed teeth taken from skeletons buried at Avaris to get a clearer picture of the Hyksos.
To do so, the researchers focused on strontium, an element found in virtually all rocks, but which also makes its way into our food and water supply, eventually ending up in our bones and teeth. Different areas have different ratios of two strontium isotopes, which means that growing up along the Nile river actually shows in your teeth.
As teeth form in childhood, tiny quantities of strontium metal in food are incorporated into the enamel. By comparing the balance of strontium isotopes in enamel with those in the region’s soil, researchers can judge where an individual grew up. They examined teeth from 36 skeletons and discovered that 24 of the individuals were foreign-born.
They couldn’t tell where the foreigners hailed from, but they said their findings show Egypt had welcomed immigrants for hundreds of years before the Hyksos rose to power. The “northeastern Nile Delta represented a multicultural hub long before the Hyksos rule,” they wrote in the study.
Historian and archaeologist Anna-Latifa Mourad from Macquarie University, who was not involved with the study, told Science Magazine that this conclusion makes sense. Archaeologists have found little evidence for the fighting and destruction that should have occurred at Avaris if the city had been captured by foreign invaders.
“These results challenge the classic narrative of the Hyksos as an invading force,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Instead, this research supports the theory that the Hyksos rulers were not from a unified place of origin, but Western Asiatic whose ancestors moved into Egypt during the Middle Kingdom lived there for centuries, and then rose to rule the north of Egypt.”
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.