(Chapter XI, section 9)

The modern Egyptians

The reader is already familiar with the physical characters of the ancient Egyptians, from predynastic to Roman times. It will be recalled that throughout their pre-Islamic history the Egyptians consistently maintained their affiliation to a central Mediterranean racial type of moderate head size and intermediate stature. Nevertheless there may have been several contributing Mediterranean elements from different sources which together combined to produce the Egyptian population as a whole. It will be recalled that the ruling class in Egypt was often characterized by a Hamitic facial cast, recalling the upper class Somalis and the aristocrats of the cattle-tending tribes of Uganda. The Cushitic element in the Egyptian language had its racial counterpart.

Egypt has never been truly isolated; and has continually drawn to it peoples from other countries. During the Alexandrian period, many Greeks and Jews settled in the Delta, particularly in the new city to which Alexander gave his name, and this metropolis has remained ever since an international settlement. The Arabs, during the seventh century A.D., swept over Egypt and imposed a new language and a new religion, which only a few of the Nile Valley peasants, the ancestors of the modern Copts, were able to resist. Although Coptic speech has passed, like Latin, into the limbo of ritual languages, Coptic Christianity has been preserved until the present day. The Arabs must have introduced their racial increment into the sedentary Egyptian population, but largely in the cities; on the other hand, the Bedawin tribes which pasture their flock in the deserts and oases on either side of the valley are, anthropometrically at least, purely Arab.73

After the absorption of the Arabs, the Turks settled as a ruling class in Cairo and other cities, and with them Albanians, Circassians, and other foreigners. With the digging of the Suez Canal, Port Said became an international city, with inhabitants drawn from all nations. Meanwhile, thousands of negroes and Abyssinians have been introduced into Egypt as slaves, and few of them have returned home.

All of these settlers in Egypt, from the time of the Jews and the Greeks to the present, have been city people, while the slaves have been used mostly in urban capacities. In Egypt as elsewhere, the country feeds the city with men, and one may expect to find a racial continuity between the landed peasants of ancient Egypt and the modern Fellahin. This continuity should be, and is, as great as that between ancient Mesopotamia and modern Iraq. The Copts, who have lived endogamously ever since the advent of Islam, must be even better representatives of the early Egyptian type than the Moslem peasantry.

In general, the living Egyptian population is probably as tall as or somewhat taller than that of its dynastic counterparts.74 Mean statures by districts, from the Delta to Assuan, run from 165 to 168 cm., with the mean for the nation somewhere between 166 and 167 cm. There seems to be no consistent difference in regional distribution, except that the townsmen are shorter as a rule than the farmers. In bodily build neither Copts nor Fellahin are especially thin or linear; a relative span of 104 shows a length of arm and breadth of shoulder in excess of most Mediterraneans. The small hands and attenuated extremities of the East Africans are not common here.

The head form is consistent with that of ancient Egypt; cephalic index means of the different districts are consistently dolichocephalic, at the figures 74 and 75; only in the cities of Alexandria and Cairo, and at Assuan on the Sudanese border, does it rise to 76. Individual brachycephals are extremely rare. The head size is considerable, but not excessive; the Coptic dimensions of 193 mm. by 143 mm. represent the groups as a whole, except in the Delta, where breadths run to 145 mm. The vault height, like that of the ancient Egyptians, is moderate, with regional means varying between 122 mm. and 125 mm.75 The modern Egyptian cranial vault is slightly larger than that of most Mediterranean Arabs, and consistent with the dynastic Egyptian dimensions and form.

Facially this difference between Egyptians and Arabs becomes apparent; the bizygomatic diameters rise to means of 137 mm. among some of the Fellahin groups, and the regional nose breadth means are characteristically 35 mm. to 37 mm. In general, the faces seem mesoprosopic, the noses mesorrhine. Mesorrhiny is also found on modern Egyptian crania. The eye slit of the modern Egyptians is especially long, with the excessive biorbital diameter of 93 mm., as compared to 88 mm. among Yemenis.

From the observational standpoint, the faces of Copts and Fellahin vary between two extremes—a narrow face with a slender jaw, thin lips, and a narrow, aquiline nose; and a broader, lower face with a strong jaw, prominent chin, and a straight to concave nose with root and bridge of medium height and breadth, and a moderately thick, horizontai tip. The lips of this second type are usually full, but not excessively thick.

The exposed skin color of the Egyptians has been often described and has been tabulated on the basis of subjective observation, but has not been measured by means of a standard scale. It is the agreement of all investigators that it varies greatly with latitude; that starting with the brunet-white skin of the Delta, which often has a yellowish or honey-colored tinge, it grows darker as one ascends the Nile, so that the characteristic shade of the southernmost districts is a reddish brown to medium brown hue. In all regions, however, it varies from a “very fair,” seldom exceeding 2 per cent, to a “very dark,” which is presumably a chocolate color. On the whole the Copts are lighter skinned than the Moslems, but this must in a measure reflect occupational differences, since relatively few of the Copts are farmers.

The hair form of the Egyptians varies from straight, which does not exceed 10 per cent, to a close spiral with ringlets of small diameter. The majority are curly in one sense or another; few are frizzly or palpably negroid. Wavy hair is slightly more common in Lower than in Upper Egypt, but not greatly so. The hair is almost always black or very dark brown, but the beard is sometimes lighter; the eyes range from dark brown to light brown, with many mixed or intermediate brown iris patterns. Incipient eye blondism seems limited to 10 per cent or less, and is, of course, commonest in the Delta.

Some 130 miles west of Luxor, in the Libyan Desert, is the beginning of a long geological depression, which contains a number of oases. The easternmost of these is Kharga,76 which is part of Egypt both politically and historically. The inhabitants of this oasis are isolated from the rest of the world in a general sense, although during the centuries of intensive slave trading it was frequently visited. There is some question as to whether the inhabitants of this oasis were Libyans or Egyptians in Pharaonic times, but by the Roman period they were considered fully Egyptian. With the introduction of the camel, Kharga became an important station on the Sudanese slave route; sick slaves were left there, and other slaves taken in exchange for animals and food; as a result of this some third of the population now shows negroid traits. That this negroid blood has been acquired wholly since Roman times has been demonstrated by a study of many mummies and skeletons from a large Coptic cemetery in Kharga. None of these show negroid traits either skeletally or in hair form.

The non-negroid Khargans resemble the Fellahin of Upper Egypt in most metrical characters; they are, however, shorter, with a mean stature of 164 cm. Their relative sitting height mean, 51.3, conforms to the usual Mediterranean standard. The heads are somewhat smaller than those of most Egyptians, with length and breadth means of 189 mm. and 141 mm., and are equally dolichocephalic (C. I. 74.8). The faces are short and of moderate breadth (1.32 mm.) while the foreheads and jaws, with mean widths of 103 mm., are moderate and typically Mediterranean. The noses are moderately broad (37 mm.) and apparently mesorrhine.77

The skin color of the Khargans is said to be lighter than that of the Upper Egyptian Fellahin; characteristically it ranges, where exposed, from a brunet-white or tawny-brown to a medium brown, with lighter colors on unexposed regions. The head hair is almost always black, but the beard often contains lighter individual hairs; the beard quantity is usually slight or moderate. In the individuals who are not otherwise negroid, the head hair tends to be straight or wavy, with a minority of curly forms. If our data are comparable, it is straighter than that of most Egyptians.

The browridges are usually slight, the eyes horizontal, and the nasion depression medium. The commonest nasal profile forms are straight and slightly convex, with concavity rare. On the whole the nose resembles that of the coarser end type of the Egyptian Fellahin. One of the peculiarities of the Khargan group is an incidence of over 20 per cent of noticeable prognathism. Hrdlička finds that despite these close metrical and morphological resemblances between Khargans and Upper Egyptians, it is not difficult to tell them apart, and he attributes this to the lack of a Semitic Mediterranean element in the oasis population. This would imply the absence of an Asiatic Mediterranean strain in dynastic times, especially if the early Khargans were Libyans; and the lack of any considerable Arab admixture since the advent of Islam.


73 Chantre says that they sometimes marry the daughters of the Egyptian Fellahin. Chantre, E., Récherches Anthropologiques dans I’Afrique Orientale, Égypte, p. 172.
See also Chantre, E., BSAL, vol. 20, 1901, pp. 127—165.

74 Anthropometric data on living Egyptians have been obtained from the following sources:
Chantre, E., Récherches Anthropologiques dans I’Afrique Orientale, Égypte.
Craig, J., Biometrika, vol. 8, 191 1—12, pp. 66—78.
Myers, C. S., JRAI, vol. 35, 1905, pp. 80—91; vol. 36, 1906, pp. 237—271; ns. vol. 38, 1908, pp 99—147.

Cephalic index distribution from Myers and from Craig; auricular heights from Chantre, whose technique alone seems to be standard.

76 This material derived from Hrdlička, A., The Natives of Kharga Oasis, Egypt.

77 Hrdlička locates nasion at a point lower than would be the case were one to follow the technique considered standard in this work. It must be made clear that his technical usage is not to be considered a “mistake” but rather the result of a difference of opinion.