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Egyptology and African History  

Juan C. Moreno García

Egyptology has played a rather ambiguous role in the study of the African past. While the Nile Valley was the cradle of one of the oldest states as well as of crucial innovations like writing, monumental architecture, and complex administrative managerial techniques, among others, the burden of Eurocentric historiographical prejudices considered these achievements to be a sort of anomaly. Ancient Egypt was thus interpreted through the lens of an alleged “exceptionalism”—a geographically African but, quite self-contradictorily, culturally non-African society. Such a view was rooted in a too-literal reading of pharaonic texts and images that celebrated the differences between Egypt and its neighbors. At the same time, Egypt was seen as a remote precedent of Western culture and societies—a venerable instigator of an uninterrupted process of progress supposedly culminating in Europe in the 19th century. Only as of the late 20th century has archaeology helped Egyptology overcome such a view, understand the African roots of the pharaonic civilization, and review the nature of its relations with its African neighbors. At the same time, intense archaeological exploration of the African regions that surrounded Egypt has revealed the critical role of Nubian and desert populations in creating original forms of political power and cultural achievement that owed little or nothing to pharaonic Egypt. The result is the emergence of more balanced historical interpretations that emphasize the complex interplay between all these actors in the social dynamics of the Bronze and Iron Age in northeastern Africa.