Bauval and Brophy’s book, Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient Egypt*, investigates the origins of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The enduring mystery here is how this marvelous civilization could have come about so magnificently and so rapidly. Bauval and Brophy believe that many clues to this mystery have been uncovered in recent years and that these clues point to a Black African origin.
A big part of the authors’ argument for a Black genesis is a discovery back in the 1970s and its very recent assessment and interpretation. Specifically what appears to be a ceremonial complex was found in the African Desert southwest of Egypt. The location is about 62 miles due west of Abu Simbel, in the empty desert…a place called Nabta Playa.
At this location were found about 30 clusters of large stones. These clusters are referred to by their archeologist discovers as “complex structures”. Upon excavation it was found that these stone clusters had been placed atop natural rock outcroppings about 16 to 20 feet below the sandy surface, and that these rock outcroppings had been smoothed to “mushroom-like” shapes by human hands in ancient times. One of the largest stones sitting on the carved rock outcropping has upon it the image of a cow.
Also found at Nabta Playa was a “ring” of ancient stones standing up, out of the sand. It has been likened to Stonehenge, in Britain. But the realization of this similarity was a very long time coming. The precise placement of the stones and the astronomical significance was not recognized for something like 40 years after their discovery.
This discovery is important for several reasons. Among them is that it now appears that Nabta Playa was built by a sophisticated civilization that gave rise to the Egyptians.
To understand the linkage, the authors lay out a timeline for Man’s civilization. Around 150,000 they say, modern man appeared in southern Africa. Modern DNA tracking has now shown that Man spread out all over the world. But early on in this migration, some of the early men moved north into what is today Chad in the sub-Sahara central area of Africa. During this Paleolithic period more than one species of humans were thought to have co-existed. But by then end of this long era, about 10,000 BCE, completely modern men (homo sapiens sapiens) were the only survivors. These were black-skinned men. This is known via microscopic study of ancient corpses, which have shown melanin content consistent with black pigmentation.
They lived in this area for some time, gradually moving north. We now know that the Sahara desert wasn’t always a dry wasteland. In fact, it cyclically ranged from arid to wet and these weather patterns came and went very regularly. During the good times, modern men and woman came and lived along the shores of lakes. Civilization slowly arose. The authors note that the latest findings suggest that Nabta Playa began functioning as a regional ceremonial center during the Middle Neolithic period (6100 to 5500 BCE) and remained in use until about 3500 BCE. At the beginning of this period, around 6000 BCE, the heavy monsoon rains began to come regularly during the summer solstice season. They created a large but shallow lake around Nabta Playa. The lands surrounding the lake became rich grazing land, perfect for raising cattle.
But then the weather started to become more arid. Around 5500 BCE the encroaching draught brought waves of new people, “The Cattle Herders”, to the still-fertile areas immediately surrounding the lake. There were more people than ever crowded along the banks. Civilization continued to evolve, particularly in the area of astronomy.
We know this because of the stones at Nabta Playa. The stones are not placed just anywhere to form a ceremonial circle. Recent studies show that they were placed very precisely indeed. For instance, it has been found that some of the stones align with where Sirius and Orion’s belt would have been 4700-4900 BCE during the winter and summer solstices. Another example: It has been found that the stones are aligned in such a way as to mimic the right-angle relationship of Sirius’ rising and Dubhe’s rising which was visible between 4500 BCE and 3500 BCE.
It also appears that the position of the largest stone at Nabta Playa was placed so as to commemorate the position of Betelgeuse, Orion’s brightest star, at a roughly 16,500 BCE on the summer solstice. This suggests that they knew about the “precession” cycle of Orion. And that, my friends, is a very big deal. Until this discovery it was generally not thought that such ancient cultures had knowledge of precession (a 26,000 year cycle). Yet these stones’ placement strongly suggests that they did. The authors note that this knowledge is actually not that hard to come by…if one is willing to gather, record, and assess star data year after year after year...and pass down your learning through the generations.
The authors suggest that these ancient peoples did all this work for a very simple reason: the rising of Sirius and the stars of Orion’s belt indicated that the monsoon rains were about to come, bringing with them the waters of life. This might have started them tracking a few key stars, like Sirius, and this became a very important part of their culture over time…perhaps even leading to a priest class whose members carried out the observations and recordings.
For millennia, the people of Nabta Playa studied the stars and raised their cattle. It appears from the artwork found in the area that Cows were highly revered…so highly that they might have been considered divine in some manner of speaking. This is the significance of finding the cow carved on the giant buried stone (part of one of the “complex structures” mentioned earlier).
But as the years passed, the area around Nabta Playa became more arid. Less rain fell and the lake dried up more and more quickly. Eventually the changing environment drove the people out. Sometime just after 3500 BCE it appears they moved from the area, heading northeast into what is now Egypt and to the banks and islands of the Nile.
The authors say the story can then be followed in the history of Egypt. Specifically, it appears that the Nabta people arrived around the area of what today is called the sacred island of Elephantine. This island was, in very ancient times, the capital of Upper Egypt. It was considered a sacred place of the God Khnum and his consort Satis. Elephantine was also said to be, in some manner of speaking, the source of the Nile, which of course, became the sustainer of Egyptian life and civilization.
The goddess Satis was generally depicted wearing antelope horns. As the authors note, antelopes lived in the desert and therefore these horns may be a symbol of her desert origins. Her depictions also often showed her wearing a crown with 5 stars, depicting Sirius. Since she was considered the guardian of the source of the Nile’s flood this ties together Sirius and the rainy season, just as it had for thousands of years at Nabta Playa.
Further interesting linkages include the fact that at Elephantine, the Goddess Satis had her own temple. Actually there are several Satis temples built one on top of the other. Recently it has been discovered that their orientation changed over the millennia, so that in any era it was always oriented toward Sirius. The first temple was built about 3200 BCE….just about the time it appears people were driven out of Nabta Playa and are believed to have travelled northeast to Egypt. The most recent temple was built for for Satis by Queen Hatshepsut around 1480 BCE and was turned around quite a bit from the original temple…since it followed the precessional movements of Sirius.
So there you have the basic points made by the authors. For me, I could care less about the color of the Egyptians’ heirs’ skin. Black, brown, red, white…who cares? It’s interesting, from the perspective of mapping the migration of ancient people out of the heart of Africa, but beyond that I don’t see it being very significant.
Much more interesting to me is that these authors’ work is pretty convincing that the Egyptian civilization didn’t just spring out of nowhere. In fact, it appears that it had been evolving for thousands of years in Central Africa. This hypothesis ties together a lot of artifacts found in Egypt and out in the desert. It explains why these ancient folks would care so much about astronomy and shows how their knowledge built up over time and became so magnificently celebrated in the megaliths of historical Egypt.
Is there an even larger significance to all this? Well, for the folks who believe that the Egyptians’ astronomical prowess was given to them by ancient aliens, it suggests a strong alternative. The Nabta Playa people had thousands of years to develop their observational and analytic astronomy skills. Until we get more convincing alien evidence, this seems like a more likely history.
*Bauval, R. & Brophy, T., Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient Egypt, Bear and Company, Rochester, Vermont, 2011.