Category Archives: The Fitzwilliam Museum

African Centred Egypt – Kemet

Please visit and

‘This section of the website will include resources and information on an African centred approach to Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians called their country Kemet, which means ‘the black land’.

Many people forget that Egypt is part of the continent of Africa and only think of the modern state as part of the Middle-East. This is because Arabic is the main language and the country is predominantly Islamic following the settlement there in AD 642 of people of Islamic culture. However, there are many links between ancient Egyptian and modern African cultures, ranging from objects such as headrests to hairstyles such as the side lock, and this and other evidence support the idea that it was an African culture in addition to being geographically in Africa.

For these reasons Egypt is seen by people African descent as part of their cultural heritage and history. The concept of Egypt as part of Africa is not a new one. Some of the earliest travellers to Egypt came from the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, including Greek philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, writers and poets who came to learn from the Egyptian priests. To the Greeks and Romans, Egypt was an African country, and their artists depicted the Egyptians as Africans, with black skin and tightly curled hair, described by the Greek historian Herodotos in fifth century BC as ‘woolly’ (Ashton, 2011).

Dr Sally Ann-Ashton is a Senior Assistant Keeper in the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Department of Antiquities
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Trumpington Street
United Kingdom

tel: (+44) (0)1223 332900
fax: (+44) (0)1223 332923


Tags: , , , , , ,

Online exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge – Black to Kemet

‘Placing Egypt in Africa

A photographic exhibition by Andrew Crowe

Kemet was one of the names given to Egypt by its ancient indigenous inhabitants. In a modern context the term Kemet has become associated with placing Egypt in its African cultural context. There are many links between ancient Egyptian and modern African cultures, such as headrests and hairstyles like the side lock. This and other evidence support the idea that it was an African culture in addition to being geographically in Africa.

This exhibition invites the viewer to consider the appearance of the people of Kemet around 3000 years ago and to ask the question: ‘Were the ancient Egyptians Black?’ as we use the term in Britain today.

When you are Black and British looking at our contribution to world history is important because it helps us, and other people, to understand that we all have a connection to Africa because this was where our ancestors came from. As a Black person in Britain it is easy to feel disconnected from Black culture, heritage and history. It’s like having two separate identities that don’t always connect. In the media and the education system Black role models are often neglected. Kemet can play an important role in readdressing the balance. It is an African culture that is popular and is already accepted as part of mainstream education. However, when it is taught it is often taken out of its African cultural context.

For me, going to Egypt was crucial for my own research because it allowed me to look at the evidence with my own eyes, and not someone else’s interpretation. When I looked at the statues and reliefs I noticed that in many cases the facial features that help to identify someone’s race had been damaged. The noses were missing and the mouths had been smashed. But you can still tell that many of the people were Black Africans because of their profiles and the shape of their faces’ (Crowe, 2011).

Available from

Accessed on 03.06.2011


Tags: , , , , , ,