A recently published study questions the ancient theory that the Hyksos invaded ancient Egypt. The study is based on isotopic analyses performed on individuals buried in the Tell el-Dab’a cemetery, the ancient Avaris, capital of the Hyksos.
One of the most deeply rooted ideas among researchers about ancient Egypt is that during the Second Intermediate Period (1759-1539 BC), a group of people from the Near East, known as the Hyksos, invaded the Nile delta and their leaders ruled as pharaohs, founding the Fifteenth Dynasty (around 1530 BC) until they were expelled from Egypt by Ahmose, the founder of the Theban king of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539-1292 BC).
However, a study conducted by researchers at Bournemouth University, led by Chris Stantis, seems to dismantle this hypothesis.
The Hyksos: Rulers of Foreign Lands
The study states that although the pharaohs of the 15th dynasty were indeed Hyksos, they were not an invading people, but rather a minority ethnic group (in fact, the study suggests that the proportion of native people in the Delta was higher than foreigners), from the Near East, which had been present in the region for generations.
According to the researchers, the Hyksos “were a people with non-Egyptian characteristics as can be seen in the types of ceramics, burial customs, ornaments, weapons and details of their domestic and cult architecture.”
The researchers have studied the finds made at the Tell el-Dab’a site, 120 kilometers northeast of Cairo. Here the city of Avaris was located in 1885, which was the capital of the Hyksos kings in the eastern Delta, as well as several necropolises.
The analysis of the strontium isotopes of the teeth of 75 individuals buried there concludes that there was an “influx of non-local people” in that area during the Twelfth (1939-1760 BC) and Thirteenth (1759-1630 BC) dynasties, while the city was being constructed.
Instead of the old invasion theories, the researchers suggest economic and cultural changes led to foreign rule rather than violence.
In ancient Egypt for Generations
The Hyksos did not invade Egypt; they had been living in Egypt for generations. When Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs in the 19th century, the texts scholars were able to translate did not provide much more information about these foreign rulers.
In fact, many royal lists are incomplete or have been destroyed, and many later pharaohs linked the Hyksos (most likely due to their non-Egyptian status) “with disorder and chaos,” according to researchers.
Until now, it had been believed that the Hyksos invaded Egypt, especially as a result of texts written by Ptolemaic priest Manetho, who for centuries was the only known source of information about that dark stage in ancient Egyptian history.
According to Manetho, the Hyksos took advantage of the weakness of the country to invade it, which they achieved thanks to their military superiority (they used bronze weapons, compound bows, and war chariots). However, Manetho lived twelve centuries after these events took place.
“The archaeological evidence also does not support Manetho’s narrative about this ethnic group as the leader of an invading force, that they spread from the northeast to rule as Egypt’s first foreign dynasty; instead, it is suggested that those who became Hyksos rulers were descended from Asians who had been living in Egypt for generations,” the study concludes.