Diversity is a hot topic in all arenas, and that includes the world of forensic anthropology. This week, we’ve had two big revelations hit the anthropological news cycle, and while one finding cements what I’ve thought of as a truth long deferred, the other is a head-scratch.
1. Cheddar Man is revealed to be dark-skinned
In what can only be described as a shock to many who assumed England’s ancient peoples were fair-skinned and engaged in racial politics, the oldest complete skeleton in British history, Cheddar Man (named as such because of it being found in Cheddar Gorge), is actually a dark-skinned man with curly dark hair and blue eyes.
This is what scientists originally thought Cheddar Man looked like:
And this is what he actually looked like:
According to The Guardian, advanced DNA analysis has revealed that Cheddar Man and his ilk weren’t the light-skinned people science believed them to be. Instead, their skin was “dark to black,” which lends even more weight to the scientific fact that all people originated from Africa; Cheddar Man lived in England shortly after humans migrated to Britain from continental Europe at the end of the last ice age, and white Britons today are the ancestors of this group of migrants.
Cheddar Man’s skin color reveals that the genes for lighter skin “became widespread at a much in European populations far later than originally thought – and that skin colour was not always a proxy for geographic origin in the way it is often seen to be today,” wrote The Guardian’s Hannah Devlin.
According to scientists, this is what Britons looked like 10,000 years ago: pic.twitter.com/Em7T09ITbZ
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 8, 2018
I find this fascinating, not just because of the whole “everyone comes from Africa” thing, but because of how this discovery should change the way we view race and skin color. What should happen is that everyone–especially those with racially prejudicial ideas–take a good look at themselves and realize how meaningless skin color actually is. If tons of white Britons are descendants of this black man, how does this put anyone on a different pedestal from anyone else?
Cheddar Man’s skin revelations should also change the way we see history. Sites like Medieval POC exist to close the gaps in the West’s thought process about how race was conceptualized in the 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19th centuries. But, because of today’s current dialogue about race in history–a dialogue that is laced with stereotypes, racism, and traces of the same pseudo-science that made the Atlantic Slave Trade possible–it can seem hard to open people’s minds up to the fact that darker-skinned people not only lived in what are now white European spaces, but they thrived and, in many cases, accepted by the masses. Race as a construct did enter European society at some point, but our modern thoughts about race are relatively new in relation to the evolution of human society–and they’re erroneous.
As reported in The Guardian:
Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: “It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all.”
Yoan Diekmann, a computational biologist at University College London and another member of the project’s team, agreed, saying the connection often drawn between Britishness and whiteness was “not an immutable truth. It has always changed and will change.”
What would be cool is if Cheddar Man changes how modern media depicts ancient Europeans and ancient people in general; will this allow for more diverse casting and more in depth storylines, or will Hollywood and British cinema ignore these findings? I hope they don’t, because how cool would it be to see Idris Elba as an ancient European in a period film?
2. Is this Nefertiti the actual Nefertiti?
Another reconstruction making waves is Nefertiti. The Nefertiti we know is the famous bust discovered in 1912, sculpted by the official royal sculptor Thutmose, whose style was decided naturalistic despite him being a part of the highly stylistic and androgynous Amarna Period of Egyptian art. As you can see in the photo below, Nefertiti’s look is defined by a graceful long neck, full lips, a straight, thin nose, and deep tan skin.
This isn’t the only Nefertiti sculpture Thutmose created; a granite statue of Nefertiti showcases the same facial features as the more popular bust.
So, when this new bust was revealed on Today, people naturally scratched their heads in disbelief. This new bust, which was created after scientists compared historical images of Nefertiti with the facial characteristics of the mummy rumored to be Nefertiti nicknamed “The Younger Lady.” But as you can see below, this bust looks nothing like what Thutmose sculpted eons ago.
Not every expert is on board with declaring the Younger Lady is actually Nefertiti. Raymond Johnson, director of the Epigraphic Survey project and Research Associate and Associate Professor at the University of Chicago in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, told WGN9 he disbelieves the claim and went into detail as to why the Younger Lady doesn’t line up with what Egyptologists know about Nefertiti’s life. He states a lot in his interview, which I suggest your read in full, but here are the main points.
• The Younger Lady, who was buried alongside other familial mummies in Amenhotep’s royal tomb, is actually the daughter of Amenhotep and Queen Tiye, and is also the mother of Tutankhamun. This connection was revealed through leading Egyptologist Zahi Hawass’ DNA testing of the mummies found in the tomb, including the Younger Lady. According to Johnson, there is “no text” where Nefertiti was identified as a royal daughter. “If she had been a daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye, it would have been clearly stated in her inscriptions, and there are hundreds of text that survive mentioning Nefertiti with no mention of her parents.”
• All of the sculptures of Nefertiti from the Amarna Period show the same facial characteristics–“a straight nose, heavy-lidded eyes, long graceful neck, and a strong square jaw.” As Johnson states, “The forensically reconstructed face with its narrow skull, deep-set eyes, and triangular jaw is beautiful but in no way resembles the portraits that survive of Nefertiti. That said, they could be relatives.” Johnson believes they could be cousins instead.
• As “the gateway out of the African continent,” Egypt has always had a racially diverse citizenry, and Amenhotep III had many wives who were both Egyptian and foreign, including Caucasian women. But, said Johnson, Nefertiti’s skintone would still be darker than how it’s presented in the recreation. “A brown skin color would have probably been more true to the individual represented, and to her times.”
So with all of this said, what do I think about this bust? I think that, while being expertly rendered, it doesn’t match up to what Thutmose sculpted, and he was actually there during her life. If anyone should know what she looked like, it should be him. Granted, there could be some artistic liberties; some of the characteristics of the Amarna Period include highly feminine features and royalty were usually depicted as youthful, regardless of their age. But Thutmose is notable in that he sculpted the middle aged and elderly as well as the young. He even sculpted an older Nefertiti, depicting the changes her body underwent from birthing children. To be fair, this could have been stylistic as well, to showcase fertility, but if that’s the case, why create the other sculptures, which look true to life?
Another caveat is that perhaps for royalty, Thutmose combined both reality and fantasy. Despite the realism present, there are still stylistic elements that can be found in the Nefertiti bust. The symmetry of the face, for one, could be read as a calculated artistic choice. The huge eyebrows, which might have been painted on the real Nefertiti (since ancient Eygptians filled in and exaggerated their real eyebrows with makeup) add to the symmetry and perfection of the sculpture. It could be that the bust we know and love is just an old-school version of FaceTune. That’s a theory that could be truer than we think, since sarcophogi, such as the sarcophagus of King Tutankhamun is also artistically stylized and doesn’t reflect all of what’s shown in the reconstructions of Tutankhamun, as pictured below.
I personally don’t want to believe everything from Thutmose’s workshop was a lie, though. Nefertiti’s beauty was heralded in her time as much as it is now, which leads me to believe there’s more truth to the iconic bust than fakery. If Thutmose captured beauty, then I’m sure she was actually beautiful in real life. The Younger Lady doesn’t look bad, though. I will say from looking at one of the reconstructions of King Tut that the Younger Lady is most definitely his mother. They have the same overbite, jaw structure, and eye socket structure.
To address the skin color issue: Ancient Egyptians’ skintones were clearly documented by artists contemporary to the times. Artists of the Coptic Period engaged in realism when painting subjects such as the subjects depicted in the Fayum mummy portraits, which showcased men and women with dark hair and tan skin.
There are also other reconstructions of ancient Egyptians. Here’s another reconstruction of Tutankhamun published in National Geographic in 2005–this one is a little more favorable to him in the looks department and more closely matches some of the sculptures made of him during his life. In this reconstruction, his skin tone is definitely a dark tan.
Here’s another reconstruction, this time of a woman nicknamed “Meritamun.” The reconstruction includes information gathered from modern day Egyptians, which you can assume includes skintone.
Based on the other reconstructions and mummy portraits, as well as a Google search of images of modern-day Egyptians, it seems like what’s throwing people off is the undertone used for the Younger Lady’s skintone reconstruction. Yes, there were olive-toned Egyptians; with a port empire like Egypt, leading to a cross-cultural mix, there had to have been a myriad of skintones among Egyptians. But the Younger Lady’s undertone is probably a smidge too pink, which lends the eye to read it as “European” or, like how some called it online, “white.” Meanwhile, the other reconstructions, statues, and paintings from ancient Egypt show people with yellow and neutral undertones. While the Younger Lady does have a touch of yellow in her undertone, the pink is affecting how the yellow would affect the overall skintone.
But I actually hesitate to call this reconstruction of the Younger Lady “white.” Again, there were a myriad of skintones in ancient Egypt, and while I have some issues with how much pink there is in the Younger Lady’s undertone, it’s still worth understanding that a woman this color wouldn’t necessarily be out of place in ancient Egypt. She might look “white,” but it doesn’t mean she’d be out of place. If it turns out her skintone was actually this color, undertones and all, her skin also wouldn’t make her any less African.
What do you think about these reconstructions? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
It took me a full day, but I’ve finally seen the music video for SZA and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther song, “All the Stars.” As someone who saw Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” music video when it premiered during primetime television back in the ’90s, I thought I’d never see a music video rival it as the most unapologetically black music video ever. While Beyonce might have won 2016 and 2017 with her Lemonade visuals and Southern Gothic aesthetic, I think “All the Stars” tops it and even “Remember the Time” as the most awe-inspiring music video I’ve seen in years. Marvel, you’ve completely undone yourself with this entire Black Panther franchise; I hope y’all at Marvel understand exactly why the outpouring of creativity and love is overflowing for this movie.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I implore you to drop everything you’re doing and watch it right now. Real talk: this music video just might make you cry.
If there’s a way to frame an entire music video and put it on my wall, I would. This music video is not only gorgeous, but it’s a love letter to Africa–a homage to the continent’s rich past, vibrant present, and a future filled with possibilities. It, like Wakanda, shows a glimpse into an Africa the West hasn’t seen; an Africa that is seen without the lens of colonialism and imperialism.
I might have had my DNA test done to reveal exactly what parts of Africa I come from, but at the end of the day, I’m still an African-American who is divorced from many of my ancestors’ cultures, so unfortunately a lot of the references in this video have gone over my head. Thankfully, my DNA test has allowed me to start researching my various peoples and their cultures and, particularly for this video, there are posts outlining many of the video’s cultural elements. But even with my limited knowledge, there were three moments out of the many that stood out the most to me.
1. The ocean of hands
There was something so eerie, haunting, and strangely calming about this opening scene featuring Lamar on a raft in the middle of a sea of black arms and hands. What I immediately thought of was the Atlantic Slave Trade, which trafficked at least 10 to 12 million Africans from their homelands to the New World. That stretch of sea is filled with the ghosts of my ancestors, and to see Lamar riding the waves of their hands reminded me how even in death, they made it possible for me to survive.
I also saw the haunting sea in reverse; it was as if those same souls that were lost centuries ago were able to find their way back home in the afterlife. Despite their tribulations on earth, they were able to find peace. From that point of view, it’s as if those same souls are guiding Lamar back to the lands of his ancestors. There was so much said in that scene without Lamar ever saying a word.
2. The Dandies
I’d written about the political importance of Africa’s dandies before in my Black Panther fashion post, but to keep it brief, the dandy movement is one that reclaims African pride by turning Western/colonial fashion inside out and repurposing it as both a form of wearable protest and a sign to the world of Africans’ humanity. To see the dandies put on display like this warmed my heart–the sartorial excellence of course is fun, but showcasing movement’s political relevance in this way has only made the dandy movement stronger, and as far as I’m concerned, that can only be a great thing.
3. The goddesses
The final shots of the music video have Lamar in what looks like an temple comprised of imagery and symbols of several African cultures standing in awe of giant women clad in gold. Clearly, these women are the goddesses of old, and Lamar is paying his respects to them. For me, these women represent the lost goddesses of African religions. When I say “lost,” I don’t mean they’re lost to the world; there are many who still worship the gods and goddesses of the Yoruba and Igbo people, for instance. What I mean is that they’re lost to me. The slave trade made us African-Americans lose everything, including our religions, and seeing these women act in place of those goddesses made me realize that the music video was, once again, bringing us black viewers–and Lamar–back in touch with our roots. These goddesses act as messengers to the rest of the world that Africa is the motherland; Africa is meant to nurture, to uplift, and be respected and honored. Lamar seemed like he got the message. But if it still wasn’t clear to some viewing, the music video cuts to SZA’s hairstyle, which is in the shape of the entire continent. It was a stylistic and elegant version of a mic drop.
Overall, the entire music video left me feeling hopeful and, honestly, a little misty-eyed. This is the Africa I’ve always wanted to see portrayed. This is affirming on a gutteral level, more than I thought a music video could ever be. I’ve come away from it feeling like I’ve retained a chunk of my cultural identity that had been lost. As much as it is a cliche to type, I can honestly say I feel seen. This music video is definitely 2018’s version of “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
How did you feel after watching the music video? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Somewhere on Twitter, there’s someone saying how they’re going to show up to the movie theater once Black Panther is released. When the trailer dropped in June, everyone was talking about how they were going to be decked out in their finest threads to see Black Panther, as if the February 2018 release date will be Easter Sunday.
But what could go into the sartorial display folks might (and probably will) partake in once the film drops? How does one show up to the movie theater to watch the most anticipated, most-hyped, and most-loved history-making Marvel film of all time? Look no further than to the Black Panther trailer itself, which gives you looks and inspiration for days.
Black Panther would be nothing without its adherence to pan-African tribal styles. Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter said to Elle that she looked to several cultures for the look seen in the film.
“I’m looking at the whole continent and a wide range of people, like the Masai and the Suri. It all becomes a part of the framework of Wakanda. Most people who read the comic books know Wakanda is a mountainous area; it’s a secret place that’s not necessarily trading and interacting with the rest of the world. They’re a little bit more advanced in technology than other civilizations. We are creating that world, and trying to create a culture and pride that feels authentic to the specific location.”
— Pete Souza Petty (@KendraJames_) June 10, 2017
(photos by Rod Waddington and Dylan Waters [Flickr Creative Commons] and Wikipedia)
Now, I’m not suggesting you go to the film heavily appropriating cultures by wearing facepaint and Masai warrior tunics, because even though we’re black, we’re not of any of these tribes from a cultural standpoint (from a DNA standpoint, who knows). If you are from an African nation and you’ve got some stuff you want to pull out to roll up at the theater in, be my guest. For the rest of us black Americans, perhaps the best we can do is Kente cloth, which has become a part of African-American life ever since it was introduced to us back in the 1950s. As James Padilioni, Jr., of the the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)-run site Black Perspectives, writes:
Kente appeared on the radar of most African-Americans in 1958 when Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister of independent Ghana, wore the cloth to meet with President Eisenhower at the White House. Coinciding with the Civil Rights and African Decolonization Movements, Black Americans associated Kente cloth with Black politics and the dignity of the African heritage. By the early 1970s, the predominant garment featuring Kente in the United States was the dashiki, a long tunic-type shirt that grew increasingly popular and commodified by the fashion industry. Kente’s appeal within Black Power waned, with Fred Hampton and other Panthers leadersderiding those who wore them. Nevertheless, Kente cloth and dashikis remained staples of urban Black life and received a new layer of significance when adopted by the Hip Hop community in the 1980s.
While this is still a little bit of appropriation, the Kente cloth has taken on a very American-specific identity along with its traditional identity. At some point, many a black person has owned an item of clothing made from Kente cloth. Even I, as a kindergartner, made a cardboard doll wearing a Kente cloth dashiki and hat. I’m no sartorial police, but if you happen to have a Kente cloth shirt, hat, or even a scrunchie, wearing it to the Black Panther screening might be one of the best times you could put that item to some use.
Coming to America
The film referred to the most when writing about Black Panther on Twitter is Coming to America. The comparisons are coming even heavier now that there’s official news there will be a Coming to America sequel. It makes sense–both films are about fictional African nations, both films act as uplifting and positive portrayals of Africa, and both films have become cultural touchtones to black American pop culture (even though Black Panther hasn’t even come out yet).
— Rob Villa (@RobvillaNYNY) July 23, 2017
This mashup of African aesthetics just made me realise Black Panther is like our generation's Coming To America sci-fi reboot https://t.co/wpVxqZNF1e
— Everything In Shaka (@MrBigyemano) July 13, 2017
If they could somehow get this to crossover into the Black Panther world that'd be amazing. https://t.co/nCJowRIi4O
— Leigh Feldman (@Leighzus) September 29, 2017
— Javaris Tharco (@JavarisTharco) September 22, 2017
*writes down in note pad* Today I learned Black Panther is a fan of Coming to America and uttered these exact words in this panel. pic.twitter.com/YfFAG2xYuE
— SJWPennywise (@mvbrat91) December 24, 2016
This is dope! Coming to America / Black Panther mashup. pic.twitter.com/sHUrqdNRtO
— Geeks with Forks (@geekswithforks) June 12, 2017
What y'all wearing to go see Black Panther movie?
— jujoffer (@jujoffer) June 10, 2017
— Et tu Bootay? (@daciatakesnote) June 10, 2017
Fashion-wise, does it make sense to connect Black Panther to Coming to America? Sort of. The two films have different tones they’re trying to accomplish with their costuming. However, the common thread is the goal of making an African nation look like the ultimate African nation–regal, luxurious, sophisticated, and welcoming.
Upon taking apart each film’s costumes, it becomes surprisingly apparent that there are some similar elements in the costuming for Coming to America and Black Panther, such as the Dora Milaje wearing red, which is similar to how the royal handmaidens wear red. There’s also a certain use of furs, bright colors, and headdresses that convey the idea that these nations are not to be trifled with because they will outspend you and out-culture you.
Granted, the connective tissue between these two films is small–the main reason people are drawing parallels to the film is because Coming to America is the only film black Americans have that depict an African nation as thriving, rich, culturally-independent, and on-par with (or exceeding beyond) the European status quo. This gets into a representation issue–if there were more films about Africa that didn’t depict the continent as poor and backwards, then we’d have more films to choose from when discussing the place Black Panther has in Hollywood’s film legacy.
It also doesn’t hurt that Lupita Nyong’o had a Coming to America-themed birthday party, officially crossing the streams between Black Panther and Coming to America.
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I would love to see folks at the theater in Coming to America cosplay. Usually, I hate seeing cosplay when I’m at the movie theater, but for this, I would pull out my phone for to take some pictures. Especially if someone decided to show up wearing a fake lion stole.
If you’re planning on going to the Black Panther premiere in supreme style, then you need to get yourself some Ikire Jones. The brand, led by creative director Walé Oyéjidé and head tailor Sam Hubler, weaves together African textiles and modern, urbane chicness into some of the most fabulous scarves and garments I’ve seen in a while. To quote the brand’s website:
We use design as a vehicle to tell stories that illuminate the nuanced lives of marginalized people. We do so without reproach or pity. But instead, by showing that elegance is not exclusive to any particular culture, hue, or country.
It seems natural, then, for Ikire Jones to be showcased in Black Panther as part of T’Challa’s regal wardrobe. As Oyéjidé said to OkayAfrica, the film will give audience members a gateway into thinking about Africa in a new way.
“I think the beauty of Black Panther, is that even though it’s fantastical, it at least opens people’s minds to the idea that people of African descent can be villains, they can be superheroes, they can be rich they can be poor. They can be whole, complicated humans and nuanced, just as people are from other heritages. So, it really is just about cracking open the door and seeing us as equal to everybody else. I think that’s what a lot of us are trying to do with our art in different ways. It happens to be a film, I happen to be a person who makes clothes, but uses clothes as a vehicle to talk about these things. We’re all basically working on the same issue, just in different ways.”
Here’s more Ikire Jones to whet your whistle:
Jidenna and Black Dandyism
It’s not really in the trailer much, but there is one moment where black dandyism comes to play. That’s when the elder wearing the green suit shows up.
This moment made me think of one of the foremost people in black dandyism in pop culture, Jidenna.
The power of black dandyism comes from taking the colonizers’ clothes and culture and turning it into yet another tool to subvert white control and re-establish black humanity.
Shantrelle P. Lewis, the artistic curator behind Dandy Lion, an international exhibition and platform showcasing the world of contemporary black dandyism, wrote for How To Get Next about the relationship blackness has with fashion, both as a cultural artifact and as a political weapon.
Black people’s relationship to the sartorial, or sewing and tailoring, actualy predates contact with Europeans. We were some of the first, if not the first group of humans, to sew…So, when African tailors came into contact with European fashions, the blending of styles and culture gave way to a new look.
…Over the past couple hundred years, this art of mixing and matching is a skill that many Black men have manipulated to their own advantage to subvert mainstream racist images. Defiant dressing and oppositional fashion, or using fashion and style to subvert social-political norms, have a long history among Black people in the West–we’ve been using it as an instrument of resistance for 400 years.”
That power can certainly be seen in the elder’s sartorial choices–mixing brightly-colored, tailored pieces with a traditional, yet matching, lip plate. The same type of suiting can be seen on Jidenna, carrying the tradition of black dandyism into a new generation of “Classic Men.”
Jidenna’s black dandyism also makes sure to weave in African textiles and patterns, reflecting Jidenna’s Nigerian background. If you want to arrive in style at the Black Panther screening, try the dandy route and wear classic cuts mixed with traditional prints and statement colors.
More examples of contemporary black dandyism:
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How do you plan on dressing to attend once Black Panther premieres?
That Taylor Swift video. Yes, I saw it. The short of it is that it annoys me.