The Hyksos are often assumed to be Ancient Egypt’s first “foreign” invasion, whereby ancient Egypt’s ruling class was invaded and conquered by people from another distant land. However, new research is showing that isn’t the case; the rise of the Hyksos might actually have been an internal takeover by members of the immigrant community.
The Hyksos, which translates as “rulers of foreign lands,” were the almighty elites that held power over large swathes of Egypt between approximately 1638 to 1530 BCE, founding the 15th Dynasty of Egypt.
Writing many centuries after the 15th Dynasty of Egypt, some ancient historians often painted the “invaders of an obscure race” as a murderous and barbaric horde that essentially enslaved the natives. Ancient artworks also depicted the Hyksos as distinct from Egyptians with their own style of dress and culture. Previous archeological finds also affirm this, clearly showing the Hyksos had completely new burial customs, pottery, and architecture to the previous Egyptian rulers.
However, it looks like these people did not acquire the throne through a violent military offensive with spears and chariots. Instead, the Hyksos appear to be part of a longstanding immigrant community in Egypt that somehow managed to get their hands on the reins of power and took control.
Reported in the journal PLOS One, archeologists at Bournemouth University in the UK attempted to work out the geographic origins of the individuals who lived in the ancient Hyksos capital city of Tell el-Dab'a in the northeast Nile Delta. They did this by carrying out a chemical analysis of 75 teeth from 36 skeletons collected from Hyksos cemeteries in the former city and looked to see whether they contained environmental isotope signatures that could be linked to Egypt or elsewhere.
The analysis revealed that a large number of the population were non-locals who immigrated from a wide variety of other places, although the precise locations were not identified. Furthermore, the cemetery was predominantly made up of non-local females. This is a pattern found in the cemeteries both before and during the Hyksos rule.
From all of this, the team deduces that a sudden invasion and influx of Hyksos people is unlikely. Conversely, the shift of power represents a long-standing multicultural community in which one internal group - the Hyksos - somehow removed the ruling elite from office and came to rule the roost.
"Archaeological chemistry, specifically isotopic analysis, shows us first-generation migration during a time of major cultural transformations in ancient Egypt. Rather than the old scholastic theories of invasion, we see more people, especially women, migrating to Egypt before Hyksos rule, suggesting economic and cultural changes leading to foreign rule rather than violence,” Chris Stantis, lead author from Bournemouth University, explained in a statement.