Light-Skinned Tut Fuels the Ire of Activists, Scholars

Gregory Lewis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), Sept. 25

FORT LAUDERDALE—Computer-generated portraits of Tutankhamun in an exhibit coming to the Museum of Art in December have sparked criticism and protests by black activists who say they depict the boy king as white.

Researchers hired by the National Geographic Society, one of the exhibit’s sponsors, say current forensic data and recent CAT scans of his mummy were used to create the images.

African scholars and black activists dispute the portrayal and predict protests when the show moves here like those that have occurred in Los Angeles. The debate is similar to the question of whether Jesus was black.

“We’re concerned about fake pictures of one of our ancestors,” said Ricky Innis, who leads Kheprera, a local black study group that focuses on ancient Egyptian history and culture. “I’m sure people are disappointed the system would perpetrate this myth of information.”

Terry Garcia, executive vice president for mission programs at the National Geographic Society, said computer images of Tut showing him with light, medium and dark skin will be included in the Fort Lauderdale show.

“No one really knows his exact skin tone,” Garcia said. “There is no way to judge a skin tone. We went down the middle. We took the best science available.”

Only the medium-skinned portrait was included in the Los Angeles exhibit. Activists from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Committee for the Elimination of Media Offensive to African People and the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations picketed outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when the show opened there in June.

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But earlier research by New Zealand, British, and African scholars, such as the late Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal, had determined Tut was Negroid. Professor Manu Ampim, a historian and professor of Afrikana Studies at Peralta Community College in Oakland, Calif., said the artists and sculptors of Tut’s time left “firsthand evidence” of Tut’s blackness in their paintings and sculptures. Ampim is the author of Egypt as a Black Civilization, a book on ancient Egypt.

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