African Archaeology: Prehistoric Burial Sites


Professor William Petrie "The Father of Egyptian Pre-history"

Egyptologist, Professor William Flinders Petrie in his book The Making of Egypt, 1939 wrote that the first king of Egypt [Menes] had a strong Negro face with characteristic features which dominated that period. In reality, the other Pharaohs of the dynasty were no less Negroid; Petrie affirmed . . . . "that this dynasty, the first to give Egyptian civilization its almost definitive form and expression, was of Sudanese Nubian origin. The equally Negro's features of the protodynastic face of Tera Neter and those of the the first king to unify the valley, also prove that this is the only valid hypothesis. Similarly, the Negro's features of the Fourth Dynasty Pharaohs, the builders of the great pyramids, confirm this." Petrie the founder of pre-dynastic Nile Valley archaeology, excavated at Nagada and Ballas in Upper Egypt nearly 100 years ago, unearth nearly 1200 pre-dynastic graves. It was Petrie's conviction that there was "a peaceful", if not a united, rule all over Egypt and Nubia [Sudan] during the entire pre-dynastic period.

* * * * *

S.O.Y. Keita and A. J. Boyce (Institute of Biological Anthropology, Oxford University)
Program of the Seventy-First Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, held at
The Adam’s Mark Hotel Buffalo, New York , April 10 thru April 13, 2002

Mapping diversity: craniofacial affinities in the mid-Holocene Nile Valley considered with archaeological and linguistic

The appearance of agriculture in the Nile Valley occurs some 2000 years after its development in Europe and the Near East. The
major cultigens are the same in these areas. It has been hypothesized by some researchers that agriculture emerges in the
Nile Valley concomitant with the arrival of speakers of the Afro-Asiatic language family, both being brought after the differentiation
of the Nostratic maco family speech community. In this view agriculture (and Afro-Asiatic) come from Europe, the locale of the
Nostratic cradle in this model. A phenetic craniometric analysis of early farmers from the Nile Valley of Upper Egypt was undertaken in order to explore this hypothesis. Badarian crania were studied with European and African series from the Howells’ database, using generalized distances and cluster analyses (neighbour joining and UPGMA algorithms). Greater affinity is found with the African series. The results are considered with a variety of linguistic and archaeological evidence, as well as the findings of
simulation studies relevant to this study. It is concluded that the earliest Nile Valley farmers in Upper Egypt for which there is
record were locals, not European immigrants, and therefore that the development of agriculture in this region was not due to
demic diffusion ultimately from Europe. The problems with phenetic affinity studies considered in isolation from other evidence will
be discussed, as well as the flaws of thinking in terms of absolute identity, and not relative similarity.

* * * * *

A. Froment,  I.R.D. (Institut de Recherche pour le Developement), France.
Program of the Seventy-First Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, held at
The Adam’s Mark Hotel Buffalo, New York , April 10 thru April 13, 2002

Morphological micro-evolution of Nubian Populations from, A-Group to Christian Epochs: gene flow, not local adaptation.

Prior to the Neolithic, populations of the Nile Valley in Nubia are very robust, and, because of a gap in the fossil record, it is difficult to connect them to later populations. Some have postulated a local evolution, due to diet change, while others postulated migrations, especially from the Sahara area. But between 5000 and 1000 BC, many cemeteries have supplied a large amount of skeletons, and the anatomical characters of Nubian populations are easier to follow-up. Twenty-seven archaeological samples (4 at 5000 BC, 5 at 4000 BC, 10 at 3000 BC, 3 at 2000 BC, 5 at 1000 BC), and 10 craniofacial measurements, have been considered. While cerebral skull is fairly stable, facial skull displays several regular modifications, and specially a reduction of facial and nasal heights, a broadening of the nose, and an increase of prognathism, while bizygomatic breadth is unchanged. These features illustrate a trend towards a growing resemblance with populations of Sub-Saharan Africa living in wet environments. However, paleoclimatological studies show that Nubia experienced an increasing aridification during that period. It is then unlikely that such a morphological change could be related to any local adaptive evolution to environment. Random drift is also unlikely, because the anatomical trend is relatively uniform during these millennia. It then seems more plausible that these changes correspond to the increasing presence of Southern populations migrating northward.

* * * * *

S.O.Y. Keita
Journal of Human Evolution, 2000 Sep; 39(3): 269-88.
Department of Surgery, Howard University Hospital, Washington, DC

Historical sources and archaeological data predict significant population variability in mid-Holocene northern Africa. Multivariate analyses of crania demonstrate wide variation but also suggest an indigenous craniometric pattern common to both late dynastic northern Egypt and the coastal Maghreb region. Both tropical African and European metric phenotypes, as well intermediate patterns, are found in mid-Holocene Maghreb sites. Early southern predynastic Egyptian crania show tropical African affinities, displaying craniometric trends that differ notably from the coastal northern African pattern. The various craniofacial patterns discernible in northern Africa are attributable to the agents of microevolution and migration.

* * * * *

The position of the Nazlet Khater specimen among prehistoric and modern African and Levantine populations.
Pinhasi R., Semal P.
Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 13, (2000), pp. 269-288

Nazlet Khater falls closer to the Late Palaeolithic Nubian samples . . .  . If an ancestral descendant relationship existed between Nazlet Khater and the Late Palaeolithic Nubian specimens, then regional continuity persisted among the Upper/Late Pleistocene populations of the Upper Nile region.

The Nazlet Khater specimen is part of a relict population which is a descendant of a larger sub-Saharan stock, which extended as far north as present day upper Egypt sometime during the Last Interglacial period, or the early part of the Last Glacial period. In such a scenario, the Nazlet Khater belongs to a relict population which retained some of the morphological features [form & structure] that were present among Middle Stone Age populations, but no longer present in other contemporaneous sub-Saharan and North African populations.

* * * * *

The mid-twentieth Egyptologist Alan Gardiner, who was considered an authority on the ancient civilization of Kemet, gave the following report on the human remains of the pre-dynastic Badarians, Amratians, and Gerzeans:

"These... were long-headed-dolicocephalic is the learned term-and below even medium stature, but Negroid features are often to be observed. Whatever may be said of the northerners, it is safe to describe the dwellers in Upper Egypt as of essentially African stock, a character always retained despite alien influences brought to bear on them from time to time." (pg. 392; Egypt of the Pharaohs 1966)

* * * * *

Concordance of cranial and dental morphological traits and evidence for endogamy in ancient Egypt.
Assistant Professor Tracy L. Prowse, Nancy C. Lovell
Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

A biological affinities study based on frequencies of cranial nonmetric traits in skeletal samples from three cemeteries at predynastic Naqada, Egypt, confirms the results of a recent nonmetric dental morphological analysis. Both cranial and dental traits analyses indicate that the individuals buried in a cemetery characterized archaeologically as high status are significantly different from individuals buried in two other, apparently nonelite cemeteries and that the nonelite samples are not significantly different from each other. A comparison with neighboring Nile Valley skeletal samples suggests that the high status cemetery represents an endogamous ruling or elite segment of the local population at Naqada, which is more closely related to populations in northern Nubia than to neighboring populations in southern Egypt.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Vol. 101, Issue 2, October 1996, Pages: 237-246

* * * * *

Information from the Program of the Seventy-First Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, held at The Adam’s Mark Hotel Buffalo, New York , April 10 thru April 13, 2002.

I. Ribot, R. Orban, P. De Maret. Dept. of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 3DZ, United Kingdom, Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Anthropologie
et Prehistoire, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Institut de Sociologie.

The prehistoric burials of Shum Laka Rockshelter (North-West Cameroon): funerary practices, biological affinities, health status.

Between 1982 and 1994, nine burials including eighteen human skeletons were discovered in the rockshelter of Shum Laka (Cameroon). As they are dated between 7,000 BC and 3,000 BC, they are the most ancient fossils in West Central Africa. Both archaeological and anthropological data of Shum Laka burials are analysed in detail, in order to present several aspects such as mortuary practices, biological affinities and health status.

The burial patterns (primary and secondary deposits, cremation) and their increasing diversity especially during the recent period are not comparable to any other Late Stone Age or even Iron Age site in Cameroon. According to anthropometrical data, both face and mandible of individual SE III show a relative similarity with modern West Central African populations. Stature estimations also suggest that the populations of the two burial phases could be biologically different. A diet rich in carbohydrates and low in proteins, including coarse food such as tuber roots was suggested by numerous caries, little calculus and dental wear. Children with two relatively rare pathological conditions (scaphocephaly and unhealed trauma caused by an arrowhead) were buried in the same place. This funerary practice could reflect particular social behaviours towards both “anomalous” children and deaths.

The various populations who occupied the rockshelter of Shum Laka could have been hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists or both, as they lived in a mixed environment. However, the isotopic analyses in progress for paleodietary reconstruction might help us to identify some subsistence shift during the Late Stone Age - Iron Age transition period.

* * * * *

Human Responses to Changing Environments in Central Africa Between 40,000 and 12,000 BC
Journal of World Prehistory, Volume 16, Issue 3, Sep. 2002

Els Cornelissen, Section of Prehistory and Archaeology, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium

Reconstructions of the Equatorial forest in Central Africa fuel the debate on whether hunter-gatherers at the end of the Pleistocene were capable of living in or off the forest prior to the advent of agriculture. Their traces are rare and often reduced to their stone equipment. In an attempt to see to what extent technology and environmental exploitation are interrelated, all Central African sites dated between 40,000 and 12,000 BC. are analyzed for their material culture, the environmental setting at the time of the occupation, and the exploitation of that environment. Although the evidence is still circumstantial, two large technological traditions have been recognized in Central Africa at the end of the Pleistocene, the Lupemban and microlithic industries, and both are associated with a variety of environments. This, in combination with a fragmented forest and concomitant increase of ecotone during the Last Glacial Maximum, would have enhanced rather than hampered human occupation in the area. It may be argued that the inherent flexibility and capability of exploiting a variety of environments enabled the hunter-gatherer communities to face and adapt to environmental changes regardless of stone technology.