The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Population continuity after all? potential late Pleistocene dental ancestors of Holocene Nubians have been found!


Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks AK

Friday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

Since the mid-1960s, some anthropologists have posited biological continuity in late Pleistocene through recent Nubians. However, subsequent dental and skeletal research revealed that a broad range of Holocene samples, all of which share appreciable spatiotemporal phenetic homogeneity, differ significantly from those at the Late Paleolithic sites of Wadi Halfa and Jebel Sahaba. If the latter two Lower Nubian samples are representative of local peoples at that time, then post-Pleistocene discontinuity is implied.

Who, then, were the ancestors of Holocene Nubians? A preliminary comparison of dental nonmetric data in 15 late Pleistocene through early historic Nubian samples (n=795 individuals) with recently discovered remains from al Khiday in Upper Nubia may provide the answer. Dating to at least 9,000+ BP, the new sample (n=40) may be the first of Late Paleolithic age recovered in >40 years; however, until additional fieldwork and dating are conducted, the excavators prefer the more conservative term of "pre-Mesolithic."

Using the Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System to record traits and multivariate statistics to estimate pairwise affinities, it is evident that al Khiday is closely akin to most Holocene samples. It is widely divergent from Jebel Sahaba. As such, there does appear to be long-term biological continuity in the region after all – though with late Pleistocene Upper- instead of Lower Nubians. While it cannot be proven that the al Khiday people were directly related, they are, minimally, indicative of what such an ancestor would be like – assuming that phenetic affinities are indicators of genetic variation.

Thanks to Sandro Salvatori and Donatella Usai, Archaeological Mission at El Salha, Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente, and Tina Jakob, Durham University. Funding provided by the National Science Foundation (BNS-0104731), Wenner-Gren Foundation (#7557), National Geographic Society (#8116-06), and Institute for Bioarchaeology.

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