The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Dental variation in Iron Age populations of southern Africa


Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town

Thursday All day, Park Concourse Add to calendar

Evidence for Iron smelting, agriculture, elaborate pottery styles and increased sedentism appear abruptly in areas previously inhabited by hunter-gatherers and herders during the Early Iron Age (EIA) of southern Africa from around 250AD. Ceramic evidence connects these (cultural) populations to the second millennium Iron Age sites in eastern Botswana. This material culture differs from second millennium Late Iron Age (LIA) sites in South Africa which are attributed to migrations from east Africa and are connected, via the material culture, to modern Sotho-Tswana and Nguni speakers. Although the material culture of this period is well-studied, there is a gap in correlating Iron Age biological identity with the established cultural identity. Here we present an analysis of metric and non-metric dental variation to better understand biological relationships among these populations. Specimens from the LIA, EIA and Eastern Botswana are compared with each other, and to specimens from Iron Age Zambian sites, modern Bantu-speakers and a historic Ndebele site from the mid-nineteenth century. This research indicates few differences between the EIA and LIA groups, although surprisingly populations from eastern Botswana are more similar to the LIA group than the EIA group. The Iron Age samples are significantly different from the modern sample, while the historic sample lies intermediate to the Iron Age and modern samples, indicating that Iron Age peoples had a pattern of dental variation that differs from what is seen in modern (admixed?) descendents. This has important implications for our understanding of the sub-Saharan African dental complex.

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