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

New results from an old excavation: The biological “place” of Jebel Moyans in the prehistory of Nubia and Sudan


Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, Liverpool John Moores University

Friday Morning, 200DE Add to calendar

Innovative methods were used to excavate >3,000 burials (ca. 3000-100 BC) at Jebel Moya, central Sudan in 1911-1914, and their analyses were entrusted to leading anthropologists. Unfortunately, stratigraphy and dating were misinterpreted, and skeletal study was not completed until 1955. By then, few remains survived curation problems, and study focused on craniometric-based “racial” categorization relative to African samples chosen simply because of availability.

The archaeology was reinterpreted in 1994, and new spatial and temporal data prompted the current author to undertake a 2007 analysis of the same Jebel Moya remains and comparative samples (or equivalents) from 1955. Using dental nonmetric data, the goals were to assess the craniometric relationships, and move beyond typology to estimates of inter-population affinity. Between-study links are evident, but much finer-grained results were achieved; a 1955 plotting error was also identified. Briefly, Jebel Moyans are intermediate to, but distinct from the African samples. Many of these samples are geographically distant, so phenetic divergence from Jebel Moya is not surprising.

Thus, the present study estimates affinity regionally to assess if site inhabitants were related to people from: 1) the north, i.e., Nubians, or 2) adjacent sub-Saharan Africa. Thirty-six traits were compared between Jebel Moya (n=58) and 22 comparative samples (n=1196) using the Mean Measure of Divergence. Jebel Moyans are like some Nubians, but closest overall to samples from Ethiopia, Chad, and Kenya. As such, they appear more at home in (northeast) sub-Saharan Africa– which helps settle, more conclusively, the place of these enigmatic people in African prehistory.

I thank Brenda Baker and Tina Jakob for inviting me to this symposium, and all folks at the institutions from which data were collected. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (BNS-0104731), Wenner-Gren Foundation (#7557), National Geographic Society (#8116-06), Institute for Bioarchaeology, ASU Research Development Program, Hierakonpolis Expedition, and American Museum of Natural History.

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