The 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2016)

Central Saharan Population History as Inferred from Postcranial Limb Proportionality


Bioarchaeology, Arizona State University

April 15, 2016 , Atrium Ballroom A/B Add to calendar

Population movement is a catalyst for numerous cultural adaptations. It is a critical part of human evolution, and modern humans owe much of our varied appearances and social behaviors to past episodes of migration. The intimate connection between population movement and ecological systems is particularly important to reconstructing the occupation history of North Africa ca. 9000ya. During the Late Pleistocene the Sahara Desert underwent a hyper-arid period of desertification (the Ogolian) forcing populations to abandon the region. A second climatic event, the Green Sahara period of the Early Holocene, facilitated repopulation of the Sahara Desert during the Early Holocene. The Gobero site in Niger represents the largest skeletal collection of its kind from this time period and is ideally suited for a study of population movement. This study sought to identify population affinities of the Early Holocene settlers of the Sahara using archaeological materials from two occupation phases at the site dating to between 10000 and 4000ya. Post-cranial measurements were used to compare the body proportions of Holocene North Africans from Gobero to populations from West-Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb and the Nile Valley. Results of bivariate regressions and principal component analysis indicate that the Early Holocene occupants of the central Sahara show postcranial affinities with modern Sub-Saharan African body types (relatively long distal limb segments). Interestingly, despite major shifts in craniofacial morphology the pattern of limb bone proportionality does not change through time, despite a significant decrease in stature and a general gracilization of body form.