The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Who were the people of the Fourth Cataract of the Nile? What their teeth tells us about human migration patterns through the Sahara


1School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, 2Egypt and Sudan, The British Museum

April 17, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Nubia is often regarded as the ‘corridor’ between sub-Saharan Africa in the south, and Egypt in the north. Its unique geographical position provides an opportunity to examine patterns of human migration through the middle Nile valley via the analysis of the dental remains. Nubia’s relationship with Egypt has been the subject of much research, but investigations into its ties with sub-Saharan Africa have been less extensive. Using skeletal collections curated at the British Museum, this project explores the biological affinities of the inhabitants of the Fourth Cataract region of Upper Nubian. Results are contextualised using data from Lower Nubia and sub-Saharan Africa. Non-metric dental traits are used to assess inter-group affinities, following the ASUDAS system. The Mean Measure of Divergence was applied to quantify the data and multi-dimensional scaling used to illustrate inter-sample affinities. Dating from the Kerma (2000 BC) to Medieval periods (AD 1500), the Nubian assemblages provide a deep-time perspective of their biological relationship with sub-Saharan Africa. The inclusion of both Upper and Lower Nubian samples also tests how geographical distance affects relatedness among groups. Results from 600 individuals, comprising of eight groups, indicate that the sub-Saharan African groups have greater phenetic affinity to Fourth Cataract assemblages (MMD=0.06-0.10, p≤0.05) than to the Lower Nubia samples (MMD=0.09-0.13, p≤0.05). Temporal shifts were also observed, with the biological affinity between sub-Saharan sites and the Fourth Cataract assemblages lessening over time. This change may be indicative of greater genetic admixture and potentially increased migration from the North.

Support from the Wellcome Trust (British Museum grant 097365/Z/11/Z), Liverpool John Moores University (Matched-Funded PhD Scholarship), and the National Science Foundation (BNS-9013942, BNS-0104731).

Slides/Poster (pdf)