Seventies Nubian mummy hair study.

KEY WORDS Hair analysis . Hair form Mummy hair .
Nubia – Meroitics

Hair samples from 76 burials at Semna South (Sudanese Nubia) were examined using a variety of techniques. Electrophoresis and fluorescence microscopy indicated some oxidation of the cuticule and keratin protein had taken place. However, the cuticular structure and the lack of fluorescence
of the cortex indicate that the low humidity and non-alkaline conditions preserved the physicaland chemical properties of the hair well. Pigmentation, even allowing for oxidation of melanin, showed a higher proportion of lighter samples than is currently associated with the Nubian area. Hair form analysis showed medium diameter and scale count; the curling variables were intermediate between European and African samples. There was a high ratio of maximum to minimum curvature (a measure of irregularity), approached only by Melanesian samples. Meroitic and X-group burial types were not statistically significantly different (largely due to sample sizes), but the X-group, especially males, showed more African elements than the Meroitic in the curling variables. Principal components analysis showed the Semna sample to be significantly different from seven populations examined earlier.

Though several studies have been conducted on ancient hair, because of small sample sizes, few have allowed adequate statistical quantification, and none has dealt with Nubian material. Egyptian mummy samples have been examined in the past for color and structure by Pruner-Bey (18771, Virchow (18981,
and reportedly by Minakow (18993. Woodbury and Woodbury(’32) and Trotter (‘431 have examined ancient Peruvian material using metric techniques; they found the ancient hairs to generally fall in the range of modern variation. Brothwell and Spearman(’63) studied North African and other material using a
variety of techniques, including microscopic examination, fluorescence microscopy, and reflectance spectrophotometry; they found the state of preservation of the samples closely related to environmental factors of the burial sites. More recently, Chiarelli et al. (’70/’71) studied ancient Egyptian samples with scanning electron microscopy, finding significant loss of cuticular scale edges. Using microscopic and macroscopic techniques, Titlbachova AM. J. PHYS. ANTHROP. (1978) 49: 277-262. and Titlbach (’77) studied Egyptian mummies in Czechoslovakian collections; they found generally good preservation, with the samples resembling modern European populations with significant African admixture.

This study analyzes hair samples from Semna South in Sudanese Nubia using several biochemical and metric techniques. The samples contain Meroitic( First Century A.D. to Fourth Century A.D.), X-group (Fourth Century to Sixth Century A.D.), and Christian period (Seventh Century to Tenth Century A.D.) material. Strouhal has pointed out (’77) that the physical relationship of Meroitic and Postmeroitic
populations is not clear. It is still not known whether X-group burials represent a migration of an ethnically distinct people or change in situ of the Meroitics. It is more generally accepted that Christian period inhabitants were the descendants of the X-group.

Hence this study adds perspective to the physical anthropology of the area. ‘ Current address: Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical SchwI, Boston, Massachusetts 021 15.
277 The hair samples were analyzed by quantitative hair form analysis (Hrdy, ’73), electrophoresis of hair keratins (Hrdy and Baden, ‘731, qualitative hair pigmentation analysis (Martin and Saller, ’62), and  fluorescence microscopy (Brothwell and Spearman. ’63). The findings of the quantitative hair form analysis were compared to four populations examined by Hrdy (’73).

The sample consisted of 56 Meroitic, 15 X group, and 5 Christian individuals from Semna South collected between 1966 and 1968 in the course of the excavations of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago directed by L. V. Zabkar (Zabkar, ’73/’74, “78). Specific information on individual burials is located in Zabkar(’78). There was no embalming; mummification resulted from burial conditions alone. Burials  were either of a simple pit grave type, or of more complex types, including separate burialchambers, ramps, and vaults. The hair was either attached to the skull or associated with the remains in the fill. Hair from infants under six months, and samples of insufficient size for measurement were excluded from the analysis. Age and sex determinations and burial type were according to the criteria of Zabkar (’78).
Electrophoretic studies were carried out as outlined in Hrdy and Baden (‘731, with the addition of soaking the samples overnight in 0.05 M EDTA and 0.05 M Tris buffer at pH 9.6 to chelateheavy metals that interfere with chemical extraction of keratin. Fluorescence microscopy was done using the method of
Brothwell and Spearman (‘631, using 0.1% Acridine Orange dye at pH 4.9. Qualitative hair color analysis was performed with a Fischer-Saller hair color standard (Peabody Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts) (Martin and Saller, ’62).

Quantitative hair form analysis was carried out by the method of Hrdy(‘731, using the principal components analysis variables: diameter (in microns, an average of several determinations); scale count (the number of curicularscale ridges per 0.52 mm); average curvature (the inverse of the radius of curvature); ratio of maximum to minimum curvature (a measure of regularity of hair curling); crimp (number of reverse twists along the hair shaft per unit distance); and ratio of natural to straight length (a measure of functionalhair shortening due to curling). Principal components analysis was performed using scores standardized on the seven population sample (Hrdy, ’73) and the Semna sample.

Electrophoresis of alpha SCM-keratin protein from three samples (identification numbers: Meroitic N224-B, N455; X-group M107) showed similar patterns for all samples. There was a large band at the origin and a large band at the buffer from which represented SCMKB. This aberrant pattern indicates that the fibrous protein had aggregated at the origin, probably from cross linking of the protein chains.

Fluorescence microscopy on modern controls showed a greenish fluorescence throughout the cortex and cuticle, with areas of bright orange associated with fractures in the shaft, as reported by Brothwell and Spearman (’63). These fractures and areas of orange were more pronounced on hairs that had been bleached. Of nine Semna samples, all had a completely orange cuticle, with brighter orange highlighting
the cuticular structure, which was intact on all samples. Debris clinging to the shaft was also bright orange. The cortex on all samples was greenish, except where the shaft was broken, which was orange. Hair which was blond or “bleached” appearing (M048, M061, M205, M228) fluoresced identically to the brown samples (M069, M098, M107, M188, M246). Macroscopically the hair was in generally good condition, with approximately one percent of the shafts damaged. Eight of the 76 samples had debris clinging to the shafts; the remainder were relatively clean. Two of the samples were braided.

Qualitative grading of the samples on the Fischer-Saller scale is shown in table 1. Samples that were graded on the red scale (I-VI) for degree of red pigmentation were also graded on the blond-brown-black scale (A-Y) for degree of black pigmentation. Twenty-six percent (29% of the Meroitic, 13% of the Xgroup) of the total sample had some red pigmentation, and 10.5% (8.9 Meroitic, 13% Xgroup) had “blond” pigmentation (Fischer- Saller category G or less). The crude variables of the quantitative hair form analysis are presented in table 2. The results are also broken down for subpopulations of Meroitic,  X-group, and Christian; male and female; and simple burial type and more complex. Results from Hrdy (’73) for Northwest European, East African, Bougainville (Melanesian), and Japanese populations are presented for comparison. In no variable was the Meroitic significantly different from the X-group, male from female or simple burial type from non-simple. However, the X-group sample showed higher curling variables than the Meroitic, especially in males (the Christian group is too small to make valid comparisons).

The sample as a whole was significantly different from the other populations in average curvature, ratio of maximum to minimum curvature, crimp, and ratio of natural to straight length. Diameter was significantly different from Japanese and Bougainville, and scale count significantly different from the European,
Bougainville, and African populations.

Principal components analysis (Hrdy, ’73) results on the first three components (accounting for 80% of the variance) are shown in table 3 for the total population, with comparative populations from Hrdy (’73). In
component I, which is heavily loaded on general curling variables and scale count, the total sample centroid was significantly different from European and African samples, though it was definitely more European than African.Component 11, loaded on diameter, was not significantly different from the comparison populations. Due to the large amount of irregularity (high ratio of maximum to minimum curvature values), the Semna sample had a higher score on component 111, which was heavily loaded on that variable, than the African and European samples. Only Melanesian samples had a higher score on this

 Hair keratin is remarkably stable due to cross-chain disulfide linkages. However, prolonged exposure to harsh conditions will alter the keratin. The Semna samples were in contact with sand for over a thousand years, and hence were at risk for oxidation of the protein molecules. There undoubtedly was some oxidation, as shown by the aggregation of the protein on electrophoresis and the orange fluorescence
of the cuticle by fluorescence microscopy.

However, the cortex did not have this oxidized pattern, unlike samples from Egypt examined by Brothwell and Spearman (‘531, which fluoresced orange throughout. Since hair form is probably determined by physical arrangements of the alpha helical proteins within the cortex (Hrdy and Baden, ’731, the
apparent limitation of oxidation to the cuticle in the Semna sample argues for the maintenance
of hair form in the samples in spite of their age. In line with this is the large variability in hair form (rather than the uniformity that one would expect if a uniform environmental force was acting on the sample),
and the lack of macroscopic cuticular and shaft damage. Also arguing for intact keratin is the large number of samples with intact cuticle, as opposed to the ancient Egyptian sample analyzed using scanning electron microscopy by Chiarelli et al. (’70/’71). In general, low humidity and non-alkaline conditions
are optimal for preservation of keratin; both conditions were met in the Semna samples.

As Brothwell and Spearman(‘63) point out, reddish-brown ancient hair is usually the result of partial oxidation of the melanin pigment. This color was seen in a large proportion of the Semna sample, and also noted by Titlbachova and Titlbach(‘77) on Egyptian material, where it also may have resulted from the mummification process. However, the large number of blond hairs that are not associated with the cuticular damage that bleaching produces, probably points to a significantly lighter-haired population than is now present in the Nubian region. Brothwell and Spearman (’63) noted genuinely blond ancient Egyptian samples using reflectance spectrophotometry. Blondism, especially in young children, is common in many dark haired populations (e.g., Australian, Melanesian), and is still found in some Nubian villages(J. Zabkar, personal communication).Only one sample (M197) showed cuticular damage and irregularities definitely consistent with bleaching, although bleaching could not be ruled out in some of the blond samples.

The average diameter of the Semna sample was close to both the N.W. European and East African samples, which are of medium thickness. Of the variables that best distinguish European and African samples, the total Semna sample was closer to the European on average curvature, crimp, and ratio of length. The ratio of curvature, however, was higher than either, indicating a degree of irregularity approached only by Melanesian samples. Obviously the sample has a greater degree of African admixture than the Egyptian hair sample described by Titlbachova and Tiltbach (‘771, which had three of 14 samples showing “Negroid elements.” Although there is not a consistent statistically significant difference between the X-group and Meroitic samples, it is interesting that the X-group sample, especially the males, had higher curling variables, indicating more of an African element. Although larger sample sizes are needed for statistically significant results, the results here are consistent with the evidence summarized by Strouhal (‘77) for skeletal material, which shows X-group very similar to Meroitic, but having increased negroid elements.

The principal components analysis showed the Semna population in a unique position on the three component space when compared to seven other populations (Hrdy, ’73). The combination of high ratio of curvature with moderate diameter and curling differentiates the sample from the Melanesian, European, African, and Mongoloid groups.

The Semna sample had high coefficients of variation compared to four other populations, especially in scale count, average curvature, and ratio of curvature. This high intra-population variability undoubtedly reflects the heterogeneous nature of the Nubian population during the Meroitic and Post-meroitic periods.

If I read this correctly, the conclusion is that the Nubian samples are showing a mix of European and African hair, with a few natural blondes in their number. This study doesn’t seem to be recent, but as I understand there hasn’t been any real change in the study of hair over the last few decades. This tallies with the Mt DNA study of Nubian mummies that shows them to be about 60% non Sub Saharan African.

I would just like to add that the blond Melanesian gene isn’t found in Africa anywhere, it’s an in situ mutation in the Australoids. The only known blond gene known in Africa and Europe is traceable to Northern Europe, and is only about 10,000 years on, which makes it pretty specific to European ancestry.

There’s a tendency for Afrocentrists to include Melanesians into their calculations. They shouldn’t, Melanesians and Australoids aren’t even closely related to Africans, and are the people on the planet least related to them. Also, no Australoids were ever in Nubia or Egypt.

Percentage genetic distances among major continents based on 120 classical polymorphisms
  Africa Oceania East Asia Europe
Oceania 24.7      
East Asia 20.6 10    
Europe 16.6 13.5 9.7  
America 22.6 14.6 8.9 9.5

As you can see from this Africa shows the most genetic distance from Australoids (Oceania). Chart from a study by Cavalli-Sforza using 120 blood polymorphisms provides information on genetic distances of the various continents. This chart also matches the work of geneticist Niell Risch, who has shown that the people most closely related to the Aborigines are Asians. You’ll note, Europeans are significantly more closely related to Aborigines than Africans. The people most closely related to Africans are… Europeans.

12 responses to “Seventies Nubian mummy hair study.

  1. Very selective.

    And you are wrong about africans and Austrailian Aborigines not being closely related. DNA testing mitochondrial and Y chromosome show that man traveled as follows Horn of Africa pass through miidle east, leave ancestors in southern india then leave ancestors in new guinea and australia. Progress from central asia makes up for the rest.

    In fact there has never been any evidence suggesting the two groups are not closely related. so I believe you must be immature and of a lying nature.

    It won’t be long before better DnA retrival techniques are developed so calm down and stay far away from this topic which has always been laced with rampant racism.

  2. See the added chart, moron.

    The only people even vaguely closely related to black Africans are Europeans, and we are still way closer to Asians. Africans and Aborigines parted company about 80k ago or more

    Mt DNA studies of Nubians from Meroe have shown them to be only about 40% sub Saharan, I have it stored on this blog.

  3. Mathilda, with all due respect, I believe what makes tony and so many other Blacks in America so angry about these “exclusionary findings” is that they speak to the detriment of Black African peoples in their rightful lands, and posture for the inclusion of Caucasoid types (or percentages of such) that are never substanciated upon anyone’s visual inspection i.e. “preferential” and “slanted” views on paper. See your photo postings for captive Nubians as depicted by Egyptians and you’ll see what I mean. If you held a lecture talking 60% Euroasian content for those people, you’d be laughed off the podium in England or “across the pond.”😀

    Now we’re talking Meroe… Clearly, there is a huge difference in the visual interpretation of such people as Meroitic, with regards to their “blackness” and that of the your promoted “40% sub Saharan” percentage that science supposedly “allows.” If the mt DNA analysis speaks of it, I’m afraid that evidence is as slighted as you claim Keita’s papers to be. And if science has deemed the people of Meroe to be only 40% Black African,(i.e. 60% Caucasian?) then I’m sorry, the current peoples of that region along with all the ancient artwork that has survived, BEGS TO DIFFER…

    But of course, an excerpt you’ve posted claims that “recent migrations” of Negroids from the south invaded the “original” Nilotic peoples and that is the only reason why Negroid types are there now… Give me a break…

  4. Yikes.

    Hakat, the current population of that area is about the same percentage-wise for Eurasian ancestry. See Link. You hit 50% in the North Sudan. In lower Nubia (now modern Egypt) it’s about 60%, the same. I have DNA studies on the Sudan here on this blog. It tails off as you move south.

    East Africans have always had a lot of Eurasian in their ancestry since the back migration about 30k ago. That the DNA and hair studies of Lower Nubians both say the same thing (slightly more Eurasian) isn’t my doing.

    But of course, an excerpt you’ve posted claims that “recent migrations” of Negroids from the south invaded the “original” Nilotic peoples and that is the only reason why Negroid types are there now… Give me a break…

    From that old Strouhal study? I never said at any point that was my opinion. I’ve posted all kinds of all studies of Egyptians on this blog, yet you choose to think that one is my personal opinion. It was posted to point out a cock up in another paper, not to tout it as the definitive study of Egytpian origins.

    As has been pointed out to me many times, the bodies are what matters, not the artwork. As that bust of Tiye shows, the two can look very different.

  5. “From that old Strouhal study? I never said at any point that was my opinion. I’ve posted all kinds of all studies of Egyptians on this blog, yet you choose to think that one is my personal opinion. It was posted to point out a cock up in another paper, not to tout it as the definitive study of Egytpian origins.”

    Well, thank you for at least clearing that up for me. Was really starting to ponder there for a minute.

    Now, I’ve made reference to Nubian captives as shown in Egyptian art (as compared to your promoted “Eurasian content” claims) and you haven’t uttered the slightest peep of a reply. So, are you saying the Egyptians lied about all those Negroid-looking images, just as you’ve claimed the innaccuracy of Queen Tiye’s busts?

    Again, Nubians are “differentiated” from ancient Egyptians in the ALL artwork due to their sub-Saharan physical traits. ANY that would give off the visual impression of having anywhere near “half” Eurasian ancestry would not be considered Nubian at all by modern scholars (they are considered Egyptians). You know this, because you do this… just like the vast majority of anthropologists, egyptologists and archaeologists today.

    My whole thing is exposing the ignorances that still exists in these disciplines.

    “Captives? Slaves? With Negroid traits? No way… Can’t be Egyptian.”

    “Tiye? Showing Negroid traits? No way… Can’t be accurate.”

    “25th Dynasty? Now, THEY were blacks but only ruled for 100 years and came from deep in Nubia and none were indeginous to Egypt.”

    “Oh, those archers/soldiers? They’re Nubians. They were not indeginous to Egypt.”

    “Now, the Libyan and Persian ruled periods… Well, we do call them Egyptians and classify all dynasties within those periods as indeginous Egyptian dynasties.”

    “Oh, by the way… North Sudan has 50% Eurasian ancestry, Upper Egypt 60% and always had strong Eurasian content since prehistory.”

    Do you see where I’m coming from, yet? THERE ARE STARK CONTRADICTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED.

  6. Sorry, was editing yesterday.

    I think the contradiction is becasue there was a lot of population movement in dynastic times. Very early/pre dynastic Upper Egypt was a lot more African in nature than from a little later, and there wouldn’t have been much Eurasian ancestry in Nubia at that time; a bit less than 50% Eurasian at Egypt’s Southern border, more like Southern Ethiopians or the average Sudanese for the older Nubians. And that’s the era their artistic conventions were ‘set’ in.

    The Meriotic samples here are from a lot later, and the early North to South population flow in ancient Egypt has been noted in quite a few crania studies-the ‘upper Egyptian type’ getting slowly replaced by the ‘lower Egyptian type’ (called Mahgrebian by Keita).

    The comment about the dynasties is fair enough, there’s no way theat Tiye bust is accurate. Yuya and Tuya have very flat faces and fine slightly wavy hair, the father was probably an Asiatic. I can’t see how they could have produced a face to match that bust. The Tiye mummy is within the range of the possible though.

  7. I can respect that response. The mummy of Yuya, if that indeed is Tiye’s father, looked very Palestinian/Syrian to me, almost as if Abraham Lincoln was mummified. Tuya looks more “traditional Egyptian” i.e. mixed with something. Since you have pretty much presumed all peculiar “Negroid looking” busts of their daughter Tiye to be “inaccurate,” how do you explain all those inaccuracies? Just a fluke? A joke in ancient times? Maybe the newly reinstituted cult of Amen thought it might be amusing to mock the Queen by fashioning derogatory images of her as a “Black woman.” Who knows…

    We are so biased when it comes to race in these kinds of blogs. So much so, that we ignore that which is in front of our very eyes. Funny, how I feel you’d have no problem if that “wooden bust” of Tiye looked like Nicole Kidman (lol). This is all too common, artwork that looks White, you need no further evidence to prove that person’s ethnicity, and would post it proudly with no reserve. But, when a photo, a sculpture, a bust etc., of an Egyptian royal figure is obviously not White (and looks dare I say it… Nubian in appearance) you resort to the intimidating scientific terminology and data (of European origin and slant) to disprove it. My question is, what is so threatening about the truth represented in antique art, that you would render it “inaccurate” if it does not meet your standard of Caucasian?

  8. ‘Since you have pretty much presumed all peculiar “Negroid looking” busts of their daughter Tiye to be “inaccurate,” how do you explain all those inaccuracies? Just a fluke? A joke in ancient times?’

    Mathilda, nearly a month later and no reply to this? I know you’re busy responding to all the other sections but, I was looking forward to hearing your thoughts on that. Very peculiar indeed… the busts of Tiye and the busts and tomb paintings of her husband, Amenhotep III. Speaking of him, his skull (also posted in this blog), shows the same ‘slight prognathism’ as his finest tomb paintings (below). And his artwork shows definite Upper Egyptian/Lower Nubian influence.

    Highly detailed closeup shots from two separate walls (tomb of Amenhotep/Amenophis III) from an old University of Chicago, Oriental Institute related website:

    Handsome chap, isn’t he?

    • We’ve been through this already Hakat.

      The mummies of the parents of Tiye just don’t look like they could have produced a very dark Afro looking daughter. Since her dad was an Asiatic, it seems unlikely, and her mother didn’t seem to have strongly pronounced prognathism or very dark skin either. If the Tiye mummy looked like a match for the images, I wouldn’t have used her as an example of how the mummies and portraits don’t match.

      Some of the mummies and skulls are quite African in features, just not that one.

  9. Thanks, Mathilda and I hear you. Just so you know (and I think you should by now) I am in no way trying to dispute the mummy findings as all being Black. I’m just trying to show where the Egyptians themselves should be given more credit for the royals they depicted. They saw them in person and it sucks that we don’t stop to look at their own first-hand depictions for reference. It would help us to positively identify what mummy is a match or not (and we haven’t). But no, instead we instantly throw out their art when the subjects don’t look White or Asian enough.

    In the case of her husband, we’ve done the same, haven’t we? The close up shot of Amenhotep III’s tomb painting that I recently posted (above) shows about the same amount of minimal prognathism as his actual skull. That is no more indicative of any particular race. No more than his full lips. But, by most people’s standards, his tomb paintings and busts would show a “mixed Black man” with all due respect. Most of the images in his tomb wall paintings were shown as reddish-brown and his busts show variations from him looking Nubian to Asiatic (more indications of admixture).

    So, why can’t a similar approach be applied to Tiye since her busts and painting exibit similar mixed Black traits (some look black, some look mixed, some Asian). I would not be so foolish to look at her most famous bust and assume this was the exact same color her skin was. She may have been light brown, golden brown or tan for all we know. But, give the woman (and the Egyptians) SOME respect… if she looked bi-racial or even Black by today’s standards, and the mummy we think is her looks different – shouldn’t we either keep looking or try to link the art with the find??

  10. This study and the mtdna study you cite both concern samples form the far North of Nubia (such as Semna) and not Meroe which is below the 5th cataract near Khartoum. The racial makeup of people in this area was probably somewhat different.

    • This study and the mtdna study you cite both concern samples form the far North of Nubia (such as Semna) and not Meroe which is below the 5th cataract near Khartoum. The racial makeup of people in this area was probably somewhat different

      Yep. No argument. They probably had exactly the same kind of clinal variation you see between the North of the Sudan and Egyptian Nubia. What I don’t get is why it shocks the Afrocentrists that obsess over this blog that Nubians had 60% eurasian maternal ancestry when modern Ethiopians and Somalis have about 40%.

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