Limb length in ancient and modern Egyptians, compared.

In all ‘who were the Egyptians’ arguments, the single most important question is always ‘are the ancient Egyptians different to the modern?’ It is not enough to observe that the remains fit into the normal range for half a dozen different population samples, the point is…  are they different to the people there now? Are the ancient population showing themselves to be essentially different to the modern.

One of the often quoted facts is that the ancient Egyptians come closer to black Americans than white Americans for limb length (an adaptation to a tropical climate). What these studies generally fail to comment on is the limb length of modern Egyptians. Modern Egyptians are the same as the ancient Egyptians.

This data is taken from a chart on page 92 of Stringer and Gamble (Stringer and Gamble, 1993, p. 92). 

crural index = Tibia/Femur length
modern peoples      79% in Lapps
                    86% in Black African groups

Lapps               79%        .25
modern Inuit        81.5%     4
Belgium             82.5%    10
S.African white     83.2%     8.5
Yugoslav            83.75%    8.4
American white      82.6%     9.8
Kalahari Bushman    83.4%    18
New MexicoIndian    84.6%    14
S.African black     86.4%    17
Arizona Indian      85.5%    18
Melanesian          84.8%    23
Pygmy               85.1%    24.2
Egyptian            84.9%    26.1
American Black      85.25%   26

Modern peoples limb length. , on a page about Neanderthals and hybridisation.

Amusingly I found this image from Trinkhaus on ‘Peopling of the Nile Valley’ where it outright lies and says this limb length represents ancient Egyptians. It doesn’t, it is showing all modern human populations. A similar graph can be seen at the book link below.


Principles of Human Evolution, Google book review.

Variation in ancient Egyptian stature and body proportions
Sonia R. Zakrzewski *
Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BF, UK
Stature and the pattern of body proportions were investigated in a series of six time-successive Egyptian populations in order to investigate the biological effects on human growth of the development and intensification of agriculture, and the formation of state-level social organization. Univariate analyses of variance were performed to assess differences between the sexes and among various time periods. Significant differences were found both in stature and in raw long bone length measurements between the early semipastoral population and the later intensive agricultural population. The size differences were greater in males than in females. This disparity is suggested to be due to greater male response to poor nutrition in the earlier populations, and with the increasing development of social hierarchy, males were being provisioned preferentially over females. Little change in body shape was found through time, suggesting that all body segments were varying in size in response to environmental and social conditions. The change found in body plan is suggested to be the result of the later groups having a more tropical (Nilotic) form than the preceding populations. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc. Received: 19 February 2002; Accepted: 11 November 2002

Stature estimation in ancient Egyptians: A new technique based on anatomical reconstruction of stature
Michelle H. Raxter 1 *, Christopher B. Ruff 2, Ayman Azab 3, Moushira Erfan 3, Muhammad Soliman 3, Aly El-Sawaf 3

Trotter and Gleser’s (Trotter and Gleser: Am J Phys Anthropol 10 [(1952)] 469-514; Trotter and Gleser: Am J Phys Anthropol 16 [(1958)] 79-123) long bone formulae for US Blacks or derivations thereof (Robins and Shute: Hum Evol 1 [(1986)] 313-324) have been previously used to estimate the stature of ancient Egyptians. However, limb length to stature proportions differ between human populations; consequently, the most accurate mathematical stature estimates will be obtained when the population being examined is as similar as possible in proportions to the population used to create the equations. The purpose of this study was to create new stature regression formulae based on direct reconstructions of stature in ancient Egyptians and assess their accuracy in comparison to other stature estimation methods. We also compare Egyptian body proportions to those of modern American Blacks and Whites. Living stature estimates were derived using a revised Fully anatomical method (Raxter et al.: Am J Phys Anthropol 130 [(2006)] 374-384). Long bone stature regression equations were then derived for each sex. Our results confirm that, although ancient Egyptians are closer in body proportion to modern American Blacks than they are to American Whites, proportions in Blacks and Egyptians are not identical. The newly generated Egyptian-based stature regression formulae have standard errors of estimate of 1.9-4.2 cm. All mean directional differences are less than 0.4% compared to anatomically estimated stature, while results using previous formulae are more variable, with mean directional biases varying between 0.2% and 1.1%, tibial and radial estimates being the most biased. There is no evidence for significant variation in proportions among temporal or social groupings; thus, the new formulae may be broadly applicable to ancient Egyptian remains. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.


3 responses to “Limb length in ancient and modern Egyptians, compared.

  1. Thank you Mathilda for this. I enjoyed the reading. As I began, the first thing to enter my mind was: White and Black Americans(?), simply the wrong source of people to compare in finding some commonality to the ancient Egyptians. For one, as you have stated, American Whites are primarily from Northern Europe and Blacks here are prodominantly of West Africa ancestry. Not a good comparison at all (imo).

    Somewhere in the mounds of information within this blog I’m sure there is a more realistic selection of peoples by which to compare with the ancients. I would imagine taking the measurements of modern Lebanese, Libyans and Sudanese would yeild more commendable relsults, when compared to modern and ancient Egyptian measurements.

  2. You’d think. But I looked and couldn’t find any more info than this.

  3. Pingback: Baron Budd

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