Studies of Ancient Crania From Northern Africa

Normally I’m a bit averse to Keita, who waffles on like he’s being paid by the word. I was also initially rather put off by the iffy paper on the Badarians, which had a couple of glaring problems with it, as does this one. But, you can’t really look at North Africa without reading his publications.

He takes a viewpoint that the partially Eurasian derived Berbers and Egyptians are mainly ‘indigenous Africans’. Once you get your head around that ‘indigenous African’ doesn’t mean black or sub Saharan African but also refers to Egyptians and modern Berbers, his work makes a lot more sense. He’s massively misquoted by the muppets on Egyptsearch, who always manage to ignore that Keita explicitly states in one paper that modern Egyptians are mainly the same as the pre-Neolithic Egyptians, with some immigration due to the Neolithic and later invasions, which is exactly what everyone else sane says. He’s also on the record as saying Egyptians look pretty much the same. He also rambles on a bit. But then, Brace is irritatingly self contradictory at times. So I guess no author is without their faults

Keita on Egyptians.

..current inhabitants of the Nile valley should be understood as being in the main, although not wholly, descendants of the pre-neolithic regional inhabitants 

Studies of Ancient Crania From Northern Africa


ABSTRACT Historical sources and archaeological data predict significant population variability in mid-Holocene northern Africa. Multivariate analyses of crania demonstrate wide variation but also suggest an indigenous cranio- metric pattern common to both late dynastic northern Egypt and the coastal Maghreb region. Both tropical African and European metric phenotypes, as well intermediate patterns, are found in mid-Holocene Maghreb sites. Early southern predynastic Egyptian crania show tropical African affinities, displaying craniometric trends that differ notably from the coastal northern African pattern. The various craniofacial patterns discernible in northern Africa are attributable to the agents of microevolution and migration.

That both phenotypes are found, not really a shocker as the DNA studies show continuity in North Africa since the 12,000 BP Taforalt site.


The analyses demonstrate the metric heterogeneity of pre-Roman mid-Holocene Maghreban crania. The range of variation in the restricted area described extends from a tropical African metric pattern to a European one and supports the phenotypic variability observed in and near Carthage by ancient writers and in morphological studies. Thus the population emerges as a composite entity, no doubt also containing hybrid individuals. However, the centroid value of the combined Maghreb series indicates that the major craniometric pattern is most similar to that of northern dynastic Egyptians, not northwest Europeans. Furthermore, the series from the coastal Maghreb and northern (Lower) Egypt are more similar to one another than they are to any other series by centroid values and unknown analyses.

The upper Nile Valley series show close affinities to one another and to tropical African series. Thus variation is also present in the Egyptian Nile Valley, as the northern pattern trend is distinguishable from the southern one. The Badari and Nagada I cranial patterns emerge as tropical African variants (with Kerma). Badari remains show little affinity to the mass of Maghreban crania. Notable Nagada/Kerma metric overlapis observed with the first dynasty series,which shares the pattern to a lesser degree, as indicated by its centroid values.

In summary, canonical variate analysis demonstrates the impressive variation suggested previously for early northern Africa. It also suggests that there was a modal craniometric phenotype common to northern-Egypt and the coastal Maghreb in the mid Holocene, intermediate to European and southern Egyptian Nile Valley/tropical series.

A few comments on this paper. He points out that NW Europeans have absolutely no resemblance to these North Africans (fair enough) but neglects to mention how similar or dissimilar they are to SE Europeans. Which is particularly odd, since a moderate Neolithic inflow from SE Europe/near East is accepted by him in another publication. So, you’d think a comparison to SE Europeans or Levantine populations would be more appropriate. Then, another paper uses NW Europeans as the base line for all Europeans when comparing them to the Badarians, instead if groups like Greeks or Levantine people or modern North Africans, or heaven forbid, modern Egyptians. Which makes no sense. And he had the cheek to criticise Brace and other authors on their choice of sample populations.

Just for once I’d like to see a direct comparison of ancient to modern Egyptians, for hair, limb length and crania with the few DNA samples taken chucked in for good measure.

Also, my long running bugbear is his quote from Strouhal.

Strouhal(1971) also analyzed hair in his study of 117 Badari crania, in which he concluded that >80% were Negroid; most of these were interpreted as being hybrids

I’ve seen material from Strouhal; it doesn’t say the hair was greater than 80% negroid. I’ve seen ‘sterotypically mulatto’ and a detailed description that was anything other than >80% negroid. Strouhal also describes the Badari crania as a ‘mix of races’, slightly overweighted to the European. Which is pretty standard for the older crania studies. So I’m baffled as to the exact reference for this. However, points he and I agree on are that there was a 24k or so old expansion from upper Egypt so I know he’s not an idiot.


13 responses to “Studies of Ancient Crania From Northern Africa

  1. Having lived in North Africa for nearly 20 years, I agree with you that most of the negroid element arrived as a result of slavery. Slavery was practiced in Morocco until the 1920’s and tourists still visit the signs that point travelers to Timbuktu (the old slave route coming into Morocco, Algeria, and Tunsia).

  2. I forgot to add that Mauretania (from whence come the “Moors,” and which in ancient times was comprised of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauretania) used to be part of “greater Morocco” and is populated largely by the same (mostly Caucasian) peoples of Morocco. Slavery did not end in Mauretania until the mid-1980’s (yes, I said 1980’s, NOT 1880’s) and I know truck drivers here in Morocco who have sat around campfires with other truck drivers in Mauretania who in the 1970’s were still transporting truckloads of slaves in that country, before slavery became illegal. Many older people in Morocco still remember the times when slavery was practiced here. The old slave markets in Marrakesh are now transformed into markets selling carpets.

    Having not visited Mauretania myself, it is nevertheless my understanding (from reading several detailed guide books) that caucasian Mauretanians are the upper classes, and blacks (whether Mauretanians or immigrants) are the lower classes there.

    That being said, it was not only blacks who were enslaved. In the 1600’s, 1700’s, and 1800’s there were many shipwrecks along the coast of Tarfaya (known as the “skeleton” coast, where you can still see many current shipwrecks, even today)in Southern Morocco. Most often these were caucasian sailors shipwrecked. The few who survived and made it to shore were all enslaved by the caucasian native residents. You can read all about this in “Skeletons on the Zahara” by Dean King (available through Amazon). King has rewritten the true survival adventure of some American sailors who were shipwrecked near Tarfaya in 1815. They were enslaved by the white caucasian inhabitants, and after some years, a couple of survivors were ransomed and returned back to the United States. Abraham Lincoln read this book as a boy, and it was formative in his opinions on slavery as an adult.

    I think a lot of people who have never visited here nor lived here don’t have any idea of what the racial mixtures here in North Africa really look like.

  3. Again, I forgot one last comment. In the book I mentioned above, “Skeletons on the Zahara” by Dean King, it tells of those inhabitants of 1815 having oral histories of their groups having come in from the north. As they came in, they found the area lightly populated by black-skinned inhabitants, who were pushed southward by the Berber (?) expansion. This seems to have taken place before Roman times, up to 2,000 years before. (I’m relating this from memory of reading this book about two years ago.)

  4. I heard slavery was still going in in the Mauritania area currently. I think it’s the reason SS African female mt DNA is way higher than the male in N Africa, buying in slave wives.

    I’ve had some irate comments from Berbers when I’ve mentioned the black ancestry in Morroco. One Moroccan girl I met in London told me she had to stand in the back for family photos becasue she was too dark.

    I look at a lot of Berber bits and bobs (entertainment/music). Honestly, I could pass for one if I picked up a tan. Or even not. Some of those girls are whiter than I am.

    That colour/caste thing is surprisingly common across the world.

  5. …I agree with you that most of the negroid element arrived as a result of slavery…

    She’s not claiming that but rather the opposite:

    … there was a 24k or so old expansion from upper Egypt that probably accounts for most of the sub Saharan DNA in North Africa, and it’s not there as a result of historical slavery.

    An important “Sud-Saharan” component arrived at North Africa with all likehood with Capsian culture from the area of historical Nubia and Upper Egypt. This type of “Sud-Saharans” (not really from south of the Sahara but rather from the middle of it) is kind of different from West African types (Ethiopid?) and certainly has influenced the modern North African phenotypes (and genetics: E-M215 is surely original from the Nile) more than West African blood that arrived through the trans-Saharan slave routes.

    I tend to disagree with Mathilda’s timeframe though because I suspect Oranian is of European (Iberian) and not African origin and I think that such Oranian substrate is what actually makes North Africans mainly “Caucasoid”, regardless of other influences. Therefore the (partly) “Negroid” element would have only arrived with Capsian culture in the Mesolithic (or very late Paleolithic). But it’s just my opinion anyhow.

  6. I seem to have arrived late at the ball and only experienced the “muppets on Egyptsearch” just now, after your mention. Don’t know whether to thank you or curse you. I skimmed the first twenty posts of a thread discussing the race of the ancient Egyptians and my brain hurts. It’s as if the luminaries over there exist in an alternative universe, apparently by choice.

  7. Michael; they went through a black hole.

    C.A.Diops, probably.

    If you really want to join Alice in Wonderland, it’s THE site to visit.

  8. I guess in all your analysis you missed the main points:

    1) tropical African means black African
    2) Badarian, 1st Dynasty and Kerma series skulls were overlapped and tropical African
    2) tropical African expansion from Upper Egypt correlates to the expansion of dynastic Egyptian culture over all of Egypt

    The upper Nile Valley series show close affinities to one another and to troDical African series. Thus variation is also present in the Egyptian Nile Valley, as the northern pattern trend is distinguishable from the southern one. The Badari and Nagada I cranial patterns emerge as tropical African variants (with Kerma). Badari remains show little affinity to the mass of Maghreban crania. Notable Nagada/Kerma metric overlapis observed with the first dynasty series,which shares the pattern to a lesser degree, as indicated by its centroid values.

    Therefore, dynastic Egyptian culture was a product of pre-dynastic tropical Africans from Upper Egypt and Sudan(Kerma), which correlates with ALL the evidence from the various disciplines that study ancient Egypt. Which is precisely what is said by Keita.
    This means that black Africans did not just get to Egypt with slavery. It means that the oldest form of human population on the Nile is black African. It also reflects the Egyptian world view of the Nile flowing from WITHIN Africa as the source of their lifestyle and culture.

    Also, the flow of population along the Nile Valley has ALWAYS been from the South. The earliest sites of human habitation in the Nile Valley are in Upper Egypt and Sudan. Therefore, claiming that somehow, the Nile Valley in Egypt was “mixed equally” with some sort of African/Non African blend from prior to the arrival of the first Africans from the south is nonsense. Africans migrated out of Africa through the Nile Valley and Sahara and into the Levant and Europe. This is also stated in another study you yourself posted recently. Therefore, this is is from prior to any possible European existing and migrating back to Africa, meaning they were not mixed European hybrids.

    As for modern Egypt, if you expect people to accept ancient Egypt as a “hybrid” population due to the mixture of various populations from in and out of Africa, then the modern population is mixed as well as a result of migrations over the last 3000 years. Also, by suggesting that this ‘hybrid’ population gave rise to the non black nature of ancient Egypt is also to admit that indigenous Africans can only be black. Otherwise, why the need for harping on the “hybrid” nature of ancient Egyptian remains if non blacks are indigenous to Africa? To suggest otherwise is to contradict oneself.

    Bottom line, the oldest sites of human habitation along the Nile Valley are in Upper Egypt and Sudan, with many of the traits and features that would be associated with later Nile Valley cultures. These people were primarily black Africans with little to no non African influence. And it is the northward and eastward movement of these populations that created dynastic Egypt.

  9. No. I very much got the point…

    That there’s been no major population change.

    He says that explicitly.

    ..current inhabitants of the Nile valley should be understood as being in the main, although not wholly, descendants of the pre-neolithic regional inhabitants

    He also only overlaps the Badarians with African groups that have a lot of Eurasian ancestry in them, and calls them ‘tropical Africans’; he’s got a ‘no race’ view on genetics.

    DNA studies have shown the ancient Egyptians were patially Eurasian right back from about 25k ago (the date of the Eurasian back migration into Africais about 30k plus), which is why Somalis and Ethiopians have a large amount of Eurasian ancestry in them, as they are made up of that same expansion from Egypt dating to 24k ish.

    Keita also mentions Neolithic input into the Nile are from Asia. You should try reading him without the Afro-filters on.They seem to be getting in the way of your reading this part of his text…

    …current inhabitants of the Nile valley should be understood as being in the main, although not wholly, descendants of the pre-neolithic regional inhabitants

    As far as he’s concerned modern upper Egyptians are mainly tropical Africans, at least as long as he’s not contradicting himself.

  10. Matilda, you are playing hard and loose with the facts and trying to pass of your own opinions as those of published scholars.

    First, Keita does not call Badarians or any other Nile Valley sample Eurasian. That is you interjecting your own opinions. Keita’s observation is that the diversity of African cranial features in the Nile Valley is ancient and indigenous to the Nile Valley. He goes over the ideas surrounding “sub saharan” populations in North Africa, but he rejects the idea that they came from recent slave trading. He also makes it quite clear that the Nile Valley neolithic was indigenous and centered in the Sahara, Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. All of this is supported by archeology. The oldest tool traditions, sites of habitation, pottery and so forth are all found in these areas and these traditions stretch back tens of thousands of years from the Acheulean, the Sibelian to the Silsilian and so forth.

    Moreover this is what he says about Badarian and Egyptian crania:

    The centroid values show the Maghreb, “E,” and Sedment series to be similar on the most important function in all designs. In the territorial maps, the Maghreb (2) series has the widest girth of variation, encompassing all of the series (Figures 3-5). The Egyptian crania as series nearly approach this range of variation. Badari (8) occupies a position closest to the Teita, Gaboon, Nubian, and Nagada series by centroid values and territorial maps. The Nagada and Kerma series are so similar that they are barely distinguishable in the territorial maps; they subsume the first dynasty series from Abydos. The Sedment and “E” series are the most distinct of the Nile Valley series. The European series stands in notable isolation by centroid score (Tables 2B, 3B, 4B) from African series. The unknown analyses of the Maghreban crania show many to be more similar to northern Egyptians (Sedment and “E” series), but the presence of tropical phenotypes is notable. Thirteen to seventeen percent classified into the European series (Table 5). The Badarian crania have a modal metric phenotype that is clearly “southern”; most classify into the Kerma (Nubian), Gaboon, and Kenyan groups. When labile variables and the Nubian and Nagada series are eliminated from the analysis in the eleven variable design, >50% of the Badarian crania classify into the equatorial African
    groups (Table 6).

    When the two equatorial African series are combined as Group 17, the earlier results are confirmed (Table 7). No Badarian cranium in any analysis classified into the European series, and few grouped with the “E” series. In another analysis without Nagada or any dynastic Egyptians this result was repeated.

    Therefore, he is not calling ancient Egyptians a mixed Eurasian/African hybrid population. Again, that is you positing such statements on your own from other dna studies which are not the opinion of Keita.

    What he does say about such hybrids in the Nile Valley is that:

    Theoretically an intermediate position may be secondary to hybridization of peoples with different craniometric values from adjacent regions, since hybrids have intermediate metric values (Trevor, 1953). A series composed of notably different subgroups could present as a statistically artifactual intermediate group. Alternatively local (intermediate) selection pressures or a combination of these factors could explain a middle position. The reality of an intermediate position is seen in Howells (19731, where the late dynastic northern “E” series groups with European crania in one cluster analysis and with tropical African series in another. This is true although Near Eastern and European crania may be present in the “E” series, which has crania from the final epochs of dynastic Egypt, periods of increased foreign rule and immigration (Gardiner, 1961).

    Which has nothing to do with ancient migrations of “Eurasians” into the Nile Valley 25,000 years ago as you posit.

    And again, he makes it clear that his findings support the South to North movement of peoples and ideas forming the basis of dynastic Egypt and being a continuity from the Sudanese series.

    There is little demarcation between the predynastics and tropical series and even the early southern dynastic series. Definite trends are discernible in the analyses. This broadly shared “southern” metric pattern, along with the other mentioned characteristics to a greater or lesser degree, might be better described by the term Africoid, by definition connoting a tropical African microclade, microadaptation, and patristic affinity, thereby avoiding the nonevolutionary term “Negroid and allowing for variation both real and conceptual. Of interest, for future study, is the possibility that the Dynasty I crania from Abydos represent a hybrid between tropical Negroid or Elongated groups and those with the northern coastal pattern; the Abydos series consistently has a centroid value near the middle of the range of values, in spite of the extensive NagadaKerma overlap. This would be consistent with the exogamous mating customs postulated in the Nagada periods by Hassan (1988). It receives further support from morphological observations made by Morant (19251, who thought this early dynasty series “to consist of a mixture of races, or better a race with individuals of more or less mixed blood.” Alternatively, the
    series may represent another local variant.

    And his summary is that:

    In summary, canonical variate analysis demonstrates the impressive variation suggested previously for early northern Africa. It also suggests that there was a modal craniometric phenotype common to northern Egypt and the coastal Maghreb in the mid- Holocene, intermediate to European and southern Egyptian Nile Valley/tropical series.

    Which he suggests could be the result of local evolution, as opposed to early Eurasian mass migration into the Nile Valley and northern Africa, followed by Eurasian migrations in later periods. But again, he himself states that more analysis needs to be done on this. Intermediate does not mean mixed, it means that if there is a cline (gradual pattern of changes) of craniofacial variations from tropical Africa to Europe, that Northern Egypt is intermediate and has an series of craniofacial features that are between both the European and tropical African. That does not mean mixed.

  11. Hmm, since (yet again) Keita has said modern Egyptians are mainly descended from Pre Neolithic Africans…

    The Eurasian back migration was about 30k to 40K ago. As far as he’s concerned these people are indigenous Africans. Neolithic incomers made a small contribution.

    He refers to African groups with a lot of this ancient Eurasian ancestry as ‘indigenous tropical Africans’. Get over it.

    Also, that Badari study is absolutely biased as it doesn’t include modern North Africans for comparison. He uses Northern Europeans as a baseline for his Eurasians, instead of the S Europeans that do show a decent relationship to it. A sane person would have compareed modern upper Egyptians WHO HE HAS SAID ARE MAINLY DESCENDED FROM THE PRE NEOLITHIOC EGYPTIANS.

    The DNA studies from East and North Africa pretty much insist upon an roughly equal ancient Africa/Eurasian contribution to upper Egypt before 25k for m78 to have expanded into East Africa with M1. Eurasian U, M ansd R1 entered Africa about 30-40k ago. Keita chooses to absorb this ancient back migration into the category of ‘indigenous Africans’ – ‘Keita and Kittles’, even though most geneticists don’t.

  12. Observing this thread which ‘mysteriously’ seems to have ended Don Blake’s communications, I see that both you, Mathilda and Don have made some good points concerning early Egypt (however, I do not agree with Don’s assertion that predynastic and early dynastic was showed no admixture – nor do I appreciate your immediate dismissal of “Black African looking” royal Egyptian artwork, calling much of it “innacurate”). If we narrow down our choices of terms and get to the “bottom line,” the truth is that we are debating what “Black” is and isn’t as it applies to Egyptian prehistory, dynastic and modern Egypt. Surely, the term “Black African” is somewhat taboo here (not trying to start any rant or promotion of Afrocentric ideology – I’m way beyond that narrow-minded mentality, btw). But, all these debates directly or indirectly involve the term – arguments being either for its rightful place in Egypt vs talk of its dismissal with regards to Egypt.

    Physical descriptions associated with someone “Black” (in all their variation) is unequivocally understood and defined by global standards for anyone alive today – even for those considered “multiracial” (ref: Obama) yet, somehow “debatable” or “questionable” when it comes to genetic data and visual analysis of remains relating to the founding peoples and inhabitants of pre-dynastic and dynastic Egypt? “Black” suddenly becomes a “limited” term which through popular generalizations and ignorance, applies to “non-Egyptian” inhabitants (ie. Nubians) or again, “limited” to a mere few as in your own words Mathilda, regarding mummified remains: “SOME were Black.” In fact, many were Black but, we have yet to define what exactly “Black” is when it pertains to Egypt and this is why I’m commenting. It seems too painful for non-Black people to admit who may have been Black in ancient times for that part of the world. Why? Historical selfishness? Arrogance?

    Simply put, ignorance is ignorance. Just as any one claiming that Egypt was a “Black civilization” and only “lightened” through immigration or invasion, is racially biased, claiming the nation was predominantly “Eurasian” with little or no Sub-Saharan African traits, has insidious undertones as well. Just as the current U.S. president is 50% Northern “White” European and 50% Sub-Saharan “Black African,” the world acknowledges him ONLY as a “BLACK MAN,” period. and there is nothing mentioned of his being “half” of anything. It is this truth about being “Black” that I’m sure disturbs you, Mathilda, about Northeast Africa and many “experts” that specialize in Northeast African anthropology or genetics.

    The reality in all this debate is that people, regardless of their national origin often are and have been “Black” without falling into the narrow “limited” description normally associated with inner African skin shades and phenotypes. Mathilda, I’m very comfortable in saying that your persistence in stressing the inclusion of Eurasian content for North Africa and Egypt (past and present) is well noted, well documented, and understood by me. I respect that, believe much of it and with the evidence presented by geneticists and anthropologists alike who have observed and expounded upon the data that correlates with what we now can see with our own eyes (concerning the historically predominant Eurasian presence in Lower Egypt, while diminishing as you move South within the country). However, with all that being said, there is no difference between what is considered Black NOW and all too many ancient people back THEN. Black is not just a Djimon Hounsou, or a black-skinned depiction of a Nubian in captivity… It is something that’s complex and quite variable yet, easily confirmed at a glance – even having 50% Northern European ancestry. Yet, truths like this are ignored and consistently denied within social and scientific networks, and THAT is precisely why this racial debate over the ancient Egyptians will never, ever end…

  13. très bon site web

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