Tag Archives: Ancient Egypt

The lineage of King Tutankhamun from ancient DNA analysis

The news of the month, kindly posted to me by a friend, is that they have proved via ADNA that the mummy from tomb Kv55 is Akhenaten, son of Amenhotep III and king Tutankhamun’s father, and that the younger lady (KV35) is his mother. It also seems Tut died of malaria and suffered congenital deformities, which I’d guess were the result of incestuous marriages in the royal family. This means that the prior ageing of KV55 as 18 was way off.

This also mean that queen the red-haired queen Tiye (elder lady mummy) was the mother of Kv35 (using logic, they all have the same mt DNA), which might explain why they were found in the same tomb.

I’ve prepared a brief genealogy.


Known grandparents  

 Amenhotep III  and Tiye (whose parents were Tuya and Yuya)

     File:KV55 scull.jpg   

Known parents

Akhenaten (Kv 55)  and  (KV 35).

The actual name of KV35 uncertain but she has been suggested as Nefertiti, these were brother and sister.


 Tutankhamun, who appears to have also married his sister Ankhesenamun.

It would be interesting to see if the mummy in Kv21A is indeed Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun, as she is known to be the daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, and this could give a definitive answer as to whether Kv35 is in fact Nefertiti.  Ankhesenamun has been identified as the mother of one of the fetuses from Tut’s tomb, so this might be on the cards for the future.

Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family
Zahi Hawass, PhD; Yehia Z. Gad, MD; Somaia Ismail, PhD; Rabab Khairat, MSc; Dina Fathalla, MSc; Naglaa Hasan, MSc; Amal Ahmed, BPharm; Hisham Elleithy, MA; Markus Ball, MSc; Fawzi Gaballah, PhD; Sally Wasef, MSc; Mohamed Fateen, MD; Hany Amer, PhD; Paul Gostner, MD; Ashraf Selim, MD; Albert Zink, PhD; Carsten M. Pusch, PhD
JAMA. 2010;303(7):638-647.


  The New Kingdom in ancient Egypt, comprising the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties, spanned the mid-16th to the early 11th centuries BC. The late 18th dynasty, which included the reigns of pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamun, was an extraordinary time. The identification of a number of royal mummies from this era, the exact relationships between some members of the royal family, and possible illnesses and causes of death have been matters of debate.


  To introduce a new approach to molecular and medical Egyptology, to determine familial relationships among 11 royal mummies of the New Kingdom, and to search for pathological features attributable to possible murder, consanguinity, inherited disorders, and infectious diseases.


  From September 2007 to October 2009, royal mummies underwent detailed anthropological, radiological, and genetic studies as part of the King Tutankhamun Family Project. Mummies distinct from Tutankhamun’s immediate lineage served as the genetic and morphological reference. To authenticate DNA results, analytical steps were repeated and independently replicated in a second ancient DNA laboratory staffed by a separate group of personnel. Eleven royal mummies dating from circa 1410-1324 BC and suspected of being kindred of Tutankhamun and 5 royal mummies dating to an earlier period, circa 1550-1479 BC, were examined.

Main Outcome Measures

  Microsatellite-based haplotypes in the mummies, generational segregation of alleles within possible pedigree variants, and correlation of identified diseases with individual age, archeological evidence, and the written historical record.


Genetic fingerprinting allowed the construction of a 5-generation pedigree of Tutankhamun’s immediate lineage. The KV55 mummy and KV35YL were identified as the parents of Tutankhamun. No signs of gynecomastia and craniosynostoses (eg, Antley-Bixler syndrome) or Marfan syndrome were found, but an accumulation of malformations in Tutankhamun’s family was evident. Several pathologies including Köhler disease II were diagnosed in Tutankhamun; none alone would have caused death. Genetic testing for STEVOR, AMA1, or MSP1 genes specific for Plasmodium falciparum revealed indications of malaria tropica in 4 mummies, including Tutankhamun’s. These results suggest avascular bone necrosis in conjunction with the malarial infection as the most likely cause of death in Tutankhamun. Walking impairment and malarial disease sustained by Tutankhamun is supported by the discovery of canes and an afterlife pharmacy in his tomb.

Conclusion  Using a multidisciplinary scientific approach, we showed the feasibility of gathering data on Pharaonic kinship and diseases and speculated about individual causes of death.

According to someone (not me) who has been bothered to enter the Y chr markers as seen on the video, Tut is coming up as R1b. I’d have put money on it being something more like an E1 Y chr, or maybe J as an outside chance…R1b isn’t unknown in Egypt, (see Wood 2005) but isn’t exactly common. R1b appears to have entered Africa from Asia sometime in the Neolithic along with Afro-Asiatic, which is really all I have to say until I get a published source and more detail. Can’t get any detail on the mt DNA, unfortunately. 

For anyone interested, there’s a bunch of videos at the Discovery Channel site about this, with some good shots of Akhenaten in his coffin.

Ancient descriptions of ancient Egyptians.

I had a go at this a few years ago, but since then I’ve got better access to the information, so this page should be more comprehensive. This was inspired by reading through the Alain Froment book from a couple of posts ago, that rather ripped Diop a new one. I’ll go and delete the older entry now.

Let me start with the endlessly repeated… ‘Herodotus said the Egyptians had black skin and woolly hair’.

The full quote from Herodotus …

“For the fact is as I soon came to realise myself, and then heard from others later, that the Colchians are obviously Egyptian. When the notion occurred to me,  I asked both the Colchians and the Egyptians about it, and found that the Colchians had better recall of the Egyptians than the Egyptians did of them. Some Egyptians said that they thought the Colchians originated with Sesostris’ army, but I myself guessed their Egyptian origin not only because the Colchians are dark-skinned and curly-haired (which does not count for much by itself , because these features are common in others too) but more importantly because Colchians, Egyptians and Ethiopians are the only peoples in the world who practise circumcision and who have always done so.

Source, The histories By Herodotus, Robin Waterfield, Carolyn Dewald

You will find translations where ‘black skinned and woolly haired’ are used, but the term melanchroes, which was translated to mean black in some versions, was used to describe any skin tone from bronzed to black, and through usage translates as ‘dark’. As is seen in this piece of text from Homer’s Odyssey.

With this, Athena touched him [Odysseus] with her golden wand. A well-washed cloak and a tunic she first of all cast about his breast, and she increased his stature and his youthful bloom. Once more he grew dark of color [melanchroiês], and his cheeks filled out, and dark grew the beard about his chin.

And the term ulotrichous  meant curly. As this Herodotus book commentary points out:

Despite the efforts of Armayor and English, there is no linguistic justification for relating this term to negores. Melanchroes could denote any colour from bronzed to black, and negroes are certainly not the only physical type to show curly hair. These characteristics found in many Egs., ancient and modern, but they are at variance with what we should expect to find amongst the inhabitants of the Caucasus area. To Hippocrates the Phasians of Colchis were sallow (ochros) whilst the complexions of the modern-day Georgian population have been described as fair, sallow or ruddy. On the other hand, Arab geographer Istakhri describes an element of the Khazar people dwelling east of the Caucasus from at least the 6th century AD ” as if they were a kind of Indians.”

The Colchians lived by the South East of the Black sea, and although there have been some attempt to claims this means there were black Africans living in the area of modern-day Georgia, believing this requires a suspension of disbelief on a par with that necessary to watch a Harry Potter film, as there’s never been any evidence a black skinned population living there. So Herodotus didn’t say Egyptians looked like black Africans, he actually said they looked like the people in Georgia.

This is occasionally backed up by the description of Colchis as being a ‘second Ethiopia’ from the fourth century, but it has to be remembered that Napoleon once referred to the Spanish as Negroes, and this was a common kind of insulting description  for any population darker than Northern Europeans. A darker, Indian-looking Khazar population would have come into this category. So far there is zero biological evidence  for any black population having lived in the Georgia area.

Herodotus is actually very specific about the Ethiopians (black Africans) getting control of the Nile at Elephantine, and differentiates between them and Egyptians.

After this man the priest enumerate to me from a papyrus the names of other Kings, three hundred and thirty in number; and in all these generations of men eighteen were Ethiopians, one was a woman and the rest were men and of Egyptian race.

Other Ancient Greek and Roman quotes.

The Ethiopians stain the world and depict a race of men steeped in darkness; less sun-burnt are the natives of India; the land of Egypt, flooded by the Nile, darkens bodies more mildly owing to the inundation of its fields: it is a country nearer to us and its moderate climate imparts a medium tone.

 Manilius, Astronomica 4.724

The appearance of the inhabitants is also not very different in India and Ethiopia: the southern Indians are rather more like Ethiopians as they are black to look on, and their hair is black; only they are not so snub-nosed or woolly-haired as the Ethiopians; the northern Indians are most like the Egyptians physically.

 Arrian, Indica 6.9

As for the people of India, those in the south are like the Aethiopians in color, although they are like the rest in respect to countenance and hair (for on account of the humidity of the air their hair does not curl), whereas those in the north are like the Egyptians.

Strabo, Geography 15.1.13

Black people resided not in the Nile valley but in a far land, by the fountain of the sun.

Xenpohanes (Hesoid, works and says, 527-8)

… the men of Egypt are mostly brown and black with a skinny desiccated look.

Ammianus Marcellinus

A little explanation required for this one, the term ‘brown’ means tanned. About 1/3 modern upper Egyptians would certainly have been called black by the Romans.

subfusucli {“somewhat dark/swarthy”)

Ammianus Marcellinus 22.16.23- from Black Athena revisited

 And finally, of lower Nubians:

 It was a market place to which the Ethiopians bring all the products of their country; and the Egyptians in their turn take them all away and bring to the same spot their own wares of equal value, so bartering what they have got for what they have not. Now the inhabitants of the marches (Nubian/Egyptians border) are not yet fully black but are half-breeds in matter of color, for they are partly not so black as the Ethiopians, yet partly more so than the Egyptians.

Flavius Philostratus: c.170 to c.247,

So the evidence suggests Egyptians looked like Georgians and the Pakistanis (formerly Northern India area). Not exactly as surprise, as the DNA and physical evidence supports very little immigration or change in appearance over the past few thousand years in Egypt.

The origin and evolution of man and the thoughts of Cheikh Ata Diop, a critical analysis

Origine et évolution de l’homme dans la pensée de Cheikh Anta Diop: une analyse critique

A book link  (French language) about the work of Diop. So I can find it again.

A bit unkind about Diop’s ‘melanin drop test’, observing that they can’t find any evidence that the tests were carried out in a scientific manner that would make them accurate, and that the surface skin of the mummies is a poor guide to the in-life  colour of the skin, as they are turned brown by the natron bath and then often coated with bitumen (which is black). It also observes that the reason Ramses skin tone turned yellow was not the irradiation, but because they had to give him a good clean to remove the mould that had invaded his skin, and this removed some of the dark coloured preservatives that had made Diop belive he was black.

A short translated piece…

The claim that egyptologists made the specimens with the most Negroid traits disappear is not only insulting to archaeologists but also put forth without any evidence and little practical credibility because all materials exhumed in an excavation are systematically recorded before numerous witnesses. It is equally fanciful to claim that the mummy of Ramses II, which was the subject of thorough studies in Paris, became yellow after being irradiated. Tests had been done previously on diverse mummified tissues to make sure that irradiation, the only way to sterilize the colonies of mold that were invading the skin, would do no damage. If the skin tone changed it was solely due to a cleansing of the surface. In fact, most of the mummies are coated with a tar (bitumen from Mesopotamia), which seriously constrains their examination, by the naked eye.

This is why a histological examination of skin to measure the amount of melanin is necessary. Unfortunately Diop’s (1973) article sheds no light on this. In fact in twelve pages of text and sixty references only three lines deal with the results: “We can affirm that such an examination reveals, with no doubt possible, an amount of melanin which is unknown among the “leucoderm” races and which indubitably places the ancient Egyptians among the Africans of Black Africa.” This is followed by long digressions on prehistory as well as biochemistry in a scientific jargon, which is highly documented but fails to mask the absence of results. No histological illustrations, a sketch of quantification, comparative examinations of skin with different stages of tanning, or reference to other studies of mummies (European, Peruvian, etc.) are provided. Cheikh Anta had photographs about his work circulated at the Cairo Colloquium (UNESCO 1980, p. 799); unfortunately no trace of these remains in any publication and it should all be repeated more rigorously. The Rabino-Massa team (1972, 1981) went much further, but skin of the mummies, unlike the internal tissues, is often altered by baths of the preserving liquids. Moreover, as Szabo (1975) points out, “light microscopic sections from a dark Mediterranean skin can be very similar to those from a Negroid skin,” thus more refined techniques such as electronic microscopy should be employed”

It also mentions that Diop’s work was published before the modern science of DNA analysis proved it was biologically impossible for modern Egyptians to be historic immigrants to the Nile valley (based on Y chromosome evidence) and points out the amusing mistranslation of the Egyptians being ‘black’, from Herodotus. The Colchians, who Herodotus described as being like the Egyptians, were a population up by the south of the Black Sea, and had zero likelihood of being literally black skinned. A booklink for a more in depth explanation, here.

Some Observations on Christian Burial Practices at Kellis

Some Observations on Christian Burial Practices at Kellis

Gillian E. Bowen

In 1997 I was invited by Anthony Mills to publish the archaeology of the Kellis 2 cemetery as an adjunct to my work on early Christianity in Egypt. Since that time further Christian burials have been discovered at Kellis other than in this cemetery. The primary aim of this paper is to publish preliminary observations on the burial practices adopted by the Christian community at Kellis in light of what is known of such practices in Egypt. The graves in Kellis 2 are being excavated by archaeologists under the direction of Eldon Molto, who co-ordinates the work of the physical anthropologists. Molto and his team are conducting a range of analyses on the skeletal remains that have added a new dimension to our knowledge of the community. Molto’s analyses include radiocarbon tests of twelve samples in an effort to determine the date of the interments. The interpretation of the results of those analyses presents a broad time-frame that is seemingly at variance with the data from the settlement. This paper, therefore, presents an ideal opportunity to consider this dichotomy and how it might be addressed by  archaeologists and physical anthropologists alike.


A paper on Roman era burials of Egyptians that converted to Christianity, NOT Roman Christians.

The number of Christian burials at Kellis and the lack of identified pagan burials from the end of the third century attest the rapid conversion of the community.

 DNA from modern Egypt suggests that any Roman input was a fraction of one percent, and so it would seem unlikely that a place so far off the beaten track in the South Western Desert would have any large amount of non Egyptian ancestry in it. Dr Molto’s DNA breakdown of the population was that it had mainly northern (Eurasian) maternal haplotypes.

Both populations, ancient and contemporary, fit the north-south clinal distribution of “southern” and “northern” mtDNA types (Graver et al. 2001). However, significant differences were found between these populations. Based on an increased frequency of HpaI 3592 (+) haplotypes in the contemporary Dakhlehian population, the authors suggested that, since Roman times, gene flow from the Sub-Saharan region has affected gene frequencies of individuals from the oasis.

I’ve got the abstract here.

There’s a lot of information on the burial customs, both pagan and Christian in the era.

An Examination of Nubian and Egyptian biological distances: Support for biological diffusion or in situ development?

An Examination of Nubian and Egyptian biological distances: Support for biological diffusion or in situ development?
Homo. 2009;60(5):389-404. Epub 2009 Sep 19.

Godde K.
Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 250 South Stadium Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA. kgodde@utk.edu

Many authors have speculated on Nubian biological evolution. Because of the contact Nubians had with other peoples, migration and/or invasion (biological diffusion) were originally thought to be the biological mechanism for skeletal changes in Nubians. Later, a new hypothesis was put forth, the in situ hypothesis. The new hypothesis postulated that Nubians evolved in situ, without much genetic influence from foreign populations. This study examined 12 Egyptian and Nubian groups in an effort to explore the relationship between the two populations and to test the in situ hypothesis. Data from nine cranial nonmetric traits were assessed for an estimate of biological distance, using Mahalanobis D(2) with a tetrachoric matrix. The distance scores were then input into principal coordinates analysis (PCO) to depict the relationships between the two populations. PCO detected 60% of the variation in the first two principal coordinates. A plot of the distance scores revealed only one cluster; the Nubian and Egyptian groups clustered together. The grouping of the Nubians and Egyptians indicates there may have been some sort of gene flow between these groups of Nubians and Egyptians. However, common adaptation to similar environments may also be responsible for this pattern. Although the predominant results in this study appear to support the biological diffusion hypothesis, the in situ hypothesis was not completely negated.


The Mahalanobis D2 analysis uncovered close affinities between Nubians and Egyptians. Table 3 lists the Mahalanobis D2 distance matrix. As there is no significance testing that is available to be applied to this form of Mahalanobis distances, the biodistance scores must be interpreted in relation to one another, rather than on a general scale. In some cases, the statistics reveal that the Egyptian samples were more similar to Nubian samples than to other Egyptian samples (e.g. Gizeh and Hesa/Biga) and vice versa (e.g. Badari and Kerma, Naqada and Christian). These relationships are further depicted in the PCO plot (Fig. 2). Aside from these interpopulation relationships, some Nubian groups are still more similar to other Nubians and some Egyptians are more similar to other Egyptian samples. Moreover, although the Nubian and Egyptian samples formed one well-distributed group, the Egyptian samples clustered in the upper left region, while the Nubians concentrated in the lower right of the plot. One line can be drawn that would separate the closely dispersed Egyptians and Nubians. The predynastic Egyptian samples clustered together (Badari and Naqada), while Gizeh most closely groups with the Lisht sample. The first two principal coordinates from PCO account for 60% of the variation in the samples. The graph from PCO is basically a pictorial representation of the distance matrix and interpretations from the plot mirror the Mahalanobis D2 matrix.

The clustering of the Nubian and Egyptian samples together supports this paper’s hypothesis and demonstrates that there may be a close relationship between the two populations. This relationship is consistent with Berry and Berry (1972), among others, who noted a similarity between Nubians and Egyptians. If Nubians and Egyptians were not biologically similar, one would expect the scores to separately cluster by population (e.g. Nubians compared to Nubians would have small biological distances, and Nubians compared to Egyptians would have high biological distances). However, this was not the case in the current analysis and the results suggest homogeneity between the two populations. Many of the samples that are similar to one another, between the two populations, are separated by great amounts of time (e.g. Kerma and Badari). These similarities over time make sense because, as Konigsberg (1990) asserted, as time elapses, related groups become more genetically similar. In order to explicate the meaning behind all of these findings, the results here must be tempered by the DNA evidence. Both mtDNA (Krings et al., 1999) and Y-Chromosome data (Hassan et al., 2008; Keita, 2005; Lucotte and Mercier, 2003) indicate that migrations, usually bidirectional, occurred along the Nile. Thus, the osteological material used in this analysis also supports the DNA evidence.

Interpretation of the results framed by several of the groups’ histories helps to elucidate the subtle relationships depicted in the PCO scatter plot. The predynastic sample from Badari occupies a complex position in Egyptian history. The Badarians are Egypt’s oldest agriculturalists and produced some of the earliest known pottery (Hassan, 1986) that predated state formation in Egypt. Badarian crania, in comparison to dynastic groups, are slight and less robust than their later counterparts (Angel, 1972; Morant, 1935; Stoessiger, 1927). Stoessiger (1927) likened the gracile nature of the Badarians to the gracile nature of the people from Naqada, but she pointed out that the Badarians are more prognathic. On this basis, many have postulated that the Badarians are relatives to South African populations (Morant, 1935 G. Morant, A study of predynastic Egyptian skulls from Badari based on measurements taken by Miss BN Stoessiger and Professor DE Derry, Biometrika 27 (1935), pp. 293–309.Morant, 1935; Mukherjee et al., 1955; Irish and Konigsberg, 2007). The archaeological evidence points to this relationship as well. (Hassan, 1986) and (Hassan, 1988) noted similarities between Badarian pottery and the Neolithic Khartoum type, indicating an archaeological affinity among Badarians and Africans from more southern regions. Furthermore, like the Badarians, Naqada has also been classified with other African groups, namely the Teita (Crichton, 1996; Keita, 1990), while the Gizeh sample clustered with the Maghreb and Sedment (Dynasty IX Egyptians) (Keita, 1990).
Nutter (1958) noted affinities between the Badarian and Naqada samples, a feature that Strouhal (1971) attributed to their skulls possessing “Negroid” traits. Keita (1992), using craniometrics, discovered that the Badarian series is distinctly different from the later Egyptian series, a conclusion that is mostly confirmed here. In the current analysis, the Badari sample more closely clusters with the Naqada sample and the Kerma sample. However, it also groups with the later pooled sample from Dynasties XVIII–XXV. The unusual grouping of Badari, Naqada, Kerma, and the later Dynastic pooled sample may have been a product of the mixed nature of the pooled sample. The effects of pooled samples have been demonstrated in Nubians by obscuring relationships and creating a falsely close affinity between it and the samples it clusters with (Godde, 2009a). Moreover, affinities among the Badarian, Naqada, and Kerma samples have been revealed by other authors (Keita, 1990; Nutter, 1958) and it is no surprise that this relationship exists in the data here.

Relationships among Badari, Naqada, and Kerma have not always been overt in the skeletal data. Berry et al. (1967) concluded from their nonmetric analysis that their Badarian sample differed significantly from Naqada and Kerma, but was closely related to the Gizeh sample. Their study included the same samples as this analysis, but yielded results that are different from the current study and the craniometric research. Berry et al. (1967) employed a completely different range of statistics, which may account for the difference between the two conclusions. However, Berry and her coauthors also noted homogeneity across all the Egyptian groups, including Naqada and those that pre- and post-date the sample. This is indeed the case here, as is evidenced in the PCO plot; the Egyptians appear to be relatively homogeneously grouped. Some Badarian crania also classified well with the Gizeh sample (Keita, 1990).

The close clustering of Badari and Naqada with Kerma exemplifies the possible relationship of Nubians to Egyptians. Originally, the Nubian A-Group was thought to be Badarian in origin (Reisner, 1910). However, later work (Adams, 1977; Godde, 2009a) established that the A-Group were actually Nubian. Comparisons of C-Group and Pan-Grave Nubians to Badari and Hierakonpolis separate Badari from the other samples, indicating no biological affinities with these earlier Nubian groups (Godde, 2009b). The reoccurring notation of Kerma affinities with Egyptian groups is not entirely surprising. Kerma was an integral part of the trade between Egypt and Nubia. Collett (1933) concluded that Kerma was originally inhabited by Egyptians with neighboring Nubian settlements. Her investigation of the site pointed towards continuous Egyptian occupation of some sort at the site throughout the Kerma time period. This continued presence at Kerma is an optimal condition for gene flow to occur between the two populations.

Nubian groups have also been scrutinized as to their relationship with other Nubians. Both the Meroitic and X-Group were originally postulated to be foreign peoples migrating into Lower Nubia (Adams, 1968; Nielsen, 1970). These ideas were based on changes in pottery around the beginning of each of the respective time periods. However, the archaeological evidence actually showed slow change in form over time (Adams, 1977) and the biological evidence demonstrated a similar trend in the skeletal data (e.g. Godde, in press; Van Gerven et al., 1977). These conclusions negate the possibility of invasion or migration causing the shifts in time periods. The results in this study are consistent with prior work; the Meroites and X-Group cluster with the remaining Nubian population and are not differentiated.

Despite the biological similarities between the two populations, the Nubians appear relatively homogeneous. The homogeneity is consistent with Carlson and Van Gerven’s (1979) in situ hypothesis, but contradicts the findings of Buzon (2006). Buzon (2006) found a high level of heterogeneity in the Nubian samples she examined, including individuals from Kerma and the C-Group. Moreover, the Egyptian samples in her study were homogeneous overall, consistent with Berry et al. (1967) and the results in this paper. However, the levels of homogeneity appear to be similar within Nubians and within Egyptians in this study. The differences between this research and Buzon’s (2006) work may be related to the statistics used. Buzon’s (2006) goal was not to look at biological affinities; rather, she was trying to establish identity among her individuals by associating it with archaeological material. While this paper used a biological distance approach to investigate past population relationships, her paper used factor analysis, principal components, and a least squares regression. Although these (hers and those used here) statistics all have a solid methodological basis, they measure population relationships in two different manners and the results between them are not entirely comparable.

Gene flow may account for the homogeneity across these Nubian and Egyptian groups and is consistent with the biological diffusion precept. Small geographic distances between groups allow for the exchange of genes. One of the Nubian groups in this analysis is located in Upper Egypt (Hesa/Biga), near Egyptian occupation, and contact between the two populations may have been commonplace. Specifically, Nubians were often captured and enslaved by Egyptians to build pyramids, or employed by the Egyptian army (Trigger, 1976). Occasionally, Nubians were even directed to fight other Nubians as part of their duties as troops (Trigger, 1976). Moreover, some groups of Nubians allied with the Egyptians for the conquest of Nubian areas, primarily during Dynasty I (Trigger, 1976). Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, trade between Nubians and Egyptians flourished at Kerma and Meroe, during the time periods named after the sites, and enabled contact for potential gene flow. As a result of their respective histories, the multitude of interactions between them, geographic locations, and their biological composition, it appears that gene flow was possibly occurring between the two populations.

The similarities uncovered by this study may be explained by another force, adaptation. As stated above, the results appear to support the biological diffusion hypothesis because the Nubian and Egyptian groups are biologically similar. However, this resemblance may be indicative of a common adaptation to a similar geographic location, rather than gene flow. Carlson and Van Gerven (1979) stated this idea in reference to common adaptations of Nubian, Paleolithic, and aboriginal Australian populations. Additionally, Carlson (1976), Prowse and Lovell (1995), Van Gerven (1982), and Van Gerven et al., 1977 D. Van Gerven, G. Armelagos and A. Rohr, Continuity and change in cranial morphology of three Nubian archaeological populations, Man 2 (1977), pp. 270–277. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (9)Van Gerven et al. (1977) also recognized this form of natural selection as a mechanism for in situ biological change; Egypt and Nubia have similar terrain and climate. Because of the similarity between and the overlapping of the two territories that would require similar adaptations to the environment, common adaptation cannot be discounted.

Sample size may have unduly influenced the results in this analysis. Four of the samples were represented by less than 30 individuals, while several of the remaining samples numbered close to 200 individuals. Moreover, only a small number of groups (six) from each population were examined in this study. Observations of more and larger population samples may produce different findings.

In summation, a portion of the in situ hypothesis in Nubians is supported in this paper, namely homogeneity. Gene flow appears likely between the Egyptians and Nubians, although common adaptations to a similar environment may have also been a factor in their cranial similarities. This study does not rule out the possibility that in situ biological evolution occurred at other times not represented by the samples in this analysis. Further research should incorporate more populations the Nubians were in contact with, to further shed light on Nubian population structure. Additionally, Konigsberg’s (1990) spatial–temporal isolation model should be applied to the dataset here to further explicate the results.


One for the records, as I can’t locate the full text at the moment. Not unsurprising to see some relationship between Nubians and Egyptians as they were right next door and the Badari and Nubians appeared to be closely related before state formation brought a lot of Lower Egyptians southwards. From other studies I’m guessing the relationship is due to the pre-dynastic Nubian/Badarian relationship. I’m amused to see this on Egyptsearch as ‘proof’ the Egyptians were black. I’m guessing they didn’t read it through- but thanks for posting it guys. As always forgetting that Nubians actually had about 60% Eurasian ancestry, same as the modern, so thinking this is proof of a ‘black’ Egypt is amusing. Still no response from them as to how Egyptians managed to swap race when their Y chromosomes show that only about 5% overall Eurasian historic immigration is possible. Hmm.

Still having so issues with my MS at the moment, but I’m slowly getting back to myself. I will respond to all comments eventually. Patience.

Research on ancient DNA in the Near East

Research on ancient DNA in the Near East

An interesting read on the state of aDNA work in the near East. Of most interest was to me was the aDNA from the mummies at Dakleh Oasis.

To obtain the frequencies of these mtDNA types, amplification of the HVRI region and three RFLP markers was conducted. The authors succeeded in analysing RFLP markers in 34 samples and HVRI sequences in 18 of the samples. Both populations, ancient and contemporary, fit the north-south clinal distribution of “southern” and “northern” mtDNA types (Graver et al. 2001). However, significant differences were found between these populations. Based on an increased frequency of HpaI 3592 (+) haplotypes in the contemporary Dakhlehian population, the authors suggested that, since Roman times, gene flow from the Sub-Saharan region has affected gene frequencies of individuals from the oasis.

Which is from the Graver mummy DNA study, I believe. It actually suggests there’s more sub Saharan input  to the Egyptian population than anything else since the Roman era.

Mitochondrial DNA Research in the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt
Alison M. Graver, Ryan L. Parr, Sandra Walters, Renée C. Praymak, Jennifer M. Maki and J.El Molto

Molecular genetic research is being conducted as part of the Dakhleh Oasis Project (DOP), an international and multi-disciplinary research initiative in the western desert of Egypt. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is being analyzed from both ancient human skeletal remains associated with the Roman period town of Kellis (100 to 450 AD) and contemporary inhabitants of the Dakhleh Oasis. The primary objectives of this research are to derive paleogenetic information about the inhabitants of ancient Kellis, and to develop a picture of change over time within this desert oasis. Preliminary mtDNA restriction site data and control region sequence variability suggest significant genetic differences exist between the ancient and modern oasis populations

It’s a good grounding in the state of aDNA at the moment, human, animal and pathogenic. Worth the read.

There’s also another pdf  with a lot of abstracts about ancient DNA from the 5th annual ancient DNA conference.

Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe reconstructed.


Image made of Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe

 Scientists have recreated an image of the face of the sister of Cleopatra, the last Egyptian pharaoh. A team of forensic art experts at Dundee University made the 3D computer image of Arsinoe, who was hated by Cleopatra, who lived 2,000 years ago.

Researchers undertook the work for a new documentary, Cleopatra – Portrait of a Killer, on BBC ONE.  Scientists based the computer model on what are believed to be remains of Arsinoe found in Ephesus, Turkey.

‘Historical background’

The Unit for Forensic and Medical Art at Dundee used facial reconstruction and forensic techniques to generate images and models from human remains.  In the case of Arsinoe, researchers took dozens of pictures of the skull found in Turkey.  From these they generated a 3D computer model of the head, to which skin, hair and facial features were added.

Dr Caroline Wilkinson, who leads the unit, said: “The skull that was found is not complete but from examining the bone structure and shape we are able to add the lower part of the jaw and then render the skull as a full 3D model.”

The team also found that the skull and skeleton of Arsinoe may indicate that she had both European and ancient Egyptian characteristics.

Digital artist Janice Aitken, who added skin, hair and eye colour to the image said: “Although it is not possible to tell the exact skin, eye and hair colour from the skull, the historical background information and shape of the skull suggested a mixed ancestry.”

The forensic art team at the university was also responsible for reconstructing the face of German composer Bach last year.

If they really wanted to be sure she was Egyptian they could use isotope testing on the bones, but the Egyptian features of the skull do seem to support that she’s Arsinoe. Apparently Cleopatra had her murdered in her teens. She also did away with her two younger brothers. Yikes.

Further analysis of the population history of ancient Egyptians

Further analysis of the population history of ancient Egyptians

Michael A. Schillaci, Joel D. Irish, Carolan C.E. Wood


The origins of state formation in ancient Egypt have been the focus of recent research utilizing biological data to test hypotheses regarding in situ development of local groups, or large-scale in-migration, possibly by an invading army. The primary goal of the present research is to further test these hypotheses. Our secondary goal is to compare different distance measures and assess how they might affect interpretation of population history. We analyze craniodental nonmetric data using several different measures of biological distance, as well as a method for estimating group diversity using multidimensional scaling of distance estimates. Patterns of biological variation and population relationships were interpreted in temporal and geographic contexts. The results of our analyses suggest that the formation of the ancient Egyptian state likely included a substantial in situ process, with some level of contribution by outside migrants probable. The higher level of population structure in Lower Egypt, relative to Upper Egypt, suggests that such influence and migration by outsiders may not have been widespread geographically. These findings support, but serve to refine further those obtained by the second author in a previous study. Moreover, our comparison of distance measures indicates that the choice of measure can influence identification and interpretation of the microevolutionary processes shaping population history, despite being strongly correlated with one another.

Which isn’t exactly a surprise, as the incoming Neolithic farmers didn’t seeem to penetrate far into upper Egypt, but did zip right across North Africa. A few thousand years as there’s evidence for another Asian migration into West Africa from the Y chromsome J around the time of the IM/Capsian transition. It does observe that the Gebel Ramlah population don’t appear to be the founder group for teh Egyptians due to their uniqueness.

C14 dates at Wadi Kubbaniya, Egypt

New radiocarbon dates and Late Palaeolithic diet at Wadi Kubbaniya, Egypt

I was overhauling  my old entry on Wadi Kubbaniya, and found this. Its about 20 years old now. The most important observation from it was that the C14 dates found on the domesticated barley at the site were very wrong. They were not 18,000 years old, but instead well within the neolithic era.  This lead to some older Wendorf papers mentioning agriculture as appearing first in this area, which he later corrected.

The use of grinders to make tubers more digestible would be a logical intermediate step on the way to eating wild grass seeds. If you think about it, grinding up a plump (if  inedible unprocessed) tuber that can be easily pulled up by hand makes more sense than designing a complex specialist tool to cut through grass stalks, and then inventing the quern. So it may be that access to the tubers as a food source was the cue to the expansion from upper Egypt, not grain, which may have followed considerably later, as late as nine thousand years is possible.

Vegetable remains are a rarity in Palaeolithic contexts. These new determinations on material from southern Egypt establish securely the date of an intensive grass-tuber and fish economy in the Nile Valley towards 20,000 years ago.

In 1978, during test excavations at a group of Late Palaeolithic sites in Wadi Kubbaniya, near Aswan, Egypt, several grains of barley and one grain of einkorn were found, seemingly firmly associated with a buried hearth (E-78-4) (Wendorf et al. 1979; 1980). Because of the potential significance of this discovery, a major effort was made in 1981-4 to recover more remains of food plants, particularly cereals. Large-scale excavations were conducted at three localities (E-78-3, E-78-4 and E-81-1), and 24 others were partially excavated or tested. Our discussion here will be limited to sites in one geomorphic settings: those in the massive field of dune sand and interfingering lenses of Nile silt. The stone artefacts at the sites are characterized by an abundance of Ouchtate bladelets, which sometimes make up over 80% of the retouched tools, occasional, well-made burins (often on Levallois flakes), scaled pieces, notches, denticulates and truncations.

Flotation could not be used for plant recovery because most of the remains were extremely fragile and disintegrated on contact with water. Instead, several hundred cubic metres of dry sediment were processed through specially constructed sets of graded screens. This yielded a large quantity of plant remains, including barley grains from near the surface of site E-78-3 and date-stones from E-78-3 and E-81-1. Some of the barley grains were blackish in colour, but neither they nor the date-stones were actually charred. Numerous grinding-stones, presumed to have been used for processing the cereals, were found in the sites, often deeply buried, and reinforced the supposed association of the cereals with the Late Palaeolithic occupations. Radiocarbon dates on associated wood charcoal placed the occupations between 18,500 and 17,000 b.p. These finds led some of us to suggest an early origin of food production, with subsequent implications for the initial development of complex societies.

While the Kubbaniya excavations were still under way, it became possible to date very small samples, even individual cereal grains, by the then-new technology of the tandem accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS), and the Kubbaniya cereals and date-stones were among the first materials dated by this technology. The cereal grains were dated at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the date-stones at the Oxford University facility; all were shown to be relatively modern contaminants.The idea that cereals and dates had been important components of the Late Palaeolithic economy of Wadi Kubbaniya was therefore abandoned (Wendorf et al. 1984; Gowlett 1987).

Although we are still unable to agree on how apparently undisturbed archaeological horizons were contaminated by relatively modern plant materials, this experience demonstrates that we must be extremely cautious in evaluating the association of isolated plant fragments with archaeological contexts. At the very least, all such materials found outside their expected areal or temporal ranges should be subjected to direct (AMS) dating, and many of those within their expected ranges should also be dated (Harris 1986; 1987; Legge 1986).

The charred plant remains recovered at the Kubbaniyan sites consisted mostly of wood charcoal, all of which has been identified as tamarisk (Tomczynska, in press). There was also a significant collection of food plant preserved by charring, among which most of the identified specimens are purple nut-grass tubers (Cyperus rotundus). Other identified remains include tubers of club-rush (Scirpus sp. of the S. maritimus or S. tuberosus type), a fern, seeds of chamomile, asparagus, club-rush, an umbell, the receptacle from a flower-bud of a water-lily and fruit fragments of dom palm (Hyphaene thebaica) and Tribulus; identified seeds from human coprolites include club-rush and chamomile (Hillman et al. in press; Hillman in press). These plants still occur today along the Nile and grow either on the terraces and banks, or in marshy areas adjacent to the river.

After the experience with the cereals and data-stones, it seemed prudent to submit several samples of the most abundant class of charred plant-food remains for AMS dating. Twelve specimens were selected, including 11 tubers of purple nut-grass and one tuber of a club-rush. Three specimens were selected from each of two sites and six from the third, all of them indisputably charred. The results are shown in TABLE 1.

Prior to the accelerator measurement, the samples were combusted to CO2, which was then converted by a catalytic process to graphite powder. The graphite powder was packed under pressure into an aluminum target holder and mounted in the ion source of the accelerator. The ratios of 14C/13C in the target samples and in standard samples made from, NBS oxalic acid were made in the manner described by Donahue et al. (in press). the ages given in TABLE 1 are radiocarbon ages calculated from 14C half-life of 5568 years, and the uncertainties are standard deviations of the average of several measurements of each quantity. The measurements were not corrected for variation in 13C/12C ratios. Such corrections would not change the results by more than 25 years.

The results thus confirm that the charred Cyperus tubers were contemporaneous with the Late Palaeolithic occupations. They are in general agreement with the radiocarbon dates given in TABLE 2, which were obtained by traditional methods on wood charcoal from the same layers of the same sites (Haas in press).

However, the AMS and conventional dates do not correspond entirely: statistical analysis shows that AMS dates are definitely younger at site E-81-1, tend to be rather younger at Site E-78-3, and tend to be rather older at Site E-78-4 (Hietala in press). Further research will be needed to resolve this discrepancy.

The excavation techniques used at Kubbaniya resulted not only in the recovery of plant-remains, but also of a much more complete faunal collection than had previously been known from the Nile Valley. This is particularly true of the fish fauna, which includes the fragile remains of young animals and smaller species. Together, the faunal and floral collections recovered from the Kubbaniyan sites provide our first glimpse of what must have been a very complex and seasonally diverse diet during the Late Palaeolithic in the Nile Valley (Gautier & Van Neer in press; Hillman et al. in press; Hillman in press).

When mature, the wet-land tubers are rich in carbohydrates, but they must also contain toxins and an excess of fibre and must be processed before they can be consumed in quantity. The processing includes roasting, crushing, grinding and perhaps leaching to eliminate the toxins and to make the fibre more digestible. We suggest that the grinding stones in the sites were used primarily for this purpose, and for the grinding of other fibrous foods, such as reed rhizomes and Hyphaene fruits (Hillman et al. in press). Such use is also indicated by the chemical analysis of traces of organic compounds on one of the grinding-stones, showing high values for cellulosics (which could indicate starch, as well as cellulose sensu stricto) and low values for proteins (Jones in press).

The collections of fish bones from the Kubbaniyan sites in the dune field consist primarily of adult catfish (Clarias), with an occasional Tilapia and eel (Gautier & Van Neer in press). this is interpreted as reflecting a massive harvest of catfish during the spawn, which in the Nile Valley begins with the onset of the seasonal flood (in July) and ends just before the water begins to recede (in early September). The excavations also yielded numbers of bird bones, many of which are of sucks and geese which today winter in Egypt, plus rather less frequent bones of large mammals (essentially wild cattle, hartebeest and gazelle). there were occasional shells of Unio abyssinicus, an edible freshwater mussel.

The floral and faunal remains from the dune sites also provide our best clues to the seasonal use of these localities. The yearly round in the Nile Valley begins with the seasonal flood, which rises gradually in early July but then expands rapidly to reach its peak, 7m or more above low water, in mid-August and early September. There is an almost equally rapid decline, with the season of lowest waters from February through June. At peak flood, the water spreads far beyond its normal limits and covers the broad floodplain. In the Late Palaeolithic, the channels of the main river were several metres higher than today and the seasonal rise was at least as great. Thus, during the season of the maximum flood, the floodplain extended several kilometres up Wadi Kubbaniya, over and beyond the massive dunefield in which the sites occur.

It was probably during the period of rising water, from perhaps mid-July until just before the peak of the flood in mid-August, the the intensive harvest of spawning catfish occurred (Gautier & Van Neer in press). The quantities of fish taken during the spawn harvest were so large (one site yielded 130,280 fish bones) that they may have exceeded immediate needs and some of the fish may have been dried or smoked for later consumption.

When the floodwaters covered the dune sites, the people either shifted to the sandstone escarpments on either side of the wadi or, more likely, simply moved up the wadi ahead of the flood to continue the fish-harvest at the edge of the water. Sites that might have been occupied during the highest-water phase are not known; they have presumably been destroyed by deflation. There may also have been some large mammal hunting at this time. The rising water would have forced the animals from the lowland areas to the edge of the floodplain where there was less cover and beyond which there was neither food nor shelter.

As the floodwaters began to recede, fishing probably continued in the swales and cut-off ponds, although we have no direct evidence of this. Such evidence would be extremely difficult to detect among the numerous bones resulting from the spawn-harvest, although distinctive fish spectra, indicating post-flood fishing in cut-off pools, were recovered at some earlier Late Palaeolithic sites in the area.

Plants were also important components of the diet after the seasonal flood. Among the first may have been seeds of annuals, including chamomile, which are available in October soon after the flood recedes. The gathering of nut-grass and club-rush tubers could have begun at about the same time, at which point they would have required only rubbing and roasting to be edible (Hillman et al. in press). However, they reach their maximum food-value only at maturity, in December and January, when they also require complex processing, including grinding or pounding. The grinding-stones and carbonized tubers in the dune sites suggest occupation during the winter months. Purple nut-grass probably grew as a dense carpet over much of the wadi, including the dune areas, and a surplus beyond immediate needs could have been gathered at this time and stored for later consumption; once dried, the tubers retain their food value for several months. It was probably also during the winter that the ducks and geese were taken.

Use of the dunes sites still later in the year is indicated by the presence of dom palm fruits, which mature in February and March, and by the occasional shells of Unio abyssinicus; the Unio probably could be gathered only in the period between February and the end of June. However, there is no evidence that these sites were much used in the driest part of the year (from March until July), and, indeed, it seems likely that most settlements at that time were inside the valley, close to the deeper channels. Such sites are unknown at Kubbaniya and will be rarely found elsewhere, since most of them were destroyed by the down-cutting by the river during the Holocene.

Large mammals were probably taken throughout the year, but they were not so important as fish as sources of protein and fats. Despite the larger size and greater density of mammal bones, they represent only about 1% of all bone in the dune sites. It is possible that these sites were not used during the major hunting periods, but the fish and floral remains indicate some use of them during most of the year.

It is important to note that we are not suggesting semi-permanent or permanent occupations, but rather a settlement system which involved the re-use of key areas to exploit a variety of seasonal resources. Hillman and others (in press) have observed that the plant-food resources which would have been locally available could have supported occupation in one location for most of the year, even without food-storage, but there is no direct evidence for the use of all these potential resources. Instead, the evidence suggests a new economic system in the Nile Valley, based upon the intensive exploitation of a few seasonally available foods which lend themselves to processing and storage for later consumption. Such intensive exploitation is evident in the summer when large quantities of spawning catfish were taken, and in the autumn, winter and spring when wet-land tubers were gathered and processed. Together, these two foods could have provided all the basic components of a balanced diet: the catfish are rich in protein and fat and the wet-land tubers and dom palm fruits contribute the carbohydrates and dietary fibre. Other sources of food were certainly known and used, but their contribution to the diet may have been not essential and less important.

A brief summary of the earliest Neolithic settlements in the Eastern Sahara

A brief summary of the earliest Neolithic settlements in the Eastern Sahara

A Fred Wendorf paper. Although he supports an early neolithic domestication in the Sahara of cattle he admits in other sources the evidence isn’t great, just suggestive.

The paper was written before the 11,500 year old pots turned up in Mali (I’m still not happy with that dating method) which seems to be associated with the mechtoid people of the Sahara who reached as far south as Niger and Mali during the Saharan wet phase. This also dates the arrival of barley at about 8,000 bp, which would suggest that there are neolithic farming sites further north a touch older than that (barley is near Eastern in origin). This would date the neolithic arrival in Egypt to before the 7,000 year old oldest known Egyptian site near Fayum. 


Red marks the oldest Malian pottery spot. Other pottery yielding sites are marked on the map. Nabta is marked also (inside Egypt).