Tag Archives: Ancient Nubia.

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.

Study of teeth from Wadi Halfa

Dentition of a mesolithic population from Wadi Halfa, Sudan

The dentition of a Mesolithic population (8,000-11,000 years old) from Wadi Halfa, Sudan, can be characterized as morphologically complex, massive and relatively free from pathology except that associated with extreme wear.
Maxillary incisors show shoveling. All of the maxillary molars show some development of the hypocone. Supernumerary cusps appear frequently. Almost one-half of the second lower molars observed show distally located third cusps. Over one-half of the maxillary third molars show an extra cusp. A high percentage of mandibular molars show six cusps.
Overall the teeth from this population compare favorably in size with those of an Australian aborigine tribe and are slightly larger than the teeth of the Neanderthaloids from Skhl.
The teeth show wear of a degree greater than that found in present day Eskimo or Australian aborigine groups.
This data may be interpreted as indicating that this Mesolithic group was subjected to rigorous selective pressures favoring large and/or morphologically complex teeth. This pressure was apparently intensive wear, presumably caused by the inclusion of large amounts of grit in the diet through the eating of vegetable food macerated on coarse grinding stones.

It seems they needed really strong teeth to cope with the grit in the grain. These people were grinding and eating wild wheat up until about 6,000 BC.

Temporal variation in prehistoric Nubian crania

Temporal variation in prehistoric Nubian crania
David S. Carlson
Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
Much of the earlier work on the prehistory of Sudanese Nubia has emphasized discontinuity between early Nubian populations. However, recent investigations suggest the converse – that a remarkable degree of cultural and biological continuity exists among indigenous Nubian groups, perhaps as far back as the Paleolithic. Thus, cultural and biological differences between Nubian populations can be most effectively perceived as the result of in situ evolutionary development.
The present analysis has two major purposes: (1) to describe the morphological differences in the craniofacial complex between indigenous Nubian populations extending from the A-Group (c. 3,400 B.C.) through the Christian (c. 1,500 A.D.) horizons; and (2) to account for these differences within an evolutionary framework. The multiple discriminant analysis of radiographically derived variables revealed a trend from a substantially lower and more elongated cranial vault to a shorter and taller vault throughout the almost 5,000 year time span. Associated with this pattern was a tendency for the face to become more inferiorly-posteriorly located with respect to the vault in the latter groups. Finally, the masseter and temporalis muscles underwent a reduction and slight relocation through time. We speculate that this trend may be associated with behavioral changes associated with transition from a hunting and gathering to a totally agricultural subsistence pattern.

Eugen Strouhal’s summary of Pre-dynastic Badarians racial affinites.

Eugen Strouhal

The Journal of African History, Vol. 12, No. 1. (1971), pp. 1-9.

In Nubia, according to the analysis of physical anthropology, the original Europoid (Caucasoid) stock of the population was several times overrun by Negroid waves, flowing from the South. Negroes and Negroids penetrated to Egypt only sporadically, and their frequency, uneven according to time, place and the diagnostical knowledge of the investigator, has been estimated as 1 to 5 per cent. An increase in the number of Negroes was observed only in the New Kingdom, in connexion with the expansion of Egyptian domination to the south. From that time onwards, they were pictured as symbols of the south. The perfect portrayal of their morphological features shows that the Egyptian artists knew them very well.”

“By the individual analysis of nasal measurements and indices of the first Badarian series in comparison with the mixed Europoid-Negroid series from Wadi Qitna in Nubia (fourth-fifth century AD), with the Europoid series from Manfalout in Upper Egypt (Ptolemaic period) and with a series of recent Nilotes, I came to the conclusion that the distribution of the Badarian skulls extends from the Europoid to the Negroid range.”

“Of the total 117 skulls, 15 were found to be markedly Europoid, 9 of these were of the gracile Mediterranean type, 6 were of very robust structure reminiscent of the North African Cromagnon type. Eight skulls were clearly Negroid… We may conclude that the share of both components was nearly the same, with some overweight to the Europoid side.”

“In some of the Badarian crania hair was preserved, thanks to good conditions in the desert sand. In the first series, according to the descriptions of the excavators, they were curly in 6 cases, wavy in 33 cases and straight in 10 cases. They were black in 16 samples, dark brown in 11, brown in 12, light brown in 1 and grey in 11 cases.”

This is the study I saw Keita misquote, as saying ‘80% of the hair was negroid’. I’m pretty sure ‘black’ is the only colour you see in Africans without admixture.

EARLY NILE VALLEY FARMERS FROM EL-BADARI, Aboriginals or “European”Agro-Nostratic Immigrants? Craniometric Affinities Considered With Other Data.

I also want to know why Keita didn’t use the neighboring Caucasians as a base line… he used Nordic-types from as his baseline instead of the nearby North Africans (quite a difference facially and in skull shape) and omitted one nasal measurement, which is a dead giveaway as far as racial relationships go. Essentially, this study contains one very dubious quote, and a dubious methodology. In another paper he says that NW Europeans show no relationship to European phenotype Mahgrebians, so his choice of them as his European baseline is very odd indeed.

Since I’m pretty familiar with the neolithic expansion by now, I’ll simplify it for all.

 About 8,000 BP, the Neolithic farmers arrived in Northern Egypt (from Turkey, originally) and then spread across the North of Africa, and down the Nile (minorty contributors to North Africa, but still there). At the same time, the other branches of the expansion were reaching Pakistan, the Ukraine and the Balkans. 

Modern Egyptians are; upper Egypt still 80% native African, and in lower Egypt 60%, with a large proportion of the rest traceable to the incoming neolithic farmers. Prior to that the people along the Nile were a mix of an ancient Eurasian back migration, and east African, who expanded slowly out as far as Somalia and the Levant at varying times.

This makes the ancient Egyptians pretty similar to the modern ones. In fact, they show themselves to be so every time you compare things like limb length, teeth, hair and skulls. At least one of the studies I have on Nubian teeth shows a major population influx before pre-dynastic Egyptian times, and one on Egyptian teeth that shows a ‘continuity of population from pre-dynastic times to present’.

So, I’d like to see this Keita study re-done with South Eastern Europeans, Berbers and modern Egyptians and  as some of the baseline populations, including the nasal measurements!

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.

DNA evidence from ancient Nubians.

Unfortunately this DNA study doesn’t discriminate between L3 and later non African mutations. However, since M1, U, pre HV and a whole slew of other Eurasian DNA hg’s date to about 35k, then later to 12k in North Africa, this study probably isn’t massively far off the mark for lower Nubia . 

mtDNA analysis in ancient Nubians supports the existence of gene flow between sub-Sahara and North Africa in the Nile valley

C. Fox, 1997:


The Hpal (np3,592) mitochondrial DNA marker is a selectively neutral mutation that is very common in sub-Saharan Africa and is almost absent in North African and European populations. It has been screened in a Meroitic sample from ancient Nubia through PCR amplification and posterior enzyme digestion, to evaluate the sub-Saharan genetic influences in this population. From 29 individuals analysed, only 15 yield positive amplifications, four of them (26·7%) displaying the sub-Saharan African marker. Hpa I (np3,592) marker is present in the sub-Saharan populations at a frequency of 68·7 on average. Thus, the frequency of genes from this area in the Merotic Nubian population can be estimated at around 39% (with a confidence interval from 22% to 55%). The frequency obtained fits in a south-north decreasing gradient of Hpa I (np3,592) along the African continent. Results suggest that morphological changes observed historically in the Nubian populations are more likely to be due to the existence of south-north gene flow through the Nile Valley than to in-situ evolution.
Krings et al study, 1999:

A study which included the modern population of both lower and upper Nubia show them to be about 45% maternally Eurasian, and there’s been virtually no immigration into the lower Nubia area from Asia according to the Y chromosome study of the area by Lucotte; which suggests this 60% Eurasian figure in the mummies is probably very roughly correct; (unless you believe there were invading armies of Arab women) particularly since the Dakhleh Oasis ancient and modern mt DNA analysis shows more Sub Saharan mt DNA than the ancient Egyptian samples, which is possibly attributable to the Arab slave trade. The Y chromsome study of lower Nubia here suggests historic male input from non Africans into the area is less than 5%, so it’s hard to argue for the ancient samples being massively different based on the modern DNA of the area.

Prehistoric Nubia.

Archived info, text by Fred Wendorf.

Nubian Early Stone Age:

The sites of this stage are typologically and technologically within the range of the Acheulean complex and share many resemblances with the Middle and Late Acheulean from further south, especially Klor Abu Anga near Khartoum, Sudan. No living sites of this group are known, only quarries and workshops. Ferrocrete sandstone was preferred for tool production, although quartz was also important in some sites. Bifaces were the most common tools, while cleavers, trihedral forms, and para-Levallois flakes are rare. Levallois technology appears during the middle phase of this stage and becomes increasingly important thereafter. Nubian Early Stone Age sites occur only in the Older Pediments. None are known to occur within the silts of the river.

Nubian Middle Stone Age:

 This stage is generally equivalent to the Middle Paleolithic elsewhere. It contains four distinct industries the Nubian Mousterian, Denticulate Mousterian and the Nubian Middle Paleolithic and the Khormusan. The latter has affinities with the Sangoan-Lupemban of central and west Africa; the first two are more similar to the Mousterian complexes of the Near East and Europe. The first three of these industries share the following features: a nearly complete absence of handaxes (these are replaced by biface foliates or flake tools); a strong preference for ferrocrete sandstone for tools; and a frequent use of Levallois technology (although this varies among the three industries of this stage). Sites of these three industries occur only in the Older Pediments. The Khormusan sites occur imbedded in the oldest Nile silts known in the part of the Valley and are believed to date between 65,000 and 55,000 years old. Khormusan sites record a diverse food economy.
They contain an abundance of fish remains as well as numerous bones of wild cattle, gazelle and hartebeest. In addition to the typical wide, flat Levallois flakes, the Khormusan sites contain numerous burins (a kind of engraving tool), scrapers and perforators.

Nubian Upper Stone Age:

Three distinct industries are also included in this stage: the Khormusan, the Gemian, and the Sebilian. Each of these industries is markedly different from the others, but as a group they share an emphasis on medium-sized flakes for the manufacture of tools; the biface foliates of the preceding stage are gone, and there are no true geometric, microlithic, or backed microblade tools characteristic of later stage. Except for the Sebilian, which differs sharply from all other known lithic assemblages in Nubia, sites of this stage yield increasing frequencies of artifacts made on Nile pebbles, while burins, endscrapers, and retouched points occur commonly in one or the other industries. The Sebilian retains the emphasis on ferrocrete sandstone preferred during the earlier stages, and the tools of this industry emphasized various kinds of truncations. These differences have led to the suggestion that the Sebilians were an outside, non-Nilotic group who briefly intruded into the area. In some respects they have close affiliations to some of the industries known farther south in central Africa -especially the Tshitolian.

Nubian Final Stone Age:

This stage contains four distinct industries: the Halfan, the Qadan, the Arkinian, and the Shamarkian. All of these industries share a tendency for the retouched tools to be microlithic, suggesting extensive use of composite tools. They also all make frequent use of microblades and bladelets in the manufacture of finished tools, and Nile chert pebbles were used almost exclusively as raw material for these tools. The Nile and its resources, especially fish, become increasingly important, and it is during this stage that the first use of ground grain occurs. There is an overlap in time between the Nubian Final Stone Age and the preceeding Nubian Upper Stone Age. The earliest Nubian Final Stone Age sites (the Halfan) occur in situ in Nile silts and have radiocarbon dates of around 17,000 B.G., while the Nubian Upper Stone Age probably begins before 20,000 B.G., but survives as a technological stage represented by the Sebilian, as late as 9,000 B.G.

Nubian Ceramic Age:

This stage includes at least three distinct lithic industries in Nubia. Pottery, the diagnostic feature of this stage, first appears in the final phase of the Shamarkian industry, and is also present in two distinct and seemingly contemporary groups named the Abkan and Khartum Variant. Both the Shamarkian and Abkan ceramics appear to be stimulated by Egyptian sources; however, the Khartum Variant pottery clearly is similar to that of Shaheinab in central Sudan. All three industries share an emphasis on large flake tools, and the Abkan and Shamarkian sites are dramatically larger than those known previously in Nubia. This change of settlement size may indicate the appearance in Nubia of a new economic resource -possibly cultivation.

Nubian ‘eggshell’ ceramics, coloured with ochre.