Affinities and Role of Nazlet Khater Man

January 31, 2010

Afrocentrists have a particular interest in considering Nazlet Khater man, an Early Upper Paleolithic skeleton from Northeast Africa, racially Negroid and believing it to represent the ancestors of Egyptians and several Out-of-Africa migrants. But as with Mesolithic Nubians, this seems highly unlikely. Though Thoma (1984) describes Nazlet Khater as "suggestive of Negroid morphology", and Pinhasi and Semal (2000) find that it clusters with Middle Stone Age Sub-Saharan Africans, anthropologists have often misclassified as Negroid various archaic traits, especially in the mandible (see above link on Mesolithic Nubia). And Nazlet Khater certainly fits this familiar pattern, according to Vermeersch et al. (1984):

The Nazlet Khater 4 site (Nile Valley, Upper Egypt) is located on one of the small wadi-interfluves in the lower desert near the steep cliffs bordering the western Nile Valley edge.... The 1982 excavation reported here confirms that Nazlet Khater 4 is a chert mining site with a complex extraction strategy, going back 33,000 yr. A nearby grave contained a skeleton of a man in the extended position. We show that the cranial morphology is anatomically modern with archaic characteristics such as a very robust mandible. There is evidence that the skeleton has a similar age to that of the mining site.

It's so archaic, in fact, that Trinkaus (2007) expresses doubts about whether or not it's fully modern and representative of Out-of-Africa humans:

The only other directly relevant specimen is Nazlet Khater 2, from ≈42 ka B.P. in Egypt. Approximately contemporaneous with the earliest EEMHs [European early modern humans], it may represent the morphology of modern humans dispersing out of Africa after ≈50 ka B.P. However, in some features it is more archaic than the MPMHs [Middle Paleolithic modern humans], which raises questions as to the degree to which its ancestry was purely from the MPMHs and therefore whether it represents the ancestral modern human morphology.


The role of the Nazlet Khater 2 skeleton is also debatable; it has two plesiomorphic mandible features absent in the MPMHs, suggesting that its post-MPMH ancestors may have experienced admixture with regional late archaic humans.

Even the Afrocentrists' own sources comment on its robust and archaic morphology. From Pinhasi and Semal, who reference Thoma:

Thoma's analysis of the postcranial features further suggests that the specimen is altogether modern and extremely robust. Thoma therefore classified the Nazlet Khater specimen as an anatomically modern Homo sapiens with some archaic morphological features.

They also suggest that the clustering pattern is based on robusticity and not racial affinity, as Nazlet Khater also has affinities with robust prehistoric North Africans but not with modern Sub-Saharan Africans:

The post-Neolithic Northwest African populations have small mandibles and are generally gracile in their morphology, while the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic Northwest African specimens are robust. The PC1 score of Nazlet Khater is rather high (PC1=2•18) but well within the range of some sub-Saharan and Epipalaeolithic North African specimens.


The position of mean measurements of the protohistoric and modern South African populations indicate that, in its mandibular dimensions, the Nazlet Khater is not closely related to modern Negro and Khoisan populations.


Lahr (1996) observed that morphological variability among sub-Saharan African populations was at its peak during the Late Pleistocene–early Holocene period. However, this is partially due to the fact that during this period many of the sub-Saharan and North African populations display levels of robusticity which are largely lost in present African populations.

And finally, based on its potential Sub-Saharan affinities, they (logically) propose a migration of the population it belonged to in the direction opposite that hoped for by Afrocentrists:

Both hypotheses are compatible with the hypothesis proposed by Brothwell (1963) of an East African proto-Khoisan Negro stock which migrated southwards and westwards at some time during the Upper Pleistocene, and replaced most of the local populations of South Africa. Under such circumstances, it is possible that the Nazlet Khater specimen is part of a relict population of this proto-Khoisan Negro stock which extended as far north as Nazlet Khater at least until the late part of the Late Pleistocene.

So even if we accept that Nazlet Khater is ancestral to morphologically Negroid populations, these are not to be found in Egypt or Nubia, let alone anywhere outside of Africa. They're restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa.