Mesolithic Nubians Probably Weren't Negroid

January 14, 2010

Afrocentrists like to believe that Mesolithic Nubia was populated by Negroids because of its strategic location near Egypt and on the Out-of-Africa route, and the time frame coinciding with the dispersals of haplogroup E3b. And they've found support in some research. For example, Groves and Thorne (1999) say that "Sudanese Nubia is Negroid", referring to Mesolithic Jebel Sahaba and Tushka crania, and Irish (1998) groups Mesolithic Nubians with Sub-Saharan Africans based on dental traits.

But it's not that clear cut. What some anthropologists interpret as Negroid morphology, others view simply as primitive or archaic traits indicative of the generalized morphology of early modern humans. Phillipson (2005) summarizes this debate:

To the south, the harpoon-using fishermen of the central and southern Sahara, the Sudanese Nile Valley and parts of East Africa are represented by a few fragmentary skeletons from Ishango, Lothagam on Lake Turkana, Lowasera, Early Khartoum and elsewhere which are said to show negroid physical features. Similar characteristics occur in skeletons from the Qadan cemetery at Jebel Sahaba in Nubia, where Mechta-Afalou features have also been recognised. These remains may be from a population ancestral to present-day Nilotic negroids. Other authorities, emphasizing the presence of features which are also seen in KhoiSan and Northeast African 'caucasoid' populations, prefer to interpret this material as representing a more generalized 'ancestral African' physical type, which may be regarded as akin to a common ancestor of several more recent populations. This explanation also seems plausible for the varied human remains that have been recovered in association with broadly contemporary and rather later industries from southern Kenya.

Complicating things further is the fact that later era Nubia shows clear Caucasoid affinities, which has forced "Negroid Mesolithic" advocates to postulate a population replacement event during the Holocene (the Afrocentrists gloss over this point). Among the authorities questioning this population discontinuity model are Van Gerven et al. (1973), who believe that changes in morphology can be just as easily explained by adaptation (the study they cite is Greene et al. (1967), which analyzed crania from Wadi Halfa, Sudan):

Although the authors view the Nubian population as having remained stable over the last several thousand years, they propose that the living Nubians are the result of the massive penetration of Negroid Africa by Caucasoid genes during the last 14,000 years. In support of this hypothesis, the skeletal remains of a Nubian Mesolithic population are described as possessing bun-shaped occiputs, massive browridges, sloping foreheads, extreme facial flattening, large teeth and deep mandibles. This and other evidence is proposed to indicate that Africa, north of the Sahara, was originally inhabited by non-Caucasoid populations that can in general be termed Negroid.

There are several points at which this analysis remains essentially typological. Specifically, Greene pointed out in his discussion of racial reconstructions:

If indeed there were adequate models for the presumed Negro race of Africa that existed thousands of years ago, then this approach has validity. However, it can be contended that such models are at present not valid since there is little evidence for reconstructing what the then contemporary African Negroes were like skeletally. One can only extrapolate from modern Negroes who may not at all be like their ancestory since racial groups are not static, but evolve.

In addition, many of the skeletal features listed separately by Burnor and Harris may, in fact, be related functionally and/or epigenetically. Greene and co-workers have suggested that features such as large complex tooth form, glabellar protrusion, gonial eversion and massive mandible are all indicative of heavy masticatory masculature. Such features in the Nubian Mesolithic population are similar to those represented by the Neanderthal remains at the Skuhl site in Israel and also by contemporary aboriginal Australian populations. Such commonality suggests similar adaptation rather than common racial origin and migration.

Once again, the explanation of morphological similarity between two populations in terms of racial origins and affinities is totally inadequate unless the role played by natural selection and possible parallel evolution has been determined and incorporated into the analysis.

More recently, Larsen (1997) revisited the long-running debate and backed the continuity model of Greene, Van Gerven and the others that evolution and adaptation explain the differences between earlier and later Nubians better than population replacement:

Beginning in the nineteenth century, various workers speculated on the origins of human groups occupying the [Nile Valley]. Following Morton's (1844) highly influential study of archaeological crania from Egypt and Nubia, the prevailing notion was that two biologically distinct groups occupied the Nile Valley in temporal succession. In Lower Nubia, Morant (1925) identified an earlier 'Upper Nile type', with predominantly 'Negroid' features, and a later 'Lower Nile type', which lacked 'Negroid' features. The changes were viewed in a diffusionistic paradigm: simply, the disappearance of 'Negroid' features resulted from an invasion and subsequent replacement by alien 'Caucasoid' (Egyptian) peoples from the north.

Recent analyses of crania and dentitions from lower Nubia indicate that the evidence for the diffusionist model of biological change is less than compelling. Independent analyses of skeletal and dental discrete and metric variables and other lines of evidence suggest that the earlier and later Nubian populations represent a biological continuum with no invasion by nonindigenous populations. Therefore, the differences in cranial morphology between earlier and later populations...are best understood in relation to factors not involving population replacement.

For better understanding of these factors, especially those related to dietary and technological change, Carlson and Van Gerven and their coworkers compared craniofacial morphology in a Nubian-based temporal sequence, including foragers from the Mesolithic (ca. 12,000 BP), initial agriculturalists from the combined A- and C-groups (3400-1200 BC), and intensive agriculturalists from the combined Meroitic, X-group, and Christian horizons (AD 0-1500). These comparisons reveal that Nubian foragers and incipient agriculturalists have flat and elongated vaults with well-developed, protruding supraorbital tori and occipitals. In contrast, later intensive agriculturalists have rounded vaults with small and more posteriorly positioned faces and masticatory muscle attachment site (temporalis and masseter) and reduced temporomandibular joint size.

Carlson and co-workers posit a masticatory-functional hypothesis for explaining craniofacial changes in Nubia. They argue that the primary factor influencing Nubian craniofacial anatomy was the change in subsistence economy, from foraging to food production and the shift to consumption of softer foods. These changes resulted in a reduction in activity of the masticatory muscles and a concomitant decrease in mechanical loading of the craniofacial skeleton. Alteration in masticatory function led to alteration in craniofacial growth in two ways, including (1) decreased stimulation of bone growth, leading to a reduction in facial robusticity; and (2) progressive alteration of the overall growth of the face and vault, resulting in a smaller and more inferoposteriorly oriented face relative to the cranial vault.


Turner and coworkers reassessed Greene and coworkers' continuity model of Nubian population history. Although lauding the studies of Greene and others for using a nonracial, nontypological approach to Nubian population history, they argue that extra-regional sources of variation have been insufficiently considered, especially sources that may explain temporal shifts in craniofacial morphology in this region. Implicit in the work by Greene and others is the assumption that population continuity extends at least as far back as the late Pleistocene (ca. 12,000 BP). Turner and coworkers contend that continuity can be claimed only if non-Nubian populations are also considered in statistical analyses of dental trait variation in this region.

Turner and coworkers include in their analysis additional Nubian dentitions from the late Pleistocene 'Upper Stone Age', Meroitic, X-group, Christian period, and historic era European samples. Computed MMD values, modified for small samples and tested for significance, reveal few significant differences between Meroitic, X-group and Christian periods, thus confirming Greene's earlier conclusions regarding population continuity. However, significant differences between the Pleistocene and later groups were clearly identified.... Because of the apparent temporal discontinuity between the Pleistocene and later populations, Turner & Markowitz (1990) hypothesize that the ancestry of recent Nubians was not derived from local late Pleistocene populations, and that a population replacement event occurred during the Holocene in Nubia. The origin of these later populations is unclear, but, solely on the basis of dental traits, they argue that populations north of Nubia containing European and Near Eastern traits are the most likely sources.

In an effort to identify other possible sources of variation, Irish & Turner (1990) compared their sample of Nubian dentitions (late Pleistocene to Christian period) to historic-period dentitions from a west African group — the Ashanti. Univariate and MMD statistical treatment of these samples reveal strong similarities between modern west Africans and late Pleistocene Nubians. As with previous studies, later Holocene dentitions were found to be very similar. The late Pleistocene and modern west Africans are strongly divergent from the Meroitic, X-group, and Christian period Nubians. Therefore, the authors argue that there is a population discontinuity between the late Pleistocene and Holocene populations in Nubia, with the former sharing biological affinities with west Africans. Irish & Turner (1990) suggest that the discontinuity can be explained by high rates of violence and decline (or possible extinction) in late Pleistocene (Mesolithic) Nubian forager, which may have left them susceptible to invasion or 'genetic swapping' by other groups from west Africa.

Turner and coworkers' findings are intriguing, but their analyses do not necessarily disprove the continuity model for the Pleistocene to Holocene transition. Especially problematic is the virtual lack of data from the period between the A-group and the Mesolithic, which represents nearly four millennia of occupation of the region. Comparisons of Mesolithic and A-group populations reveal a decrease in craniofacial robusticity and dental complexity. To be sure, the agent of change could have been gene flow from some other region. Additional dental and morphological data, and a more substantial treatment of the archaeological context from regions surrounding Nubia, are required before the discontinuity model can be accepted. Moreover, the west African collection used for identifying dental trait frequencies is largely undocumented. Therefore, although the similarities between late Pleistocene and west African dental traits are interesting, they are not compelling. From the preponderance of evidence from other studies of craniofacial morphology, biological change, and population history, a model of population continuity appears to fit the evidence best.

It's extremely unlikely that Negroids would have penetrated so far north and east that early in time, and even more so considering that the later Nubians were Caucasoid, which requires the equally unlikely explanation of total population replacement after the Pleistocene. The continuity model that a robust, generalized early population evolved into Nubia's modern Caucasoid inhabitants makes a lot more sense.


Anonymous said...

"Mesolithic Nubians were Negroid"

so stop the lies.all of africa an the whoe world was negriod beforeth wa any other races.

Anonymous said...

so stop the lies.all of africa and the whole world was negriod before their was any other races.

Anonymous said...

None of that proved your point -- at all. Nice try, Eurocentrist bigot.

Chris said...

If you do a google image search for "Nubians" you will see a number of Egyptian paintings depicting Nubians and they appear to be black Africans to me.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that Nubian's were really "Black"! Actually, the women pictured in some of the most ancient pyramids in Norther Sudan were "nappy-headed".The big mistake many scientists are making, is that these Africans were East-Africans, like Kenyans, Tanzanians, etc.. And not West-Africans. Would be the same to pretend that Russians were not Europeans, because it was impossible to find Portuguese DNA in Moscow.

Racial Reality said...

>>> "these Africans were East-Africans, like Kenyans, Tanzanians, etc.. And not West-Africans."

Kenyans and Tanzanians are mostly Bantu, descended from West/Central Africans. They're not related to Nubians.

Anonymous said...

There were many tribes in Kush and lower Nubia in prehistory and in the Dynastic era. The lower Nubians were and still are genetic cousins to Southern Egyptians. The Ethnocentrists don't want to admit the DNA studies prove prehistoric and modern Egyptians and some northern Nubians share more DNA with North Africans, Eurasians and Horn Africans than to West/Central/South Africans. Their Black political movement should not be confused with objective science. Similar skin colors are not a racial catagory and doesn't make one more closely related. They think poor, oppressed 'black' people are everywhere from Africa, Melanesia and Australia. They have no understanding of phenotypes, genotypes or even basic Biology.

Anonymous said...

"...Egyptian paintings depicting Nubians and they appear to be black Africans to me."
Which one of these pictures is older than two thousand years?In the same logic you can consider the population of asia minor as mongoloid because we have dipictions of turkomans 800 years ago.Immigration,invasion,disappearance,genocide or misceganation happened at various cases during the past,and changed the demographic status of a region.

Anonymous said...

The majority of Nubia were either black or arab. Nubia pre-dates Egypt and from what your article states, "europeans" or "arabs" just infiltrated Black Nubia and made it their own.

The pyramids, architecture and culture were already there created by blacks but stolen by all others, specifically arab-semitic whites.

Just look at the people who inhabit Sudan today. That should tell you who truly inhabited the land 3,000 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Perfectly preserved *skull* pulled from a grave in Kerma with perfect Afro hair.

Racial Reality said...

That's not perfect Afro hair.

Kerma Nubians cluster with Caucasoids:

Bakari Neferu said...

This is silly. The Nubians were Black. The Egyptians noted them as Black, the Greeks called them "Ethiopian", which was a euphemism for Black, and it's known that they are indigenous to the continent. They are Black Africans.

Anonymous said...

I bet a million dollars this article was written by or with Diekenekes.

My favorite part is where he's trying to say that those features we say are "Negroid" were just the typical mesolithic human...

OH gee whiz, so Adam and Eve just LOOKED black... and black people IN AFRICA didn't exist because time all alone is enough to erase them from existence.

The rationale isn't even scientific it's just racist garbage.

Reader said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post.

I will neglect the use of the term "Negroid" as that term is based on the racial classification system that derived from racist pseudo-scientific inventions. There are no chromosomes or other genetic components that indicate race, but they can indicate ethnicity.

My family is African, having come from the Horn (a region that consists of Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia) only a few decades ago. Our country has some ties with North Sudan culturally and my father has lived in Nubia for some time. He identified closely with the Nubians as they did with him due to proximity of culture and lifestyle. He was indistinguishable from Nubians as Nubians tend to have the same physical features as Horn of Africans. They speak a Nilo-Saharan language, not a Niger-Congo language. Their ancient language could be considered Nilo-Saharan but it relates more closely to Cushitic peoples like the Beja (who live in Sudan, Egypt, and Eritrea) and other Horn of Africans. Their culture, society structure, and physical features has always aligned most closely to the Bejas, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis. They are far removed from Bantus from whom the African-Americans and other similar people in the Americas are descended from. In fact, the population of Bantus in Sudan is negligible as their numbers are so small that this group is not even included in the statistics of the region.

Also, the oldest Africans are the people of the Horn and the San. The Bantus came after these peoples and originated in Cameroon. The group that migrated out of Africa were groups most closely related to the Horn's people, as these groups share genetic component with Eurasians and other Africans in a degree which supports other evidences that show that they are the ancestors of Eurasians as well as of other Africans.

So this notion that the Nubians, ancient Egyptians, or ancestors of migrating groups out of Africa and into the Middle East and Europe were Bantu is based on personal convictions rather than on evidence, studies, or other research (which prove otherwise).

Reader said...

This may be a touchy subject for some but those who I have known that held the notion that ancient Egyptians or Nubians were Bantu had the desire to reclaim their African history, ancestors, and the sophistication of African empires.

However, they often fell into the trap of believing that the most notable empire when that is false. The reality is that the ancient Egyptians had influence over the Europeans and their customs today, as it served as the Europeans insight into African knowledge, customs, and societies. The Europeans erroneously (due to their disdain of blacks/Africans in general), viewed the Egyptians as being different from other Africans, similar to how an implicit racist tells a black individual that they don't disdain completely that they are "not like other black people". In reality, the religious beliefs, systems, cultural practises, and many other features were shared by other Africans such as the Beja, Oromo (some of whom maintained their original religious beliefs similar in many ways to the ancient Egyptians), Somalis (who used to practise embalming of the dead and creating tombs), Ethiopians, and Nubians (who also built pyramids). Even the Tuareg (black Berbers) who used to inhabit northeast Africa prior to the Arab invasions.

So because of the European admiration of the ancient Egyptians (and the knowledge they've gained from them), the ancient Egyptians are toted as being Africa's best (and perhaps only) civilization when this is false.

In-depth studying of non-Eurocentric sources of ancient African history can alleviate people of these ignorant notions. Africa has many civilizations and empires, which were centres of knowledge and learning, and sophistication. The Empires of Western Africa are notable and the ancient writing systems of these people inspire awe in me such as Nsibidi. But these historical gems and other indigenous writing systems do not gain recognition due to the prevalence of Eurocentricism in scholarly research, study, writings, and in history in general.

Anonymous said...

The problem with this article and the problem with the entire portrayal of Ancient Egypt in general is the attitude toward race. They measure nose and skulls in an effort to give some type of scientific excuse to lump africans with europeans but when you bring up the social concept of race they disregard it. So all of a sudden, a person with dark skin and wooly hair who is indigenous to africa is not considered black" or "negroid". We already knew the genetic diversity that exists in subsaharan africa. Western culture attempts to group all of subsaharan africa together, as if its all the same, but it obviously isn't.

I'm African American. I'm black not because somebody measured my skull and tested by DNA to determine it. Its because I'm black in the socially constructed concept of the word. If somebody was to do a study and see I have genetic commonality with Eurasia, does that invalidate my blackness? Should we no longer consider Barack Obama the first black president? This is BS and speaks entirely of laying "claim" to a culture, not to mention that underlying racist implication of racial intelligence being a factor in the development of certain cultures. I find it funny that they criticize afrocentrists for trying to combat the obvious whitewashing of an ancient society which would NOT be considered white under any circumstances in today's world. Rather than anybody trying to "steal" culture, it just shows a massive insecurity and desperate desire to maintain ownership of a society as if to admit it was not white would be to lose that history.

And before you reply with "well of course it wasn't european..." I'm talking about this whole Caucasian-Negroid bs. Go to the horn of africa today and tell those people they aren't african because science dictated it so. I'm sure they will overjoyed since the entire world seems anxious to cut any ties with blackness.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anonymous on this subject - he's right. Besides, I think that this caucasoid DNA stuff that people are trying to use as an excuse to somehow wipe the black off of some African's faces is the result of migrations out of and back into Africa. There obviously may have been some admixture as a result, as well as during more recent times through the migration of others. Nevertheless, stand an ancient nubian besides a modern one (and this can be applied to people from any part of Africa), you're still a nigger in Western world - and if you let them stake claim to your contribution to human history, then they will steal it out from under you like they did Egypt.

Anonymous said...


That ancient admixture of caucasoid DNA may have changed bone and facial features as with the Maasai (and others), but that's all it did. It sure as hell didn't change their skin color, and I'm sure there's likewise also (a more recent) admixture of African DNA in caucasoids from the same exchange, but they're still white. Or, did blacks now create European civilization as a result of this black DNA? And, am I now to image that prehistoric Europeans had black skin? As the other commentor said, it's less a question about race and more one of ethnicity within the black race. We can be from any part of Africa, east, west, whatever. I'm not going to fight about it because that's they want. I'll set aside my tribe and clan, and recognize those who were apart of this history from nubian to beja to the dinka and nuba (who are our cousins) to the hausa whose legends have them migrating the sahel from nubia, to other african peoples, particularly in the east. You can be arab, caucasian, martian, whatever you want to be. Just know that as long as your face is black, these people would rather fight tooth and nail than to see you as an equal, which is why we're having this conversation. They'd rather you be nigger and slave (and the more we debate the differences they create for us, then the more we are one) than to be creators of a civilization that predates theirs.

Racial Reality said...

Skin color is adaptive and irrelevant:

Europeans don't have any significant African admixture, but East Africans have a lot of non-African ancestry:

Anonymous said...

Skin color is as adaptive and irrelevant as the politics that control it.

There are West African groups with significant European (I think) R1b DNA as well, but so what. African people are not out to have white people think that they're black, so that we can attempt to steal ancient Rome or Greece from the history books with fantastical stories and so-called scientific studies ( Tutankhamun's decendents coming from Western Europe as the result of another "scientific" DNA study).

East Africans do have a lot of admixture, including sub-Saharan African. Implying that they're Caucasian/white, doesn't make them white; although it may make a few of the weaker among us confused and think that they are, if you say it enough and tell them how special they are unlike those bad, pure blood, really black Africans.

We are one people starring back at ourselves in the mirror. I may have an admixture of many things, but my skin color translates my DNA into the politics of today, which gives me great honor.

Racial Reality said...

This is an anthropology blog, not a politics blog. In anthropology skin color is not that important and East Africans are partly Caucasoid.

>>> "African people are not out to have white people think that they're black, so that we can attempt to steal ancient Rome or Greece from the history books with fantastical stories and so-called scientific studies"

I guess you've never heard of Afrocentrism.

Anonymous said...

If you want to study real (less genetically compromised) nubians, then look at the ones in Kenya. You can really see those heavy caucasoid features. Afrocentrism is only the result of/response to eurocentrism.

Racial Reality said...

Any "Nubians" in Kenya would be even more "genetically compromised" from centuries of mixing with the local Bantu population.

"Eurocentrism" is a myth made up by Afrocentrists. But Afrocentrism is a real "attempt to steal" other cultures "from the history books with fantastical stories and so-called scientific studies":

Pixels said...

Obviously this doesn't come as surprise and there is no evidence at all that the Nubians were a black race.

Modern day Nubians are a mixed ethnicity who probably always were.

I can't recall any events that occurred in the areas where the Nubians dwell that could have diluted their black genes.

No Arabic colonization, no events, nothing, so the Nubians being a mixed ethnicity in the past like modern day ones and not Negroid shouldn't be a shocker.