Clines and clusters versus “Race:” a test in ancient Egypt and the case of a death on the Nile



The biological affinities of the ancient Egyptians were tested against their neighbors and selected prehistoric groups as well as against samples representing the major geographic population clusters of the world. Two dozen craniofacial measurements were taken on each individual used. The raw measurements were converted into C scores and used to produce Euclidean distance dendrograms. The measurements were principally of adaptively trivial traits that display patterns of regional similarities based solely on genetic relationships. The Predynastic of Upper Egypt and the Late Dynastic of Lower Egypt are more closely related to each other than to any other population. As a whole, they show ties with the European Neolithic, North Africa, modern Europe, and, more remotely, India, but not at all with sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Asia, Oceania, or the New World. Adjacent people in the Nile valley show similarities in trivial traits in an unbroken series from the delta in the north southward through Nubia and all the way to Somalia at the equator. At the same time, the gradient in skin color and body proportions suggests long-term adaptive response to selective forces appropriate to the latitude where they occur. An assessment of “race” is as useless as it is impossible. Neither clines nor clusters alone suffice to deal with the biological nature of a widely distributed population. Both must be used. We conclude that the Egyptians have been in place since back in the Pleistocene and have been largely unaffected by either invasions or migrations. As others have noted, Egyptians are Egyptians, and they were so in the past as well. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.