Four Iron Age women from KwaZulu-Natal: physical anthropology, genetics and archaeological context

  • Maryna Steyn University of the Witwatersrand
  • Gavin Whitelaw KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Private Bag 9070, Pietermaritzburg, 3200 South Africa & School of Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X54001, Durban, 4000 South Africa
  • Deona Botha 1Human Variation & Identification Research Unit, School of Anatomical Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown, 2193
  • Mario Vicente Human Evolution, Department of Organismal Biology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18C, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
  • Carina Schlebusch Human Evolution, Department of Organismal Biology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18C, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden 4 SciLifeLab, Uppsala, Sweden 5 Centre for Anthropological Research, University of Johannesburg, PO Box 524, Auckland Park, 2006 South Africa
  • Marlize Lombard Centre for Anthropological Research, University of Johannesburg, PO Box 524, Auckland Park, 2006 South Africa

Abstract

We report further details on four partial human skeletons from KwaZulu-Natal previously selected for genetic analysis. Dating and genetic results indicate that they derived from agriculturist communities of the mid-second millennium AD. Morphological and genetic analysis shows that three individuals were female; identification of the fourth as female comes from genetic analysis only. All four were adults at death, three older adults and one younger. Genetically, all four individuals cluster strongly with Bantu-speaking populations with West African roots, a result supported by craniometric data for the one individual with a complete and well-preserved cranium. All nevertheless display some admixture with Khoe-San populations. We show that three of the women, and probably the fourth, carried genetic resistance to the Plasmodium vivax malaria parasite, while two had some protection against Trypanosoma brucei gambiense-induced sleeping sickness. The unusual rock-shelter burial locations of three of the women suggest that their deaths required ritual ‘cooling’. Lightning and violence are possible causes. We argue that this multipronged approach is necessary for the development of detailed and nuanced understandings of the past and of the individuals who lived in the region centuries ago. KEY WORDS: Physical anthropology, ancient DNA, palaeopathology, Bantu-speaker expansion, Iron Age.
Published
2019-05-10
How to Cite
Steyn, M., Whitelaw, G., Botha, D., Vicente, M., Schlebusch, C., & Lombard, M. (2019). Four Iron Age women from KwaZulu-Natal: physical anthropology, genetics and archaeological context. Southern African Humanities, 32, 23-56. Retrieved from http://www.sahumanities.org/ojs/index.php/SAH/article/view/470
Section
Articles