Social stratification without genetic differentiation at the site of Kulubnarti in Christian Period Nubia
Kendra A Sirak,
Daniel M. Fernandes,
Carla S Hadden,
Ann Marie Lawson,
Jessica C Thompson,
Dennis P Van Gerven,
Posted 17 Feb 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.17.431423
Posted 17 Feb 2021
Nubia has been a corridor for the movement of goods, culture, and people between sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, and West Eurasia since prehistory, but little is known about the genetic landscape of the region prior to the influence of the Islamic migrations that began in the late 1st millennium CE. We report genome-wide data for 66 individuals from the site of Kulubnarti (~650-1000 CE), increasing the number of ancient individuals with genome-level data from the Nile Valley from three to 69. Our results shed light on the genetic ancestry of a Christian Period group and help to address a long-standing question about the relationships among people buried in two neighboring cemeteries who show skeletal evidence of differences in morbidity and mortality that are broadly suggestive of differences in social status. We find that the Kulubnarti Nubians were admixed with ~43% Nilotic-related ancestry on average (individual proportions varied between ~36-54%) and the remaining ancestry reflecting a West Eurasian-related gene pool likely introduced into Nubia through Egypt, but ultimately deriving from an ancestry pool like that found in the Bronze and Iron Age Levant. The admixed ancestry at Kulubnarti reflects interactions between genetically-distinct people in northeast Africa spanning almost a millennium, with West Eurasian ancestry disproportionately associated with females, highlighting the impact of female mobility in this region. We find no significant differences in ancestry among individuals from the two plausibly socially-stratified cemeteries at Kulubnarti, supporting hypotheses that the groups may have been socially divided but were not genetically distinct. We identify seven pairs of inter-cemetery relatives as close as second-degree, suggesting that any social divisions at Kulubnarti did not prevent mixing between groups. Present-day Nubians are not directly descended from the Christian Period people from Kulubnarti without additional admixture, attesting to the dynamic history of interaction that continues to shape the cultural and genetic landscape of Nubia.
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