Saturday, September 25, 2010

Trivia on the Natufians

In 1928, Charles Lambert had uncovered, during a preliminary investigation at el- Wad, the first prehistoric art object discovered in the Near East, a finely carved bone animal head. He had also discovered human, later identified as Natufian, burials. - Courtesy of the University of Cambridge, the department of archeology.

The "Natufians", the reputed "first farmers" of the Neolithic "Near East", had gone from being regarded as mere "cannibals" by observers of the day shortly after being uncovered in the late 1920s to becoming widely recognized as "pioneers" of the farming economy that took hold in the Neolithic era and was subsequently swept into Europe.

Any observant reader will be hard-pressed to not see the change in attitude about the cultural identity of these "first farmers" from the years when folks of the 20th century were just starting to get to know who they were, at which time all these 20th century observers had available to them were the human remains and a few artifacts here and there, to the ensuing periods when the role of the would-be farmers began unfolding with increased vigor and getting wider recognition within academia. This can perhaps be amply demonstrated through the glimpse of news reports/articles that first came out when news of the discovery of "Natufian" remains reached the media, and subsequent publications by several authors in the ensuing years of the 20th century; take for example the following extracts from a 1932 New York Times publication:

New York Times 1857; Aug 4, 1932; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2003)
pg. 21

Men, Short of Stature, Burned Bones of Dead After Burial, London Session Hears.

Linking relics to Burnt Skeletons from Ur scientist speculate an old cremation custom.

Wireless to NEW YORK TIMES London Aug. 3

Seven or eight thousand years ago in what geologist call modern times a race of negroid cannibals lived In Palestine, burned the bones of their dead after burial, and devoured the bodies of their enemies.

Skulls and thighbones of this race were unearthed within the last four years, first at Shukbah near Jerusalem and later in caves at Mount Carmel, and because they puzzled the excavators who found them they received the new name “Natufians.”

Today the first authoritative account of them was given by Sir Arthur Keith to the congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences and showed them to be one of the greatest riddles of archaeology.

They were clearly a Negroid people, said Sir Arthur, with wide faces flat- noses and long large heads.

They were short of stature 5 feet 3 or 4 inches tall-and their thighs and legs were remarkably strong. While their arms and shoulders were weak.

Alone Among prehistoric peoples they had a custom of extracting the two upper central incisor teeth of their women. Jagged holes in the fronts of their skulls indicate that they ate human brains.

Note the recognition that the remains of these "Natufians" were "Negro"-like, even as the study of these remains in a socio-cultural context was still in its infancy. Of course, "Negro" is used here in a very restricted, rigid [racialist] and highly idealized taxonomic sense, and entails characteristics like, as the article puts it, "wide faces flat- noses and long large heads".  The cranio-facial characteristics are elaborated on further in a later passage of the Times article. It notes:

Several features stand out quite definitely'' he asserted; first the Natufians were a long-headed people - they had cap-shaped occiputs (the lower back part of the head). Secondly, the dimensions or their heads were greater than in the pre-dynastic Egyptians. Thirdly, their faces were short and wide. Fourthly, they were prognathous (with projecting jaws). Fifthly, their nasal bones were not narrow and high, but formed a wide, low arch. Sixthly, their chins were not prominent, but were masked by the fullness of the teeth-bearing parts of the jaw.

However, reading on, the reader is told:

Unlike Any present Race.

They may have been ancestors or the Arabs or Semites of biblical times, in Sir Arthur's opinion. They had some facial characteristics like those of the Neolithic or late Stone Age men of Malta and the remoter Aurignacian men of Southern Europe. But whatever the similarities sir Arthur declared, they lived between 5000 and 6000 B. C. and cannot be identified with any race on earth today.

One might ask then what "Negroid" means to Mr. Keith, being that he is also of the mindset that the "Negroid" remains "cannot be identified with any race on earth today". A later passage could clue one in on what it means; quote:

Professor Smith objected, too, that it was hardly possible that these people had Negro blood, but Sir Arthur speedily corrected him. By the word Negroid he meant merely Negro-like characteristics such as are found throughout Europe and even in Scandinavia. Sir Arthur drew the inference that the Natufians had carried Aurignacian culture into Palestine after the last glacier age, which was approximately 35000 years ago.

The rationalization given is reminiscent of that attached to another questionable taxonomic term, such as that of "generalized modern", discussed earlier on this site [see: Crania: Behind the "Generalized Modern human pattern" ...] Under "generalized modern" too, the reader is told that the set of morphological traits described for the so-designated specimen doesn't trace it to "any race on earth today". Yet, as it turns out, several observers have described these very same specimens having "Negroid" traits, just as we are told in this New York Times piece, that Mr. Keith "clearly" notes the remains as belonging to those of a "Negroid" people. Should conventional wisdom not illicit that if "Negro" is considered a "race" of people on earth "today", then it should follow that any set of traits that are "Negro-like" ought to render the involved specimen identifiable to this "race" of people? Mr. Keith's assessment that the "Natufians" cannot be "identified with any race on earth today" may stem from his ideological leaning that postulates, that while the "Natufians" were "Negroid", they were NOT situated in the traditional "land(s) of the Negroes", namely Africa for example, nor are they cranio-morphologically akin to the present populations of either Europe or the so-called "Near East". However, it is not clear where then, Arthur Keith assumes these "Natufians" came from; let's re-examine what the New York Times article attributes to Mr. Keith:

Sir Arthur drew the inference that the Natufians had carried Aurignacian culture into Palestine after the last glacier age, which was approximately 35000 years ago.

The question becomes: From where, did the "Natufians" supposedly "carry Aurignacian culture into Palestine after the last glacier age"? If Arthur agrees with Elliot Smith about the "impossibility" of "Natufians" having had "Negro blood", then logically, one can safely rule Africa out of this question, since one would imagine that they would have believed "Negroes" lived in Africa. The only other instance the Times article notes Aurignacian culture in association with Arthur's claims is when it mentions the similarities of "facial characteristics" with those of the "remoter Aurignacian men of Southern Europe"; to recap:

They may have been ancestors or the Arabs or Semites of biblical times, in Sir Arthur's opinion. They had some facial characteristics like those of the Neolithic or late Stone Age men of Malta and the remoter Aurignacian men of Southern Europe.

Could Arthur have been of the mindset that the "Natufians" ultimately derived from the Aurignacian men of Europe? Or was he simply seeing what would later on be identified in academia as remnants of the Neolithic Revolution demic-diffusion? But let's pause here for a second; earlier, given Arthur's agreement with Mr. Smith about the "impossibility" of "Negro blood" being involved, the direct African origin thesis was ruled out, yet elsewhere in the Times article, one might as well entertain that very origin; see:

In addition to all these riddles, Sir Arthur propounded another linking them unaccountably to ancient Ur of the Chaldees and the prehistoric man of South Africa.

These "riddles" in absence of additional material may well be indicative of Arthur's own confusion and lack of clarity about the origins of the "Natufians" at that stage of studies surrounding the "Natufian" remains, which would logically stand incompatible with his ruling out "Negro blood" in "Natufians"...unless he assumes that the "prehistoric man of South Africa" too could "hardly have had Negro blood".

There is also a pattern of thinking to be discerned from ideological positions of several observers. Whether these patterns were entirely coincidental or the byproducts of subconscious and/or conscious ideological framework of the observers at hand, is something that warrants additional investigation. Take for instance, the distinctions between Mr. Keith's position and that of Mr. Smith. Mr. Keith, while conceding to the idea that it was "hardly possible" that the "Natufians" could have had "Negro blood", could not dismiss his recognition of "Negroid" cranio-facial traits in "Natufian" samples he examined. At the same time though, so it appears from the Times article, Arthur was willing to entertain the idea that the "Natufians" may have been "cannibals", which he bases on the "cutting and fracturing of bones".

Elliott Smith on the other hand, rejected any "Negro" affiliation with the "Natufians" [whether he recognized the "Negroid" traits as Arthur did, is not clear in the article], as well as the notion that the latter could have been cannibals. In summation, one was willing to acknowledge some "Negro" element about the "Natufians", although not of a lineage one, but also willing to entertain the thought that they were cannibals, i.e. "Negroid cannibals"; whereas the other who was not willing to recognize the "Negro" element about the "Natufians", would not also accept them as "cannibals". It would seem that in the case where some "Negroid" connection—even if just a superficial one—was made, it was accompanied by what could necessarily be interpreted as a negative socio-cultural identity, while in the case where such a possibly negative socio-cultural characterization was dismissed, the "Negro" genealogical affiliation was also dismissed. Coincidental? Let the reader be the judge of that.

As far as "Natufians not identifying" with "any race" on earth "today", even Dorothy Garrod, who first uncovered the "Natufian" remains, and in fact the one who named them as such, pointed out something that would put such a notion into question, i.e. granted that the whole notion of "human races" is not scientifically tenable for starters, aside from glaring contradiction to the ascribed "Negroid" description, which essentially by default assigns the described element into one of the so-called "races" on earth "today". Garrod made it a point to "assure" her audience that her finds, the "Natufian" remains, dated to a fairly recent epoch in human biohistory; from the Times article:

Miss Dorothy Garrod, British Archaeologist, who had found the remains while working for the British School of Archaeology and the American School of Prehistoric Studies, assured the audience that they were comparatively modern and they were of the Mesolithic period.

This acknowledgment strongly challenges the idea that "Natufians" are not identifiable to "any race on earth today", for if it were otherwise, one would have to make a case that they were archaic modern humans as opposed to humans who were around well into the Holocene early city complexes of the so-called "Near East" [as the Times article acknowledges] and Africa, and substantively featured so-called plesiomorphic traits that are common on remains dating to great time depths of modern human bio-history but rare to absent in living populations, i.e. outside of the issue of robusticity, which would have been secondary to the prevailing subsistence, and many of us are now in the know that the "Natufians" would have served a transitory role between hunter-gathering and modern farming subsistence...

Proof of human occupation at this site has been found dating back approximately 45,000 years. The most significant finds, however, belong to the Natufian Culture of approximately 10,500 to 8,500 years ago (after the retreat of the last glaciation). This was a highly developed culture that made the transition from a Paleolithic to a Neolithic culture and transformed from a hunter-gatherer life-style to one of plant cultivation and animal domestication. The term Natufian was coined by Miss Dorothy Garrod. She was a pre-historian at Cambridge University, who was responsible for a large number of excavations in Palestine from 1928 to 1934, under the direction of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the American School of Prehistoric Research. Some of the subsequent excavations at this site include a (1980-1981) dig by F. Falla and O. Bar Yosef, and since 1980 by M. Weinstein-Evron. - Courtesy of Travis Calvert,, April 14th, 2001.

We are often told that specimens conforming to the so-called "generalized modern" pattern have certain "plesiomorphic" traits, which is then used as a justification by some analysts, for not identifying with a particular "race" on earth "today", even as they proclaim to recognize inclination of features towards a certain "race", usually the idealized "Negro" race.

Mr. Keith is not the only one to recognize "Negroid" characteristics about the "Natufian" remains; over the years, a number of observers arrived at more or less the same conclusion, including Furon and notably, Bar-Yosef, who noticed stone tool continuation from Northern Africa to the Levant, with the examples in the latter invoking the more derived states, and hence, crystallizing the "Near Eastern" agricultural revolution thesis. There were from earlier on, suspicions of agro-based subsistence about certain "Natufian" sites, but not as certain or as clarified as the case was by time Bar-Yosef published his findings...

“Larger blunted-back knives are common,” Garrod (1932a: 258) observed, “and a number of these have on their edges the peculiar polish produced by cutting corn or grass.” These discoveries at Shukbah set the agenda for future research by raising new and persistent questions concerning the origin of agriculture and the proper definition of the Neolithic. (By courtesy of the MAN.)

According to Bar-Yosef (1998b: 159), the most documented sequence from foraging to farming is in the Near East and the Natufian, with its evidence of cereal harvesting, is the “threshold for this major evolutionary change.”The Natufian,” wrote Caton-Thompson (1969: 346)“is the turning point between the desert and the sown, between food gatherers and food producers, between wild animal and the domestic.” - Courtesy of the University of Cambridge, the department of archeology.


Garrod did not seem to recognise the importance of the Natufian finds at first; she was surprised that there was no pottery nor domesticated animals as would be expected in Europe (Garrod 1932a). Although Dorothea Bate later found that the then Middle Natufian, or Shukbah Natufian, had domesticated dogs, Garrod’s 1928 report concentrated on the Mousterian with its implications for the origins of the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe rather than the origins of agriculture or the Neolithic revolution in the Near East. “Little at that time could she have realised that she had found the nucleus of future discoveries,” observed Caton- Thompson (1969: 346). Only later did Garrod (1957: 226) clearly note that her discovery of evidence of harvesting and of the domestication of dogs, without evidence of pottery, questioned the European definition of the Neolithic; “the old terms Mesolithic and Neolithic are no longer strictly applicable,” she concluded… - Courtesy of the University of Cambridge, the department of archeology.

The above collection of different sources seems to serve as a window for observation of the change in attitude towards these specimens called "Natufians": From the status of being mere "cannibals" to early "agriculturalists", the "Natufians" have gained a distinction of "civilizing" Europeans.

Briefly, the "Natufian" subsistence "toolbox" comprised of:

—Grindstones (mortars and pestles).

—Flint-derived arc or crescent-shaped (lunate) blades (courtesy of William F. Albright, 1961).

—Scrapers for treating animal skins (courtesy of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

—Points of bone and wood working (courtesy of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

—Awls for piercing (courtesy of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

—Stones used as fishing weights (courtesy of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

—Sickle blades attached to a bone or wooden scythe.

Other items:

—Animal hides and decorative beads.

—Ornately carved deer scapula (courtesy of Douglas V. Campana, 1979)

*Many of the mentions in this list, though not all, were referenced from the notes of Travis Calvert,, April 14th, 2001.

Another development that seriously challenges either Mr. Keith's claims of superficial "Negro-like" cranio-facial traits or Mr. Smith's ruling out of "Negro blood" in "Natufians", outside of archeological indicators, is molecular genetics. Recurrent DNA samplings have demonstrated distribution patterns that speak of demic-diffusion that spread concurrently with cultural diffusion of agriculture-based subsistence, and these implicate markers [particularly E-M35 based P2 clades] that are suggestive of recent common African ancestry. Furthermore, findings of analysts like Brace et al. (2005), while working with small sample size, confirm observations of analysts before them, like Arthur Keith, Larry Angel, Raymond Furon and Bar-Yosef. Keep in mind that analysts like Garrod and Keith worked with sufficiently large "Natufian" samples. Keith reportedly examined "twenty comparatively complete skulls of the eighty-seven found by Garrod", while Garrod herself is said to have obtained some 132 individuals from "Natufian" sites according to Furon, as cited by C.A. Diop:

Furon reports: [The caves of Erq-el-Ahmar] . . . produced 132 individuals for Miss Garrod. All these Natufians share the same physical type, completely different from that of earlier Palestinians. They are short, about 160 cm.* and dolichocephalic. They were probably Cro-Magnoid Mediterraneans, presenting certain Negroid characteristics attributable to crossbreeding... - Courtesy of C. A. Diop, African Origins of Civilization.

Now, unlike Keith, R. Furon apparently did not view the "Negroid" element as a matter of superficial similarity to supposed "true Negroes", but as the outcome of "crossbreeding", which would be the counter-logic of that which states that "it is hardly possible" that "Natufians" had "Negro blood" [Elliott Smith's position, which Arthur Keith sought to clarify that he was not in disagreement with]. As matter of technicality, Brace et al.'s (2005) findings goes more along Furon's ideological direction than that of Keith, to the extent that the "Natufians" arose out of the "crossbreeding" between geographically discrete populations that eventually came into contact and integrated into one. Furon's observation of the "Negroid characteristics" being attributable to "crossbreeding" sounds logical enough, but Diop had this to say about the author:

Consequently, their thesis is supported only by a difficult, wearisome, unscientific argumentation. According to Furon's conclusions, the Natufian, a cross between White and Black, probably antedated his Negro ancestor, who would still not have been born by the sixth millennium B.C.! And the author finds these "notions" interesting
- Courtesy of C. A. Diop, African Origins of Civilization.

Should this charge be correct, then Furon's ideas would indeed be appropriately characterized as "difficult" and "wearisome",  for the idea that "Natufians' Negroid characteristics" is "attributable to crossbreeding" logically comes into head-on collision with that of "Natufians antedating their Negro ancestors", with the latter claim suffering from an internal battle of making any sense at all. In any case, Furon's understanding of the "Negroid" characteristics being traced back to "crossbreeding" had gained more ground in the ensuing years, as exemplified by Larry Angel's observation, and even later, by analysts like Bar-Yosef and Brace; Angel notes:

"Against this background of disease, movement and pedomorphic reduction of body size one can identify Negroid traits of nose and prognathism appearing in Natufian latest hunters (McCown, 1939) and in Anatolian and Macedonian first farmers (Angel, 1972), probably from Nubia via the predecessors of the Badarians and Tasians....". - Ange1, 1972, Biological Relations of Egyptians and Eastern Mediterranean Populations during pre-dynastic and Dynastic Times, courtesy of Journal of Human Evolution, pg 307-313.

What's interesting about Angel's piece above, is that it is the first cited piece herein making a direct connection between the "Negroid traits" and the "first farmers" of the so-called "Near East" and Europe. It is first amongst the quotes referenced here, to bluntly make the case for "demic diffusion" for the spread of agricultural subsistence, as a process having involved the transmission of "Negroid traits" that originated directly in Africa! The  implication here is that the agricultural revolution was sparked by overflow of African groups into the "Near East"; their descendant "Natufian latest hunters" would serve as the conduit of the spread of farming subsistence into the "Near East" and Europe, giving rise to the first farmers in Anatolia and Macedonia. It is in essence telling the very opposite of what Smith and Keith would have us believe—i.e. it is "hardly possible" that the "Natufians" had "Negro blood", and that these "Negroid traits" notwithstanding, the "Natufians cannot be identified with any race on earth today", respectively.

Since these "Negroid traits" would have been traceable to genetic transmission from African groups, in this case, described as "ancestors" of "Badarians" and "Tasians" [and "Mushabians" from another perspective], then their morphological characteristics can be identified with recent human populations; the "Badarians" and "Tasians" are not considered to be archaic modern humans by any stretch of the imagination. "Badarians" have readily clustered with samples from recent African populations beneath the Saharan desert in a number cranial discriminant analysis, namely for example, such as those conducted by S.O.Y. Keita. The same can be said of "Mushabians", whom observers like Bar-Yosef implicate as the immediate African ancestors of "Natufians"...

Pleistocene connections between Africa and SouthWest Asia: an archaeological perspective.
By Dr. Ofer Bar-Yosef, 1987;
The African Archaeological Review;
Chapter 5, pg 29-38.

“The Mushabians moved into the Sinai from the Nile Delta, bring North African lithic chipping techniques.”

“Thus the population overflow from Northeast Africa played a definite role in the establishment of the Natufian adaptation, which in turn led to the emergence of agriculture as a new subsistence system.”

The ideal conditions that set the emergence of the "Natufian" as a turning point is explained by Bar-Yosef (1998) as follows:

On the one hand, climatic improvements around 13,000BP provided a wealth of food resources. On the other hand, contemporaneous population growth in both the steppic and desertic regions made any abrupt, short-term climatic fluctuation a motivation for human groups to achieve control over resources” (p.167). He sees a semi-sedentary lifestyle resulting from environmental change which led to a “shift of resource scheduling” (p.167).- courtesy of; "epipaleolithic background".


Fellner (1995) states that “the transition from the Geometric Kebaran to the Early Natufian culture can be described as the most important cultural change within the Epipalaeolithic of Palestine, as the lifestyle of the Natufian groups differed very substantially from that practiced by their Geometric Kebaran ancestors” (p.122) The Natufian is usually seen as a key stage in Near Eastern Prehistory as it represents many features usually associated with the Neolithic. - courtesy of; "epipaleolithic background".

It should be pointed out that Fellner (1995) reportedly disputed Bar-Yosef's position about the northern African origin of the Mushabians, according to the website [now], run by Andie Byrnes, presumably in response to a Bar-Yosef and Meadow publication; this is how it website put it:

The Mushabian is founded in southern Jordan, the Negev, and Sinai. It is usually divided into an earlier phase (c.14,500-12,800bp) and a later phase which overlaps with the Early Natufian (12,800-11,000bp).

The Classic Mushabian is characterized by a dominance of arched-back bladelets, La Mouillah points, and scalene triangles, all of which were truncated at one end using the microburin technique. Helwan lunates are also featured.

Evidence for economic activities are few and far between – there are very few botanical or faunal remains, but some rare pounding tools suggest that plant exploitation was a feature of the economy. Bar-Yosef and Meadow (1999) hypothesize that the subsistence strategies employed in the Mushabian were much the same as those of the steppic Geometric Kebaran and Hamran groups.

The Mushabian was traditionally thought to derive from North Africa via the Nile Delta and the Sinai: “The Mushabian sites in Sinai are interpreted as the remains of mobile groups budded off from the Nile region who were attracted to the expanding, lusher steppic environment” (Bar-Yosef and Meadow 1999, p.55). This view was based on the early occurrence of the microburin technique in industries like the Sisilian. “However, the recent discovery of even earlier use of the microburin technique in the Azraq Basin fundamentally weakens the argument, and may even indicate diffusion of this technique in the other direction” (Fellner 1995, p.26). Fellner believes that the Mushabian is most likely to derive from the Nizzanian of the Negev. - courtesy of; "epipaleolithic background".

It is of interest however, the website in question makes no mention of the 'Bar-Yosef and Meadows' publication dating to 1999, but one that dates back to 1995, the same year as Fellner's publication. So, the present author did a search to locate any 1999 Yosef-Meadows publication. The search came up short, which suggests that either the 'neareast.historians' webmaster, Andie Byrnes, had a typo twice, or she simply forgot to mention the title of the publication in question, in the bibliography. In any case, a Bar-Yosef and Meadow publication dating to 1999 fails to show up on Internet search, which may well be indicative of it's lack of existence.

These are the publications mentioned on the 'neareast.historians' website:

Bar-Yosef and Meadows 1995
The Origins of Agriculture in the Near East
In Price, T.D. and Gebauer, A.B. 1995
Last Hunters, First Farmers
School of American Research

Fellner, R.O. 1995
Cultural Change and the Epipalaeolithic of Palestine

This is what Andie Byrnes herself had to say in response to these revelations, August 22nd 2005:

The website mentioned,, which gives a reference to Bar-Yosef and Meadows 1999, is mine. Off the top of my head I think that I probably made a typo, but I will check back through my offline references to be on the safe side, and will update you when I have found which paper I was referring to. Apologies for the confusion!


To date, Byrnes had not accounted for the said 1999 Bar-Yosef/Meadow publication, or the correction/updating of her website!

It appears that even after Fellner's 1995 dispute, Bar-Yosef stood by his findings, and indeed, the latter's position had since increasingly gained ground via both the leading linguistic understandings of the distribution and origins of the so-called "Afro-Asiatic" language super-phylum [as we shall see shortly], and molecular genetics.

Even James Harris' and Ed Wente's findings (X-ray Atlas of the Royal Mummies, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980) on Ramesside Dynastic era remains pose a challenge to Keith's assessment that "Natufians" cannot be identified with any supposed "race on earth today". The following is based on [not necessarily directly from] the X-ray Atlas notes...

The difference between late XVII and XVIII dynasty royal mummies and contemporary Nubians is slight. During the XVIV and XX dynasties we see possibly some mixing between a Nubian element that is more similar to Mesolithic Nubians (low vaults, sloping frontal bone, etc.), with an orthognathous population. Since the Ramessides were of northern extraction, this could represent miscegenation with modern Mediterraneans of Levantine type. The projecting zygomatic arches of Seti I suggest remnants of the old Natufian/Tasian types of the Holocene period.

If the heads of Queens Nodjme and Esemkhebe are any indication, there may have been a new influx of southern blood during the XXI Dynasty.

In summation, the New Kingdom Pharaohs and Queens whose mummies have been recovered bear strong similarity to either contemporary Nubians, as with the XVII and XVIII dynasties, or with Mesolithic-Holocene Nubians, as with the XVIV and XX dynasties. The former dynasties seem to have a strong southern affinity, while the latter possessed evidence of mixing with modern Mediterranean types and also, possibly, with remnants of the old Tasian and Natufian populations. From the few sample available from the XXI Dynasty, there may have been a new infusion from the south at this period. - courtesy of

Again, here Dynastic era remains, the Ramesside Dynasty in particular, have been morphologically linked to the Tasians and Natufians, two groups mentioned in Angel's excerpt. Note that the reasoning given above for "miscegenation with modern Mediterraneans of the Levantine type", is that the Ramessides came from "northern" Egypt or were of "northern extraction"; nothing more substantive. For all we know, the Ramessides do not represent remnants of archaic modern humans any more than any living population of northern Africa; their cranio-facial features are generally pretty generic, save for the specificities noted about similarities to certain groups, like the "Mesolithic-Holocene Nubians".

Below, we have a linguistic angle on the emergence of the "Natufian" complex, essentially in line with Bar-Yosef's observations:

A Conversation with Christopher Ehret excerpt, 2004:

WHC: How does a small group of Semites coming in from Africa transform the language of a region in which they are a minority?

Ehret: One of the archaeological possibilities is a group called the Mushabaeans. This group moves in on another group that's Middle Eastern. Out of this, you get the Natufian people. Now, we can see in the archaeology that people were using wild grains the Middle East very early, back into the late glacial age, about 18,000 years ago. But they were just using these seeds as they were. At the same time, in this northeastern corner of Africa, another people the Mushabaeans? are using grindstones along the Nile, grinding the tubers of sedges. Somewhere along the way, they began to grind grain as well. Now, it's in the Mushabian period that grindstones come into the Middle East.

Conceivably, with a fuller utilization of grains, they're making bread. We can reconstruct a word for "flatbread," like Ethiopian injira. This is before proto-Semitic divided into Ethiopian and ancient Egyptian languages. So, maybe, the grindstone increases how fully you use the land. This is the kind of thing we need to see more evidence for. We need to get people arguing about this.

And by the way: we can reconstruct the word for "grindstone" back to the earliest stage of Afrasan. Even the Omati have it. And there are a lot of common words for using grasses and seeds.

Some may wonder what is significant about Brace et al.'s (2005) finding, even though they were working with a comparatively smaller sample size than some of the other analysts mentioned above. Well, not only did their results confirm those of their predecessors, but they also pointed out the multi-modal cranio-morphological trends in their "Natufian" samples; quote:

"If the late Pleistocene Natufian sample from Israel is the source from which that Neolithic spread was derived, there was clearly a sub-Saharan African element present of **almost equal importance** as the Late Prehistoric Eurasian element.”- Brace et al., 2005.

What is the significance of the implied multi-modal tendencies in the "Natufian" samples? It particularly poses a strong challenge to the notion that the so-called "Negroid" traits are superficial and any notion that some or the other of these traits are somehow plesiomorphic features that render "Natufians" unidentifiable with "any race on earth today". The existence of the discernible multi-modal tendencies suggests the union of distinctive populations.Molecular genetics is only the latest discipline to buttress the African-to-Levant and then the Levantine-to-Europe Neolithic agricultural revolution demic-diffusion narrative. The paternal markers implicated in this process, as discussed on this site before, are P2-based E-M35 and E-M78 clades, hg J clades and possibly hg G to a lesser extent, and hg R1 markers.

In the Travis Calvert piece cited earlier, we are told this about the finds in the el-Wad (Magharet el-Wad) cave:

The findings at this site include more than one hundred individual human burials on the terrace directly in front of the cave. The burials reveal body positions that were tightly flexed, like that of a fetal position. Some were found with ornamentation of bone, stone, or dentalia shell.

The crouched burial body positions are reminiscent of that practiced in several ancient African complexes, with the burials at Jebel Sahaba Cemetery 117 serving as an example in that regard [see: Chronological Bits - Crania]. It is firly rare to access photos of "Natufian" remains on the web, but here are a few that have come to attention:

Image captions: The black & white photo is reportedly showing the remains of a "Natufian" at the Ain Mallaha site, with the tag serving as a telltale sign for the specimen belonging to the H 104 tomb. This particular photo was presumably extracted from Simon J. M. Davis' and Fran├žois R. Valla's 1978 work, “Evidence for the domestication of the dog 12,000 years ago in the Natufian of Israel”. The photo on the right or bottom [a copy had also been posted at the very top of this page], depending on the reader's page format, provides us the opportunity to view a "Natufian" remains in color. Both display skeletal remains in the crouched position, facing west in this case. Click on the images for higher resolution.

The aforementioned New York Times brought yet another interesting matter to attention, to recap:

Alone Among prehistoric peoples they had a custom of extracting the two upper central incisor teeth of their women.

At the time of the publication, the analysts or authors may not have been mindful of it, but what is stated about the custom of doing away with the upper central incisor teeth, is somewhat reminiscent of those noted about so-called "Mechtoid" specimens of Taforalt and "Capsian" [see: An Investigation into the "Mysterious" Mesolithic Maghrebi populations], although in this ("Natufian") case, the practice of dental mutilation is said to be reserved for the female remains. Furthermore, as seen on at least one photographic image, the EpiPaleolithic- Early Holocene northern African counterparts may have done way with bottom incisors, in addition to the top ones.

The matter of "Natufian" limb ratios or proportions have come into question, particularly in light of Trenton Holliday's reported assessment that they are "somewhat cold-adapted". Be that as it may, the keyword here is "somewhat", as it suggests that there are also findings that do not supposedly characterize "Natufian" specimens all the way as such. That is the sort of thing one would expect, if there were mixtures of body proportions or shapes more common in populations situated in the tropics and body proportions more common in cold environments. So, to merely pronounce "Natufians" as being "cold-adapted" maybe misleading, which is why the descriptive "somewhat" has weight in Holliday's proclamation.

For what it's worth, data referenced by Hershkovitz et al. 1995 puts the brachial index means of the non-Hayonim "Natufian" samples at 77% and that of Hayonim "Natufian" samples in the range of 75-78. Apparently, the non-Hayonim collection of "Natufian" samples report a mean that is greater than that observed for either recent Europeans or Neanderthals. The Hayonim "Natufian" collection on the other hand is more varied, displaying means that range from those similar to recent Europeans to those similar to tropical African means. No data was given on the crural means. Based on these indexes, it is safe to estimate that "Natufians" are generally likely to display intermediate patterns of limb-proportions between that of the tropical African mean and that of recent Europeans, and not simplistic as the claim being attributed to Holliday, about "Natufians" being "cold-adapted". There is nothing particularly cold about the Levant.

Even if one went by the acknowledgment that the "Natufians" emerged in the Levant after the retreat of the Last Glacial Maximum, the desert environment of the Levant would have been nothing like the extreme cold climates in the greater part of Europe during the last great glacial period. One can take a cue from the conditions in northern coastal Africa [particularly the Maghrebi areas], which lies in more or less the same latitude as the Levant and the northern regions of the Arabian plate [see: map from National Geophyisical Data Center, for example]. Furthermore, in some spots of the globe, as seen in the Atlas mountain areas of coastal northwestern Africa, climatic conditions in such topography may present ideal conditions for some micro-evolutionary adaptation to the cooler environment, that is independent from that of gene flow from northern Eurasia (Europe). Coastal northwestern African had been inhabited by modern humans for nearly as long as archaic modern human types like the "Herto" man had been around, and even long before modern humans inhabit Europe; this simply means that there would have been sufficient time to adapt in some shape or form to the cooler environment of the mountainous coasts. Such development, while some might see as coincidental or parallel to the case observed in coastal northern African populations today, i.e. where limb-body proportions are concerned, actually has little to do with the latter. Living coastal northwestern African groups are comparatively late or recent arrivals to that region [For more on this matter, again please see: An Investigation into the "Mysterious" Mesolithic Maghrebi populations]. However, mixed ranges of limb-proportions of "Natufian" samples may reflect biological contributions from groups ultimately originating from geographical locations different from that of the Levant.

"Natufian" samples have been collected from several different sites namely: Hayonim cave, Kebara, el-Wad, Shukba, Eynan (Ain Mallaha), Tell Abu Hureyra, Nahal Oren,  Ramat Harif, Rosh Zin, Saiide 2, for instance. They are noticeably varied in their morphological manifestations; see for example...

The Natufian poplations sampled in the skeletal assemblages from Hayonim Cave, Kebara, El-Wad, Shukba, Nahal Oren, and Eynan display a significant range of variability in both morphology and size (Table 1; see also Arensburg et al., 1975; Belfer-Cohen et al., 1992; Ladiray and Soliveres-Massei, 1988). To speak about a “Natufian cranial morphotype” is thus simplistic and potentially misleading, although some generalizations can be made. The similarities between Ohalo I1 H2 and the sample of Natufian males is strongest in the configuration of the facial skeleton (e.g., nasal and orbital size, height and breadth of the upper face), while strong differences may be seen in the calvaria. - Hershkovitz et al. 1995

As for the Holliday claim about the "somewhat cold-adapted" physique of "Natufian", which to quote, says:

Natufians also exhibit a somewhat cold-adapted physique, albeit not as extreme as the Neandertals. - Trenton W. Holliday.

...presumably taken from a 2000 publication entitled, "Evolution at the Crossroads: Modern Human Emergence in Western Asia", the claim alone tells us little else about what brought about such a conclusion without specified context or additional information, like for example it tells the reading nothing about the indexes involved, whether the statement above is in reference to brachial or crural indices or both, or yet, body linearity, femoral head diameter, or all of the above. It says nothing about the specific "Natufian" samples that were under study, whether there were noticeable variations across samples from different sites—i.e. whether there was a dominating trend within one sample vs. that of another sample from a different site, etc? One can logically say these are obvious, if not fair questions to ask, so as to get a firm grip on from what angle the author (in this case Holliday) is arriving at his/her conclusion(s).

As a matter of intuition, there is a bias in the correlative value of limb proportion means. For instance, in all likelihood, tropical body plans are accommodated by considerable eumelanin concentration in the skin, due to the solar radiation intensity of tropical regions. Shorter limb proportions on the other hand, don't correlate as well with possible skin melanin concentration. Think for example, that KhoiSan groups are considerably darker than Europeans, but "sub-tropical" limb proportions have been reported among them. Likewise, although light in tone, the Inuit are still noticeably darker than western Europeans, while displaying fairly small indexes for their limb proportions. So, "cold-adapted" must not be mistaken to mean "white".

*Subject to modification and/or updates as additional information come to attention.

—New York Times, Bones of Cannibals: A Palestine Riddle, 1932.

—Travis Calvert,, April 14th, 2001.

—Dr. Ofer Bar-Yosef, Pleistocene connections between Africa and SouthWest Asia: an archaeological perspective, 1987.

—Ange1, 1972, Biological Relations of Egyptians and Eastern Mediterranean Populations during pre-dynastic and Dynastic Times.

—C. A. Diop, African Origins of Civilization, 1974.

—Trenton W. Holliday, Evolution at the Crossroads: Modern Human Emergence in Western Asia, 2000.

—Hershkovitz et al., Ohalo II H2: A 19,000-Year-Old Skeleton From a Water-Logged Site at the Sea of Galilee, Israel, 1995.

—Brace et al. (2005), The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form.

—Christopher Ehret, A Conversation with Christopher Ehret, 2004.

—James Harris and Edward Wente, X-ray Atlas of the Royal Mummies, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980.

—University of Cambridge, the department of archeology.

—Simon J. M. Davis' and Fran├žois R. Valla's, “Evidence for the domestication of the dog 12,000 years ago in the Natufian of Israel”, 1978.

—Andie Byrnes,, 2005.

—Personal notes spanning 2005, 2006, and 2010.

For the PDF format of the present post, click here:  Trivia On the Natufians


Too Tall Jones said...

Another great piece,including debunking the distorted and wishful thinking of some about the Natufians. Diop's sarcastic observations are priceless, as are the references, painstakingly listed! Thanks for the roundup!

Nakhti said...

I really enjoyed this article. It is so rare to find information on the mysterious Natufians. I would like to know if you agree with Ehret that the spread of Afrasan in the Middle East could be traced to Natufians or their African ancestors the Mushabeans.

I think Ehret in that interview with Tom Laichas which you quoted at the time traced Proto-Semitic to these African groups.However his most recent study, using Bayesian computational
phylogenetic techniques with Andrew Kitchen and others seem to trace the origin of Semitic( including Ethiopian Semitic)to the Middle East.

What do you think are the implications of these new findings. And how much do they contradict if at all what he said about proto-semitic being related to Mushabeans or even Natufians. Afterall he had to severely cut back on the age of of proto-semitic, with the results of his new findings.

And finally do these new findings in anyway challenge the East African origins of Afrasan? Well Ehret himself does not seem to think so, but i would love to hear what you have to say about it, anyway.

Mystery Solver said...


I'm of the opinion that Ehret's earlier assessment about the movement of proto-Afrisan speakers from Africa mainland and then into the Levant to be the more plausible one. The spread has parallels with genetic data [e.g. hg E1b1b clades], and certain archeological findings [e.g. noted Bar Yosef publications]

As for his more recent work, involving the Bayesian modeling, I've made it known what I've taken from it in the following link: