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Genetics, Egypt, and History: Interpreting Geographical Patterns of Y Chromosome Variation1

  • S.O.Y. Keita (a1) and A.J. Boyce (a2)

Modern Egypt, the site of Africa's earliest state, lies near the crossroads of two other continents, and has had historic interactions with all its neighboring regions. This alone would make it an ideal place to study historical population biology. Egypt can also be conceptualized as a linear oasis in the eastern Sahara, one that traverses several regions of Africa. An oasis can be a way station or serve as a refugium, as well as be a place of settlement with its own special biological and cultural adaptive strategies. Both of these perspectives—crossroads and oasis/refugium—can be expected to provide insight into the processes that could have affected the Nile valley's populations/peoples. From these vantage points this presentation will examine aspects of what might be called the historical genetics of the Nile valley, with a focus on the Y chromosome. The time-frame is the late pleistocene through holocene; within this there are different levels of biocultural history. Of special interest here is patterns of north-south variation in the Egyptian Nile valley.

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Discussions over a long period of time with G.A. Harrison provided useful input for the outline of this presentation, as did John Baines. P. Underhill provided useful comments that improved this manuscript. I wish to also thank F. Wendorf, F. Hassan, C. Ehret, A. Brooks, and R. Kittles, and the numerous participants at the Poznan Symposium on the Archaeology of Northeast Africa who shared data about the early Sahara, especially M. Kobusiewicz. Much more collaboration is planned with them. This piece is dedicated to John Baines, Professor of Egyptology at Oxford University, a supervisor and friend who provided much insight into ideas about, and the workings of, ancient Egypt. I would also recall the life and work of the late Larry Angel, another of my teachers, who was one pioneer in the synthesis of biological, linguistic, historical, and cultural data.

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