Dental morphology and variation across holocene Khoesan people of Southern Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Dental analyses of the Holocene Khoesan populations of southern Africa can provide insight into the biological evolution of an anthropologically important people. There have been many studies of dental variation in Holocene populations of Europe and the Americas, but few of African populations. Despite the Khoesan being the focus of much osteological research over the last two decades, their dental morphology is understudied and we know little about their dental evolution. Here, I assess the metric and non-metric dental morphology and variation of Holocene Khoesan individuals across southern Africa (N=487). Due to the fragmentary nature of many archaeological skeletons, most previous work on Khoesan osteology has focused on the second half of the Holocene, because more recent skeletons tend to be better preserved. There are, however, relatively abundant and well-preserved dental remains from the early Holocene. These are studied in detail for the first time in this dissertation, adding to our understanding of the emergence of Holocene Khoesan dentition and providing insight into phenotypic (and presumably genetic) continuity in this region. In addition to examining similarities/differences among the Khoesan through space and time, comparisons are made between the teeth of Khoesan and those of Holocene archaeological skeletons from East Africa (Kenya) to provide a broader context for interpreting the Khoesan dentition. Comparisons are also made between Holocene Khoesan and Mid-Late Pleistocene teeth from southern Africa in order to provide insights into dental relationships deeper in time. There are six aims of this thesis: (1) to construct the population's dental map and with it, (2) evaluate the significance of Khoesan Late mid-Holocene body size fluctuations and (3) assess the question of population continuity or replacement ca. 2000 BP with the introduction of herding in South Africa, (4) to explore possible geographic differences among Khoesan dentitions (5) to investigate temporal differences within the Holocene, and also to compare Holocene and earlier hunter-gatherers to assess population continuity/discontinuity, and (6) to evaluate the position of Khoesan dentition in a global context. Up to 52 non-metric traits were scored using the Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System. To test for significant relationships between groups through time, chi-square statistics were employed on dichotomised data and the mean measure of divergence was assessed in order to identify phenetic similarities and dissimilarities between regions. Additionally, MANOVAs and Principal Components Analysis were used to investigate size and shape variation. Metric analyses demonstrate minor size/shape variation between temporal and regional groups. Increased metric variation is observed during the Late Holocene, coinciding with fluctuations in body size documented in previous studies. Although some differences in trait frequencies are observed during the Late Holocene, there is little variation in qualitative traits throughout the Khoesan sample. This suggests that the minor differences observed result from intrinsic factors such as geographic variation, rather than gene flow from outlying areas. Teeth from the Mid-Late Pleistocene demonstrate a degree of phenetic affinity to Holocene Khoesan dentition. Finally, the Khoesan dentition is significantly different from global dental complexes, as exemplified by a suite of twelve core Khoesan traits that distinguish Khoesan teeth from other dental patterns (including Afridonty). Taken together, these results support hypotheses of morphological and genetic continuity in southern African populations during the Holocene, with some evidence for continuity deeper in time. In addition, these results place the Khoesan dentition at the margins of the range of human dental variation and call into question the fit of this dental map into current sub-Saharan African dental models.

Includes bibliographical references.