Nubian A- and C-Groups

Principal Investigator: Dr. Nancy C. Lovell

Supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Alberta


Nubia served in antiquity as an important north-south corridor for trade and military contacts with civilizations of Egypt and the Ethiopian highlands, and as a route east to the Red Sea and west through the Chad depression to West Africa. Much of our knowledge of ancient Nubia comes from a series of archaeological surveys and salvage excavations that began in 1907, prior to the raising of the first Aswan dam. The last salvage campaign was directed by UNESCO and involved 27 countries in excavation and preservation work during the 1960s and 1970s along a stretch of the Nile River that was to be flooded by the construction of the Aswan High Dam, south of Aswan.

The skeletal remains examined in this study of biological affinities and palaeopathology were excavated by the Scandinavian Joint Expedition in 1963-1964 and are now curated at the Laboratory of Biological Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. The A-Group sample is from Site 277 and dates to the Classic/Terminal A-Group, corresponding to the Egyptian protodynastic or Archaic periods, the time of Egyptian unification.

The C-Group remains are from Site 179, which is most likely contemporaneous with the First Intermediate Period or early Middle Kingdom of dynastic Egyptian civilization.


The results of this study reveal significantly greater frequencies of caries, periapical abscesses and AMTL in the C-Group compared to the preceding A-Group. More severe tooth wear in the C-Group, which traditionally would be interpreted as consistent with a hunting-gathering subsistence base, can instead be attributed to grit in the diet resulting from the processing of agricultural produce with sandstone and quartzite mortars and grinding stones, and perhaps also to the intentional addition of grit to grain in order to facilitate grinding.

Other pathological conditions evident in the cranial sample are cribra orbitalia and porotic hyperostosis, which are usually considered to indicate anemia.


1994 Beckett, Sean and Nancy C. Lovell. Dental Disease Evidence for Agricultural Intensification in The Nubian C-Group. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 4:223-240


Data from cranial and dental non-metric traits from Sites 277 and 179 were used to assess biological differentiation between the A-Group and C-Group. Results indicate biological continuity, consistent with in situ evolution (although the problem of small samples requires that these results be accepted with caution). Although the diffusion of ideas of material culture into the area through military and trade contacts is likely, any archaeologically visible cultural differences are more consistent with local cultural evolution than with the importation of a new cultural system through the migration of a foreign population into the area.


1996 Prowse, Tracy L and Nancy C. Lovell. Concordance of Cranial and Dental Non-Metric Traits and Evidence for Endogamy in Ancient Egypt. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 101:237-246

1995 Johnson, Andrew L. and Nancy C. Lovell. Dental Morphological Evidence for Biological Continuity Between the A-Group and C-Group Periods in Lower Nubia. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 5:368-376

1995 Prowse, Tracy L. and Nancy C. Lovell. Biological Continuity Between the A- and C-Groups in Lower Nubia: Evidence from Cranial Non-metric Traits. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 5:103-114


1995 Biological Affinities and State Formation in Ancient Egypt. Scholar's Day, Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, Toronto

1995 Biological Continuity Between the Lower Nubian A- and C-Groups. Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Oakland (refereed abstract)


1994 Johnson, Andrew. MA "Biological variation and population affinity in the ancient Nile Valley: An analysis of dental morphological traits"

1994 Prowse, Tracy. MA "Biological affinities of ancient Egyptians and Nubians: An analysis of cranial nonmetric traits"


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