Geometric Morphometric Study of Population Variation in Indigenous Southern African Crania

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Much of our understanding of population variation in southern Africa is derived from traditional morphometric research. In the search for new perspectives, this paper reports on new geometric morphometric data examining cranial variation in 12 modern human populations from southern Africa. In total, 298 male Bantu-speaking individuals were studied. In addition, a small Khoisan (Khoikhoi and San) series was also examined. The purpose of this study was to investigate Khoisan-Bantu morphological similarities and differences, and to examine variation within both the Bantu-speaking and Khoisan populations. The three-dimensional coordinates of 96 landmarks were analyzed, using the shape-analysis software morphologika. Interpopulation variation was examined by calculating Procrustes distances between groups; a cluster analysis was then used to summarize phenetic relationships. A principal components analysis explored the relationships between populations; shape differences were visualized and explored using three-dimensional rendered models, and further interpreted using thin-plate splines. Morphological differences are present within and between the crania of Bantu-speaking and Khoisan individuals. The Khoisan demonstrate features (e.g., a pentagonoid vault, more rounded forehead contour, and a small and less prognathic face) that clearly distinguish them from Bantu-speaking populations. Although southern African Bantu-speaking populations are clearly closely related, they show population-specific features (e.g., the crania of more southerly populations (Xhosa, Southern Sotho, and Zulu) are characteristically more brachycephalic and less prognathic). This study suggests that differential admixture with adjacent Khoisan peoples has contributed to diversity within southern African Bantu-speaking populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-33
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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