In southern Africa, the Later Stone Age and the Early Iron Age are generally treated as separate archaeologies, as if they really were different periods. In fact, the entire Iron Age overlaps with the last part of the Later Stone Age, and it is argued here that at the sub-continental scale the archaeology of one ‘Age’ might be better understood with reference to the other. The point is illustrated by plotting the distribution of all first millennium ceramics on the same map, regardless of their ‘Age.’ This sheds new light on the history of interactions and perhaps population movements in the sub-continent during the first millennium AD.
The first millennium BC in Sudan sees the birth of the Kushite (Napatan and then Meroitic) Kingdom. Royal cities, cemeteries and centres of religious power have attracted archaeologists and historians while peripheral areas have only rarely seen any systematic investigations. This lack of research provides difficulties in interpreting the limited evidence of the Napatan and Meroitic periods located on the White and Blue Niles and limits our comprehension of the role of this region within the political, economic and cultural framework of the kingdom. Recently, a multiphase cemetery was discovered at the site of Al Khiday 2, on the west bank of the White Nile, which was also used by a small group that is thought to be closely related to the Meroitic. The graves excavated have produced a bio-archaeological sample that is presented here with detailed descriptions of the funerary practices, including different types of grave structures, grave goods, burial position and orientation of the inhumations, as well as an overview of the anthropological analysis of this population. These findings are placed within the wider context of Meroitic studies by providing comparisons with contemporaneous sites, highlighting the possible elements of contiguity with that world, as well as providing some reflection on future research directions.
Ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis was employed to obtain information on the population relationships of the two Thulamela individuals (AD 1400-1700) and six other skeletons from various archaeological sites of the southern African Iron Age – Tuli (Botswana), Nwanetsi, Makgope, Happy Rest and Stayt. Although sequences were short, it seems that the Thulamela female aligns somewhat more with eastern populations as opposed to the male who aligns more with western groups. This result is not surprising given that the two individuals were buried at the same site but their burials were hundreds of years apart. It was also possible to identify genetic links between the Iron Age individuals and modern southern African populations (e.g. some of the skeletons assessed showed maternal genetic similarities to present-day Sotho/Tswana groups) and to separate the samples into at least two genetic groups. Poor quality and quantity of DNA meant that only haplogroups, not subhaplogroups, of the individuals could be traced.