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Thread: When did Nubia become Nubian?

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    When did Nubia become Nubian?

    Weird title, I know. But the question is pretty straight-forward: When exactly did Nubia becoming Nubian-speaking? I've noticed that some scholars believe the early Kerma-Culture of the region was probably Erythraeic-speaking* due to things like loans in Nubian but what about the Kingdom of Kush? How, for instance, do they know, with any certainty, that these loans in Nubian weren't from the Kushites? Though I'm aware that Meroitic's linguistic classification, last I checked, is unknown and we don't know for certain if it was either Afro-Asiatic or Nilo-Saharan let-alone an ancestor to Nubian or an Erythraeic language (though I've seen some scholars make arguments for either one of the two).


    Nubia basically sits between the first and sixth cataracts labeled above

    From what I know, the earliest confirmed example of Nubian (Old Nubian) in the historical record dates to no earlier than around the 8th century CE when it was being written with a Greek script whilst being utilized by entities like the Kingdom of Makuria.

    Now, what I want to know is how much earlier than this do most scholars figure the Nilo-Saharan Nubian-speakers made their way into Nubia. What does the linguistic evidence and archaeology tell us? I've been trying to look this up myself a little lately but not too much useful stuff pops up online and everything that could be useful seems like a book I need to buy so I figured I'd take a momentary short-cut and see if anyone out here in the inter-webs knows a thing or two.

     
    * Agamemnon once suggested that it was possibly North-Erythraeic speaking and that Beja is possibly a remnant of once greater North-Erythraeic linguistic diversity, something I guess I find plausible.

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    I know it doesn't count for much (if anything), but Egyptian depictions of Nubians have them looking quite like modern Nilotes, whereas modern Nubians look very Eurasian-influenced, at least to my eye:

    image.jpg

    Also, I know there is a debate over whether Meroitic is related to Nubian or not, but is there any archaeological evidence of a recent migration from the south that could have brought Nubian?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Awale View Post
    When exactly did Nubia becoming Nubian-speaking?


    ● A good guess would be towards the latter end of the Neolithic Subluvial (Holocene Wet Phase): ~3500–3000 BCE



    The shift towards a Nilo-Saharan language would be well suited during this desertification period when populations previously occupying an increasingly arid Sahara migrated to Nile valley. The afmd time period coincides well with Batrawi’s craniological observations of an increasing amount of more typically Sub-Saharan-like crania found in Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia. This period of “appreciable modification owing to mixture” was dated to remains from a timeline between the Late Predynastic and Early Dynastic Period which agrees with the period of climatic changes towards the latter end of the Neolithic Subluvial (3500–3000 BCE).


    Here’s the original quote [2], *pardon the passé racial jargon - the paper was published in first half of the 20th century:
     
    "A distinct human type inhabited both Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia in the early Predynastic times (indigenous North-African/Coptic-like populations?). At the late Predynastic period and early Dynastic, that early race had undergone an appreciable modification owing to mixture with an alien type coming into Upper Egypt from the North (Near Easterners?) and another alien negro type introduced into Lower Nubia from the South (Nilotics+Erythraeic speakers?). The negro element was, however, at first very small, but in the Third Dynasty it suddenly became more pronounced, although it was still relatively slight in amount. This process of intermixture proceeded quietly from the Third Dynasty onward, the population of negroes gradually increasing and a comparatively homogeneous blend of the Predynastic Egyptian and the Negro types is produced in the time of the New Kingdom."

    Admittedly, the paper uses terms based on old 19th century pseudo-scientific racial ideologies. Rigid classifications of phenotypes cross notions of racial lines and would have especially done so with populations in Northeastern Africa – case and point, Erythraeic speakers who are anciently admixed from West Eurasian and Nilotic-like ancestry. So why did I even post this quote… IMHO within this secluded region and specific time-period, these comparative phenotypic observations based on characteristics that are more apparent in respective populations, although limited in scope, *might shed some light on your question. If we pardon Batrawi's terminologies and assume his analysis was with clear intention, the dates would line up with the end of the Neolithic Subpluvial. *I actually found this quote from a more contemporary paper (Rampersad, 1999); the critique that follows is also worth reading [2] (pg 38,39)




    Regarding linguistics, here's a suggestion from Török with Rilly [3] for the peopling of the Dongola region toward the end of Neolithic Subpluvial (Wet Phase) - there's also mention of Proto-Merotic speakers:

     
    "With the end of the Neolithic Wet Phase around the middle of the third millennium BC, the increasing aridity drove away the cattle-breeding populations from the Wadi Howar in the south and the Laqiya Region in the north. Populations from the Wadi Howar moved to the Dongola region. Arguing on the basis of the dominance of Proto-Meroitic names in the name material of the Kerman elite, Claude Rilly suggested that a part of these populations were Proto-Meroitic-speakers, similarly to earlier, mid-fourth millennium immigrants from the Wadi Howar. It also would seem highly probable that after c.2500 BC the mass immigration from the Wadi Howar played a significant role in the emergence of the Kerma Kingdom." [3] (pg 6, P3)

    I wonder if these episodic waves of pastoral immigrants could have been partially responsible for the high A-M13 frequencies [4] (*despite being of a small sample set) found at neolithic Kadruka sites in the Northern Dongola region:
     
    "Haplogroups A-M13 was found at high frequencies among Neolithic samples. Haplogroup F-M89 and YAP appeared to be more frequent among Meroitic, Post-Meroitic and Christian periods. Haplogroup B-M60 was not observed in the sample analyzed... In Y-chromosome terms this mean in simplest terms introgression of the YAP insertion (haplogroups E and D), and Eurasian Haplogroups which are defined by F-M89 against a background of haplogroup A-M13. The data analysis of the extant Y-chromosomes suggests that the bulk of genetic diversity appears to be a consequence of recent migrations and demographic events mainly from Asia and Europe, evident in a higher migration rate for speakers of Afro-Asiatic as compared to the Nilo-Saharan family of languages, and a generally higher effective population size for the former."


    I still find it a bit shocking though that there's next to 0 detection of A-M13 in modern Nubians but this gradual decrease paints the picture quite clearly. One could envision the same scenario panning out among the populations of the Songhai branch of Nilo-Saharan speakers -- another NS language group also found on a major river (along the Niger bend). Similar to modern Nubians, their language might be classified as NS but their modern Y-DNA has little to no trace of A-M13.

    A Haplogroup Distribution Map courtesy of Passa


    This is supplementary info [5] (pg 774, P5) reinforcing the importance of the Wadi Howar (former Yellow Nile) as a main corridor for the dispersal of NS speakers (into Nubia). It also demonstrates the common linguistic similarities between Erythraeic and Nilo-Saharan speakers as a possible result of long-term cultural contacts, among other reasons. With this taken into account, it's no wonder the classification of some languages in this region are problematic:
     
    From a morphosyntactic point of view, Nilo-Saharan language groups spoken in an area ranging from northern Ethiopia and Eritrea across north=central Sudan and extending into Chad and Nigeria share typological features with Afroasiatic languages in Ethiopia. These include a basic constituent order whereby the verb occurs in final position, an extensive case marking system, verbal compounding (e.g., with 'say' or other types of light verbs, such as 'put' or 'do'), as well as the use of converbs as dependent verb forms in complex sentences, although not all properties are necessarily present in all groups. These common typological features to some extent may be due to areal diffusion as a result of long-term cultural contacts and corresponding patterns of multilingualism between speech communities in these areas. The Wadi Howar also known as the Yellow Nile (a former river sanctuary and tributary to the Nile which connected the mountainous area in eastern Chad with the Nile Valley from about 8000 BC till about 1000 BC; cf. Figure 1), possibly constituted an important geographical condition for this cultural and linguistic diffusion... The gradual extinction of this riverine system may have resulted in a diaspora of Nilo-Saharan languages from the Wadi Howar region in an eastern, western, and southern direction.


    Fig 1) Nilo-Saharan Language Map from the previous citation:

    Following the principle of diversity and least moves, linguists argue for either the Chad/Sudan border or the Ethiopian/Sudan border (between the Blue and White Nile) as the language family's region of origin -- the Wadi Howar is dotted in blue. Ehret, among others, suggests the distribution of the NS language groups "may reflect ancient water courses in a green Sahara during the Neolithic Subpluvial"[1], so one could envision the a disruption of river systems caused a seismic shift of migration to main river tributaries. During the end of the NSP, when the Wadi was still the Yellow Nile, it would've acted as a direct highway to Northern Sudan as it dried out. *note on the map where the group of Nubian branch of NS languages commences, it's inextricably linked to the Yellow Nile (modern Wadi Howar).

    The demand on urban organization for this new age of population density might have triggered the early nile valley state formations. From inception, Nobiin might have been a creole language mixed with characteristics inherent in both Nilo-Saharan and Erythraeic languages. Alternatively, maybe it had more pronounced features akin to less disputed NS languages -- overtime, as reflected with increased frequency of YDNA YAP hgs (E1b1b & co) in post Merotic eras, the language could have taken on more Erythraeic traits -- Perhaps this is what renders Nobiin almost impossible to classify in a major language family without disagreement between major linguists.

    ...maybe one day we'll find a Meroitic version of the Rosetta Stone - until then





    [1] Ancient Watercourses and Biogeography of the Sahara explain the Peopling of the desert - Drake NA, Blench RM, Armitage SJ, Bristow CS, White KH. 2011
    [2] The Origin and Relationships of the Nubian A-Group – Rampersad, 1999
    [3] Between Two Worlds: The Frontier Region between Ancient Nubia and Egypt 3700 BC - AD 500 - Török, 2009
    [4] Genetic Patterns of Y-chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Variation, with Implications to the Peopling of the Sudan - Hisham, 2009
    [5] Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World - Brown, Ogilvie. 2009

    [Honorable Mention] Horn Africans: A mixture between East Africans & West Eurasians (Awale, 2015)
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    Quote Originally Posted by fished View Post
    I know it doesn't count for much (if anything), but Egyptian depictions of Nubians have them looking quite like modern Nilotes, whereas modern Nubians look very Eurasian-influenced, at least to my eye:

    image.jpg

    Also, I know there is a debate over whether Meroitic is related to Nubian or not, but is there any archaeological evidence of a recent migration from the south that could have brought Nubian?
    - Keen observation!

    They do bare a striking resemblance, especially among Nilotic and Omotic speakers in South-Western Ethiopia:

     


    Turkana People: Nilo-Saharan - Eastern Sudanic





    Hamar People: Afro-Asiatic(Erythraeic) - Omotic




    *the ensemble of ostrich feather headgear, twisted hairstyle and ochre hair-dye are near identical to some dynastic depictions of people's in Nubia



    The Turkana (pg 197, P3) and Hamar are cited in this paper as among the only surviving populations still practicing a kind of horn deformation found in Neolithic Kerma Cemeteries:

    "Starting with bucrania deposited in front of burials, notably those with deformed horns, the authors hope to understand the meaning of this practice by observing its technical aspects and by making ethnographic comparisons, following an investigation amongst the Hamar of Southern Ethiopia. Finally, it is expected that this research shall shed some light on the bucrania deposits found in front of tombs of the Kerma civilisation."

    "A Nubian culture that emerged in the early third millennium, the Kingdom of Kerma has retained in a rather lively fashion certain traditions of the pastoral societies that preceded it, notably the tight relationship between man and cattle." [1]

    Notice again, this new cattle culture happened to emerge during the latter end of the Neolithic Subpluvial (~3500-3000BC) -- this again corroborates with the theory of an influx of nilotes during this time period. Although I'm not sure if this can be used to make a concrete clear-cut connection to the afmd Nilotes of Kerma but it sure is an interesting ethnographic comparison.

    *IMO, the most stunning resemblance of dynastic egyptians are generally found among modern Erythraeic speaking populations -- some of the most peculiar hairstyles/phenotypes are simply not found anywhere else. That's a subjective topic for another thread though -- or maybe another forum all in all




    [1] Bucrania from the Eastern Cemetery at Kerma (Sudan) and the Practice of Cattle Horn Deformation - (L Chai, 2012)
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    I do remember seeing a video with Archeological evidence of stone age warefare between the 2 racial groups in the region.

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    EXCITING TOPICS ENERGIZE CURIOSITY

    Thanks for sharing your workflow it's amazing how many questions you've stimulated. the ability to find information that keeps telling us a story. I'll continue to check around and I'll look forward to seeing what I can.

    Site 117: Reconstructing The Lives And Deaths Of The Deceased At Nubia's Earliest Known Cemetery
    Casey L Kirkpatrick











    Abstract:
    Site 117 is Nubia’s oldest known cemetery and is most famously believed to be the world’s earliest possible evidence of large-scale violence (or perhaps warfare). Excavation of this Upper Paleolithic cemetery revealed many skeletons with evidence of trauma, some with embedded lithics, and a total of 189 lithic artifacts found in director possible association with the burials. Site 117 was excavated through salvage archaeology by the ‘Combined Prehistoric Expedition’ prior to the completion of the Egyptian High Dam in 1970, which submerged the site in the resulting reservoir.
    This study explores the lives and deaths of the individuals interred at Site 117 through a macroscopic analysis of the skeletal collection and a re-examination of archival materials stored at The British Museum. This re-analysis and reinterpretation of the available evidence focus on archaeological and paleopathological factors indicating possible settlement patterns, subsistence methods, burial traditions, population morbidity and possible causes for the observed evidence of trauma.
    The low prevalence of dental and skeletal indicators of physiological stress and malnutrition observed in this study does not support the hypothesis asserting that there was a long-term depletion of nutritional resources, which may have resulted in violent competition between tribes. More technologically advanced studies may, however, reveal additional evidence of physiological stress than that which is observable through macroscopic analysis. While it remains possible that the majority, if not all, of the individuals interred at the site, were fatally injured, this study supports the hypothesis that this cemetery was revisited and reused.

    Research Interests: Prehistoric Archaeology, Epidemiology, Bioarchaeology, Paleopathology, Sudanese Archaeology, and 9 more

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