Human burials at the Kisese II rockshelter, Tanzania

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2021 May;175(1):187-200. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.24253. Epub 2021 Feb 21.


Objectives: The Late Pleistocene and early Holocene in eastern Africa are associated with complex evolutionary and demographic processes that contributed to the population variability observed in the region today. However, there are relatively few human skeletal remains from this time period. Here we describe six individuals from the Kisese II rockshelter in Tanzania that were excavated in 1956, present a radiocarbon date for one of the individuals, and compare craniodental morphological diversity among eastern African populations.

Materials and methods: This study used standard biometric analyses to assess the age, sex, and stature of the Kisese II individuals. Eastern African craniodental morphological variation was assessed using measures of dental size and a subset of Howells' cranial measurements for the Kisese II individuals as well as early Holocene, early pastoralist, Pastoral Neolithic, and modern African individuals.

Results: Our results suggest a minimum of six individuals from the Kisese II collections with two adults and four juveniles. While the dating for most of the burials is uncertain, one individual is directly radiocarbon dated to ~7.1 ka indicating that at least one burial is early Holocene in age. Craniodental metric comparisons indicate that the Kisese II individuals extend the amount of human morphological diversity among Holocene eastern Africans.

Conclusions: Our findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that Late Pleistocene and early Holocene eastern Africans exhibited relatively high amounts of morphological diversity. However, the Kisese II individuals suggest morphological similarity at localized sites potentially supporting increased regionalization during the early Holocene.

Keywords: early Holocene; eastern Africa; morphological variation.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology
  • Burial / history*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Tanzania
  • Young Adult