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Africoid peoples

Africoid peoples are human populations of varying phenotypes who are considered black regardless of recent African ancestry.. Bioanthropologist S.O.Y. Keita however, uses the term to describe African descent populations whose morphological variants originate exclusively within the African continent.

An inclusive term?

A broad usage of the term, Africoid is used not only to describe peoples of African descent, but is also used to refer to other peoples who also often are also referred to as black, but whom some anthropologists have in the past termed Hamitic, Capoid, Australoid (also known as Veddoid when applied to Southeast Asians), and Sudroids or more inclusively Dravidians, because they exhibit certain craniofacial and other physical characteristics which are not commonly attributed to so-called "Negroid" peoples. Chief among these physical characteristics are limited or nonexistent prognathism, a brachycephalic cranium (in the case of Capoid blacks), or hair which is relatively straight and finer in texture (in the case of, again, some "Caucasoid", Sudroid, Veddoid, and Australoid people). Polynesians are seen as part Africoid due to the admixture of Australoid and Mongoloid characteristics. The Africoid concept is expounded upon in the works of Afrocentric scholars such as Cheikh Anta Diop, and Chancellor Williams. Those such as Keita however, see little value in overextending the term to include relationships among genetically distinct peoples, such as Africans and "Australoids", preferring to use the term in context with biohistorical African populations of recent African extraction.

Users of the term point to Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis and Nubians who exhibit phenotypical traits such as orthognathism, non-kinky hair texture, and keen facial features seen by some as being exclusive to Caucasoid peoples. They contend such variations are indigenous to these groups and cannot be attributed to invasions from outside Caucasoid peoples as suggested under the Dynastic Race Theory and in more recent biological studies. Such phenotypical variations, they argue, often occur within nuclear family groups and are inherent to Africoid peoples, much as there are broad variations in physical stature and body proportions between the Pygmies of the Congo, who generally reach a height of 4.5 feet, and of the Dinka or Tutsi of Rwanda, whose average height is 6.5 feet and who are described as "gracile", or gracefully slender. Similarly, they continue, African peoples commonly considered "Negroid" such as the Senegalese also may lack prognathism..

Critics point out that the "elongated" physique common to many Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis is strictly an adaptive response to living in a tropical environment and not a sign of shared racial ancestry with neighboring black groups as has been proposed:

The elongation of the distal segments of the limbs is also clearly related to the dissipation of metabolically generated heat. Because heat stress and latitude are clearly related, one would expect to find a correlation between the two sets of traits that are associated with adaptation to survival in areas of great ambient temperature, namely, skin color and limb proportions. This is clearly the case in such areas as Equatorial Africa, the tropical portions of South Asia, and northern Australia, although there is little covariation with other sets of inherited traits. In this regard it is interesting to note that the limb proportions of the Predynastic Naqada in Upper Egypt are reported to be "super-Negroid", meaning that the distal segments are elongated in the fashion of tropical Africans. It would be just as accurate to call them "super-Veddoid" or "super-Carpentarian" because skin color intensification and distal limb elongation are apparent wherever people have been long-term residents of the tropics. The term "super-tropical" would be better, as it implies the results of selection associated with a given latitude rather than the more "racially loaded" term "Negroid.
However, many anthropologists indeed contend that this elongated morphology, as seen in East Africa has been present since Paleolithic times, while suggesting that those early African ancestors should indeed be directly ancestral to the living populations of East Africa today, and that this variation should owe little to external influences.

Additionally, some argue that certain African peoples exhibit physical characteristics beyond the scope of the classic Negroid phenotype, including narrow nasal indices in the case of Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis, as well as a minority of the often very dark-skinned peoples of the Nile region. They also cite the epicanthic eyefolds evident in the Khoisan of southern Africa.

Their critics counter that the phenotypical differences between Horn of African peoples and sub-Saharan blacks run much deeper than mere facial features and are compounded by genetic differences:

East Africans are more related to Eurasians than to other African populations. Investigations of Y chromosome markers have shown that the East African populations were not significantly affected by the east bound Bantu expansion that took place approximately 3500 years ago, while a significant contact to Arab and Middle East populations can be deduced from the present distribution of the Y chromosomes in these areas.
However, many geneticists who have found similar results, where populations straddling the horn of Africa are seen to possess intermediate genetic tendencies, suggest that such genetic diversity in Africa is expected, given the immense time depths of human habitation there, while Tishkoff (1996) found such variation to be as a result of natural drift and local evolution, also citing similarities with non-Africans due to her assertion that the horn of Africa populations are direct descendants of those migrants who left Africa to people the rest of the world.

Africoid critics also add that skin color is not an indication of racial affiliation, but a morphological adaptation to one's environment:

Skin color is one of the most conspicuous ways in which humans vary and has been widely used to define human races. Here we present new evidence indicating that variations in skin color are adaptive, and are related to the regulation of ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetration.... Skin coloration in humans is adaptive and labile. Skin pigmentation levels have changed more than once in human evolution. Because of this, skin coloration is of no value in determining phylogenetic relationships among modern human groups."

Many anthropologists have observed that Caucasoid is applied inconsistently and challenge as Eurocentric and inappropriate the use of a term which contains a European geographic referent to refer to people who are indigenous to the African continent. Further, they argue that the term is misleading and that, as a result, it erroneously has been conflated by some to mean non-Black or even White — despite the fact that so-called Caucasoid Africans range from brown to mahogany to extremely dark in skin tone. This is also the case with some "Caucasoid" peoples of the Indian subcontinent, i.e., the Dravidians, whom some Afrocentrists regard as Africoid, as well.

Many contend that affixing the Caucasoid label to African peoples runs counter to phenotypical naming conventions, which historically have associated peoples with their geographic points of origin. They, therefore, have been the chief proponents and users of the term Africoid as what they consider to be a more accurate, inclusive and all-encompassing term for indigenous, dark-skinned peoples of the African continent and the African diaspora.

Critics, on the other hand, point out that skin color is independent of race and is strictly a signifier of long term residence in tropical latitudes. Therefore, the term "Africoid" may be misleading in some settings since it allows its users to corral people of very different genetic backgrounds into one umbrella racial group based on loosely and inconsistently shared physical characteristics such as skin color -- characteristics that are a product of adaptation and not ancestry

However, skin color is not a criterion used in defining "Africoid" within its biogeographical (as opposed to social) context, which is a term used to describe Africans and their descendants who possess variants that independently arose in Africa.

Criticism of race categorization

Critics of the race classification school such as Alan Templeton, Rick Kittles and S.O.Y Keita generally reject emphasis on traditional racial categories. They hold that race is not very useful in understanding the movements and origins of peoples and that racial terms such as "Caucasoid" and "Negroid" too often seek to plug such peoples into stereotypical checkboxes and deny them the full range of human variability. This more race-neutral view contradicts the assertions of some Afrocentrics as to idealized racial types but also echo concerns raised by writers like C.A. Diop, namely: why are European populations conceived of as varying so widely in skin color, features, hair, and other indices but not Africoids?

Critics of race categorization also dispute the notion of Caucasoid admixture in the case of the Wolof and other African peoples, holding that the differences found among the Africoid peoples are simply localized variations that do not rely on any mixture from an assortment of discrete races. Such concepts of admixture they hold, too often rely on stereotypical definitions of a "true negro" type, allowing reclassification of peoples like Somalis, Ethiopians, Nubians, etc to a "Caucasoid" grouping or mixed grouping with Caucasoids, sometimes using different labels like "Mediterranean" or "Middle Eastern. Narrow naso-facial features for example are found among the oldest populations of East Africa, independently of any admixture with Caucasoid or Southwest Asiatic peoples.

They also dispute the notion that East Africans are more related to Eurasians than other tropical Africans. To the contrary, they maintain that the East African peoples are much more related to other African populations than Europeans and Asians, and that supporters of traditional race theories typically use misleading labeling (such as 'Middle Eastern') to classify African DNA data so as to decontextualize it. For example, Ethiopians are very closely related to one of the oldest African populations, the Khosian peoples or Bushmen and cluster likewise with Senegalese on several Y-chromosomal measures. Chromosomal variants such as haplotype IV for example are found in high frequency in west, central, and sub-equatorial Africa in speakers of Niger-Congo, and to some extent among the Nubians. Another variant, Haplotype XI has its highest frequencies in the Horn and the Nile valley. Other types such as V and XI are found more heavily in Africa and the Nile Valley than among peoples such as Arabs, Turks or others. Haplotypes VII and VIII are most prevalent in the Near East, and XII and XV in Europe.

As regards reliance on the categories of forensic anthropology, they point out that the weight of forensic data shows Africoid peoples cannot be stereotyped as an extreme, or conceived of as mixes between idealized types, but vary widely in physical characteristics. For example:

Scientists have been studying remains from the Egyptian Nile Valley for years. Analysis of crania is the traditional approach to assessing ancient population origins, relationships, and diversity. In studies based on anatomical traits and measurements of crania, similarities have been found between Nile Valley crania from 30,000, 20,000 and 12,000 years ago and various African remains from more recent times (see Thoma 1984; Brauer and Rimbach 1990; Angel and Kelley 1986; Keita 1993). Studies of crania from southern predynastic Egypt, from the formative period (4000-3100 B.C.), show them usually to be more similar to the crania of ancient Nubians, Kushites, Saharans, or modern groups from the Horn of Africa than to those of dynastic northern Egyptians or ancient or modern southern Europeans.

Issues in the study of Africoid populations

Africoid as an approach to overcome bias in previous scholarship

Supporters of the term Africoid claim that there has been bias in previous scholarship on African or Africoid peoples and that this pattern is demonstrative of the need for more accurate terminology in describing African populations. These scholars assert that variations of phenotype found in places like Northeast Africa are simply examples of the natural biodiversity of indigenous populations, and that the definition of "African" should not be confined to a region south of the Sahara (Diop, Cheikh Anta, The African Origin of Civilization). Among the points advanced:

  • Bias seems to define Africoids as narrowly as possible while incorporating as much as possible in groupings labeled as Causacoid
  • Shifting terminology and labeling of African peoples to downplay their diversity



Africoid as an approach to show population diversity

Modern re-analyses of previous studies shows a clear tendency to sometimes minimize variability within certain northeast African populations. This range of variation is the building block of the concept of Africoid populations, as opposed to their rigid separation into groupings like so-called "Caucasoid" and sub-Saharan Negroes. According to one recent re-evaluation of studies on the ancient Egyptians:

An overview of the data from the studies suggests that the major biological affinities of early southern Egyptians lay with tropical Africans. The range of indigenous tropical African phenotypes is great; and this range of variation must be considered in any discussion of the Nile Valley peoples. The early southern Egyptians belonged primarily to an African descent group which gained some Near Eastern affinity through gene flow with the passage of time. (Keita, S. O. Y, "A brief review of studies and comments on ancient Egyptian biological relationships").
In the classification of so-called "Negroid" peoples, traditional scholarship has established a baseline phenotype for a "true Negro" (generally a sub-Saharan type). Nonconforming characteristics in some Northeast African populations have been cause for incorporation of these peoples into a "Caucasoid" cluster. However, the same selective classification scheme is not applied to groups traditionally categorized as Negroid. Writers such as Carelton Coons report "Mediterranean" remains that seem to have "Negroid" traits, but do not mention the opposite. Nor do such scholars apply the same selective definition approach with populations of the Levant, Maghreb or those farther north. For example, scholars generally have made no similar attempt to define a "true white." Others surveys of African peoples in the Nile Valley, Sahara and Sudan confirm the cultural, skeletal and material links between them from the earliest times.

Lumping of Africoid population data under labels such as 'Mediterranean'

Re-analyses of scholarship also show a tendency to sometimes lump certain types of data, such as skeletical remains under broad clusters or categories such as Mediterranean. Numerous studies of Egyptian crania have been undertaken, with many showing a range of types, and workers often describing substantially Negroid remains. Often this type has been lumped into a Caucasoid cluster, typically using the term "Mediterranean." A majority of these studies show the strong influence of Sudanic and Saharan elements in the predynastic populations and yet classification systems often incorporate them into the Mediterranean grouping.

"Analyses of Egyptian crania are numerous. Vercoutter (1978) notes that ancient Egyptian crania have frequently all been “lumped (implicitly or explicitly) as Mediterranean, although Negroid remains are recorded in substantial numbers by many workers.. The majority of the work describes a Negroid element, especially in the southern population and sometimes as predominating in the predynastic period (Falkenburger, 1947)..

Use of racial categories in modern DNA studies

Some supporters of the term Africoid point to modern DNA studies (Templeton, Lewotinin, et. al) that show a broad range of physical variation organic to African peoples, maintaining that classifications like Caucasoid, Mediterranean and 'true' sub-Saharan negroes are artificial and stereotypical, and involve presorting ahead of time, rather than letting the DNA data speak for themselves. This broad mix of African genetic variation shown by DNA analysis, it is asserted, calls for inclusive concepts like Africoid to capture the genetic complexity on the ground.

Other DNA studies in turn throw doubt on "classical" racial categories. The nuclear DNA work of researcher Ann Bowcock (1991, 1994) for example, suggests that such primary groupings as Europeans may be flawed, and that such peoples arose as a consequence of admixture between certain already differentiated African and Asian ancestral stocks. Under this approach to the DNA data, Caucasians are thus not a primary grouping as in the classical categories, but a secondary type or race, due to their supposedly hybrid origins.

Anthropologists such as Lieberman and Jackson (1995), also find numerous methodological and conceptual problems with using DNA sequencing and other phylogenetic methods to support concepts of race. They hold for example that: "the molecular and biochemical proponents of this model explicitly use racial categories in their initial grouping of samples They suggest that the authors of these studies find support for racial distinctions only because they began assuming the validity of race (Leiberman and Jackson 1995 "Race and Three Models of Human Origins" in American Anthropologist 97(2) 231-242)

Whatever the approach used, modern DNA studies have in many ways undermined traditional racial categories in favor of a population variant/gradient or continuum approach. This continuum/gradient approach is embraced by supporters of the term Africoid as more accurate and realistic than various models that allocate peoples like Ethiopians to "Caucasoid" groupings.

Africoid as a term incorporating Oceanic, Dravidian and Australoid peoples

Some people argue for the primacy of phenotypes in describing a broad cultural-genetic set of black peoples stretching from Africa to Australia to Asia. Other DNA data however, which details the genetic complexity of peoples, calls into question conceptions of a single, rigid black or "Africoid" type that cuts across broad areas including Asia and Australia. Physically there may be similarities (dark skin or curlier hair for example) but genetically the data are much more complex.

Indeed some supporters of the term Africoid (see Scholarly use section below) note that DNA and serological (blood)analysis for example, places populations like Australian Aborigines, Dravidians of India and dark-skinned Pacific/Indian Ocean peoples closer to the populations of mainland East Asia than the stereotypical sub-Saharan Negroid phenotype.

Scholarly use of the term Africoid descriptive of local populations

Some mainstream scholars advocate a non-racial terminology more directly based on the local variability of the population data, and its changes over time, holding that this allows for a wide range of types and variation, and that continued use of racial definitions and concepts are problematic:
"Much of the previous work focused on “racial” analysis. The concept of race is problematic, and (‘racial” terms have been inconsistently defined and used in African historiography as noted recently (MacGaffey, 1966; Sanders, 1969; Vercoutter, 1978).. There is little demarcation between the predynastics and tropical series and even the early southern dynastic series. Definite trends are discernible in the analyses. This broadly shared "southern" metric pattern, along with the other mentioned characteristics to a greater or lesser degree, might be better described by the term Africoid, by definition connoting a tropical African microclade, microadaptation, and patristic affinity, thereby avoiding the nonevolutionary term "Negroid" and allowing for variation both real and conceptual.

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