7 June 2023 The Future is the Product of the Past

An Anthropologist’s life work uncovers the first ancient DNA from the Swahili Civilization

Chapurukha Kusimba, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida, has uncovered the first ancient DNA from the Swahili Civilization, prosperous trading states on the East African coast dating back to the 7th century.

From Kenya to Mozambique, Chapurukha Kusimba, a USF professor of anthropology, dedicated 40 years to studying the ancestry of those who built the civilizations.

The urban peoples of the Swahili coast traded across eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean and were among the first practitioners of Islam among sub-Saharan people.

A common language of African origin (Kiswahili), a shared dominant religion (Islam), and a geographic distribution in coastal towns and villages were the defining characteristics of the Swahili culture of eastern Africa during the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period beginning in the seventh century AD.

Published in Nature, this work examines the DNA of 80 individuals from as long as 800 years ago – making it the first ancient DNA uncovered from the Swahili Civilization. 

The site of tombs along the Swahili Coast
The site of tombs along the Swahili Coast

“This research has been my life’s work – this journey to recover the past of the Swahili and restore them to rightful citizenship,” Kusimba said. “These findings bring out the African contributions, and indeed, the Africanness of the Swahili, without marginalizing the Persian and Indian connection.”

As part of his decades-long research, Kusimba, a Kenya native, spent time with the people of Swahili to gain their trust before receiving their approval to complete cemetery excavations. To respect the remains, Kusimba finished the sampling and re-burial process all in one season.

Working alongside Harvard geneticists David Reich and Esther Brielle and corresponding authors, Jeff Fleisher from Rice University and Stephanie Wynne-Jones from University of York, Kusimba discovered the ancestry of the people analyzed was both African and Asian. The DNA revealed a pattern: the overwhelming majority of male-line ancestors came from Asia, while the female-line ancestors came from Africa.

Despite their intermarrying, descendants spoke an African language, not an Asian one. This led researchers to conclude that African women had great influence on the formation of the culture. So much so, the villages were established prior to the colonialism from Asia, making women the primary holders of economic and social power.

The findings challenge centuries-old narratives – constructed by other African natives – that suggest wealthier Swahilis did not have real ancestral connections to Asia and only claimed they did in order to minimize their African heritage to obtain higher social status and cultural affinities. Despite the vital role Swahilis played in trade between Africa and the rest of the Indian Ocean world for more than 2,500 years, Kusimba’s previous work from the 1990s documented the poor treatment of Swahili descent communities as a result of the narratives.

University of South Florida anthropologist Chapurukha Kusimba (right) sits aboard a Swahili coastal boat beside longtime colleague Mohamed Mchulla Mohamed, curator emeritus of the National Museums of Kenya. Photo: Chapurukha Kusimba, University of South Florida
University of South Florida anthropologist Chapurukha Kusimba (right) sits aboard a Swahili coastal boat beside longtime colleague Mohamed Mchulla Mohamed, curator emeritus of the National Museums of Kenya. Photo: Chapurukha Kusimba, University of South Florida

“I believe I was among many scholars who had worked on the Kenyan coast who did not think that the story from Persia was much more than that – a story,” said Dillon Mahoney, USF assistant professor and volunteer who works with recently resettled Swahili-speaking refugees.

“This research is not only significant for its scientific achievement, but it tells us that we must take non-Western and oral histories into full consideration, because our ancestry research is tending to support such stories, even if generations of academics have largely viewed such stories with skepticism.”

The results from this work prove Asians and African ancestors began intermarrying at least 1,000 years ago, but long after Africans had already established their villages. 

“Our results do not provide simple validation for the narratives previously advanced in archaeological, historical or political circles,” Kusimba said. “Instead, they contradict and complicate those narratives.”

By challenging and overturning the narratives imposed from the outside for political and economic ends, this research brings peace and restores pride to the millions of people who identify as Swahili today. Up until now, it has been difficult to determine how people who identify as Swahili today relate to people of the early modern Swahili culture.

University of South Florida

doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-05754

Banner
Related Post

The Oldest Known Map of Europe, “Saint-Bélec Slab”

6 April 2021

6 April 2021

An ornate Bronze Age stone slab (Saint-Bélec slab) that was excavated in France in 1900 and forgotten about for over...

Ancient rubbish dump under Hatshepsut temple reveals hundreds of artifacts

24 November 2021

24 November 2021

Polish archaeologists uncovered a 3,500-year-old dump while working on the reconstruction of the Hathor Goddess Chapel, which is part of...

An artificial intelligence “Ithaca” that will improve our understanding of ancient history

11 March 2022

11 March 2022

A deep neural network trained to restore ancient Greek texts can do so with 72% accuracy when used by historians,...

Young Maya Maize God’s Severed Head found in Palenque

4 June 2022

4 June 2022

Archaeologists from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), an approximately 1,300-year-old sculpture of the head of the Young...

1419-year-old Islamic inscription found in Saudi Arabia

13 June 2022

13 June 2022

Saudi Arabia has announced a new archaeological discovery in Makkah. The Islamic inscription found dates back 1419 years to the...

10,000-year-old Sculptures and Figurines holding Phallus of the Taş Tepeler in the southeast Turkey

17 June 2022

17 June 2022

One of the common features of male depictions with similar features found in the region called Taş Tepeler (Stone Hills),...

A Roman sarcophagus bearing the title of “Emperor’s Protector” was found for the first time in Anatolia

29 April 2022

29 April 2022

A sarcophagus carrying the title of “Emperor’s protector” was discovered in the province of Kocaeli in western Turkey. With the...

Ukrainian Stonehenge

6 July 2021

6 July 2021

It has almost become a tradition to compare the structures surrounded by stones to the Stonehenge monument. This ancient cemetery,...

Archaeologists in eastern Newfoundland unearth the oldest English coin ever found in Canada

14 November 2021

14 November 2021

Archaeologists in eastern Newfoundland have unearthed a rare two-penny piece minted between 1493 and 1499 more than 520 years ago....

Maltaş Temple Revealed

10 August 2021

10 August 2021

Phrygian Valley, 10 meters high monument with Phrygian scriptures inscriptions on it discovered. The unearthed Maltaş monument is actually the...

A stone bathtub, which is considered to be the first example of ‘water birth’, was found in Ani Ruins

7 September 2022

7 September 2022

A stone tub was found in the large bath, whose birth was mentioned in a work by the Turkish scholar...

Hundreds of skeletons found on Welsh beach

4 July 2021

4 July 2021

Archaeologists found the burial site of women and children just below the surface of the sand dunes on Whitesands Bay...

Tomb of a Roman doctor buried with unique surgical tools unearthed in Hungary

28 April 2023

28 April 2023

Hungarian archaeologists discovered the tomb of a Roman doctor 1st-century man buried with high-quality surgical tools near the city of...

The first Bull Geoglyph discovered in central Asia

29 September 2021

29 September 2021

Archaeologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History of Material Culture (IIMK RAS) and LLC Krasnoyarsk Geoarchaeology discovered...

The migration movement that started from Siberia 30,000 years ago may have shaped Göbeklitepe

24 June 2022

24 June 2022

Professor Semih Güneri, retired faculty member from Dokuz Eylul University (DEU) Caucasus Central Asia Archeology Research Center, stated that they...

Comments
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *