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History and Ecology of Language and languages

Themes and actions

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Team webmaster : Anetta KOPECKA, Brigitte PAKENDORF

Molecular anthropological perspectives on prehistory in southern Africa


  Contact person
Brigitte PAKENDORF

Scientific framework and objectives

This project aims at elucidating the relationships among Southern African populations speaking indigenous non-Bantu languages (here called ‘Khoisan’ for convenience) as well as Bantu languages to shed light on their prehistory.

The so-called Khoisan populations are linguistically, culturally, and genetically highly diverse. Their languages are classified by specialists into three separate language families that are not demonstrably related, and apart from the ethnographically well-described hunter-gatherers, there are also groups who practise pastoralism. In contrast, peoples speaking Bantu languages are genetically and culturally more homogenous, and they speak very closely related languages.

In particular, the project aims at answering the following research questions: Are the observed similarities between the ‘Khoisan’ languages (e.g. the salient use of click consonants) due to shared inheritance or to areal contact? To what extent and in which way did the Khoisan populations interact with neighbouring populations speaking Bantu languages? Is there any evidence in support of the hypothesis of an East African origin of the peoples speaking Khoe-Kwadi languages? In what way did the peoples speaking Bantu languages spread out over large parts of sub-Saharan Africa? We are investigating these questions with in-depth molecular anthropological analyses of a comprehensive dataset from a large number of populations from Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia.

In July-August 2015, we undertook a fieldtrip to Botswana and Namibia to explain our results to the different communities involved; for a report of this trip click here.


  Financial support
  • General grant
    Investigating the prehistory of southern African hunter-gatherers with Y-chromosome sequences
    Leakey Foundation
    05/2012-05/2013
  • Post-PhD Research Grant Nr. 8501
    Investigating the prehistory of ‘Khoisan’-speaking hunter-gatherers from southern Africa with large-scale Y-chromosome sequences
    The Wenner-Gren Foundation
    05/2012-06/2014
  • Individual project within CRP “The Kalahari Basin area: a ‘Sprachbund’ on the verge of extinction” (EUROCORES programme ‘EuroBABEL’)
    The Central Kalahari area with a focus on ǂHoan (Ju-ǂHoan family): language contact and population genetics
    Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
    09/2009-09/2012
  • Engaged Anthropology Grant EAG-77
    Giving Them Their Genetic History: Returning the Results of Molecular Anthropological Studies to Southern Africa
    The Wenner-Gren Foundation
    03/2015-09/2015
  • Financement de projet ASLAN WP5
    Giving them their genetic history: Returning the results of molecular anthropological studies to Botswana and Namibia
    Labex ASLAN - Université de Lyon
    03/2015-09/2015

  Publications
  • Bajić, V., Barbieri, C., Hübner, A., Güldemann, T., Naumann, C., Gerlach, L., Berthold, F., Nakagawa, H., Mpoloka, S., Roewer, L., Purps, J., Stoneking, M., Pakendorf, B., 2018, "Genetic structure and sex-biased gene flow in the history of southern African populations", American Journal of Physical Anthropology , 167:3, pp. 656-671
  • Barbieri, C., Butthof, A., Bostoen, K., Pakendorf, B., 2013, "Genetic perspectives on the origin of clicks in Bantu languages from southwestern Zambia", European Journal of Human Genetics, 21:4, pp. 430-436
  • Barbieri, C., Vicente, M., Rocha, J., Mpoloka, S., Stoneking, M., Pakendorf, B., 2013, "Ancient Substructure in Early mtDNA Lineages of Southern Africa", American Journal of Human Genetics , 92:2, pp. 285–292
  • Barbieri, C., Güldemann, T., Naumann, C., Gerlach, L., Berthold, F., Nakagawa, H., Mpoloka, S., Stoneking, M., Pakendorf, B., 2014, "Unraveling the complex maternal history of southern African Khoisan populations", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 153:3, pp. 435–448
  • Barbieri, C., Vicente, M., Oliveira, S., Bostoen, K., Rocha, J., Stoneking, M., Pakendorf, B., 2014, "Migration and Interaction in a Contact Zone: mtDNA Variation among Bantu-Speakers in Southern Africa", PLoS ONE, 9:6, pp. e99117 [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099117]
  • Barbieri, C., Hübner, A., Macholdt, E., Ni, S., Lippold, S., Schröder, R., Mpoloka, S., Purps, J., Roewer, L., Stoneking, M., Pakendorf, B., 2016, "Refining the Y chromosome phylogeny with southern African sequences", Human Genetics, 135:5, pp. 541-553
  • Gunnink, H., Sands, B., Pakendorf, B., Bostoen, K., 2015, "Prehistoric language contact in the Kavango-Zambezi transfrontier area: Khoisan influence on southwestern Bantu languages", Journal of African Languages and Linguistics, 36:2, pp. 193-232
  • Macholdt, E., Lede, V., Barbieri, C., Mpoloka, S., Chen, H., Slatkin, M., Pakendorf, B., Stoneking, M., 2014, "Tracing Pastoralist Migrations to Southern Africa with Lactase Persistence Alleles", Current Biology, 24:8, pp. 875-879
  • Macholdt, E., Slatkin, M., Pakendorf, B., Stoneking, M., 2015, "New insights into the history of the C-14010 lactase persistence variant in Eastern and Southern Africa", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 156:4, pp. 661-664
  • Oliveira, S., Fehn, A.M., Aço, T., Lages, F., Gayà-Vidal, M., Pakendorf, B., Stoneking, M., Rocha, J., 2018, "Matriclans shape populations: Insights from the Angolan Namib Desert into the maternal genetic history of southern Africa", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 165:3, pp. 518-535
  • Oliveira, S., Hübner, A., Fehn, A.M., Aço, T., Lages, F., Pakendorf, B., Stoneking, M., Rocha, J., 2019, "The role of matrilineality in shaping patterns of Y chromosome and mtDNA sequence variation in southwestern Angola", European Journal of Human Genetics, 27:3, pp. 475-483
  • Pakendorf, B., Gunnink, H., Sands, B., Bostoen, K., 2017, "Prehistoric Bantu-Khoisan language contact: A cross-disciplinary approach", Language Dynamics and Change, 7:1, pp. 1-46
  • Pakendorf, B., Stoneking, M., 2021, "The genomic prehistory of peoples speaking Khoisan languages", Human Molecular Genetics, 30:2, pp. R49–R55
  • Pickrell, J., Patterson, N., Barbieri, C., Berthold, F., Gerlach, L., Lipson, M., Loh, P.R., Güldemann, T., Kure, B., Mpoloka, S., Nakagawa, H., Naumann, C., Mountain, J., Bustamante, C., Berger, B., Henn, B., Stoneking, M., Reich, D., Pakendorf, B., 2012, "The genetic prehistory of southern Africa", Nature Communications, 3:1143, pp. doi:10.1038/ncomms2140
  • Pickrell, J., Patterson, N., Loh, P.R., Lipson, M., Berger, B., Stoneking, M., Pakendorf, B., Reich, D., 2014, "Ancient west Eurasian ancestry in southern and eastern Africa", Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, 111:7, pp. 2632-2637
Remonter

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