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Curr Anthropol. 2000 Jun;41(3):357-384.

Genes, Tribes, and African History.


Over the past 40 years, traditional perspectives on the constitution of human groups have been subjected to stringent critique within anthropology. This began with the dismantling of accepted "race" divisions after World War II and continued with analyses of the meaning and reality of African "tribal" distinctions from the 1960s until the present. Archaeologists, ethnographers, linguists, and historians of Africa now work within a research milieu where social interactions, cultural exchange, and the dynamic nature of group identifications are accepted as a normal part of the human experience. At the same time, new techniques have been developed for the examination of human history, techniques based upon an expanding repertoire of tools for the analysis of genetic variability in human populations. Perhaps the most striking result of this research has been Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi, and Piazza's The History and Geography of Human Genes. Rather less attention has been paid, however, to the conceptual relationships between the human groups defined through such analyses, in Africa and elsewhere, and those defined through other kinds of research. This paper is a preliminary examination of the fit between genetic, archaeological, and ethnographic data on the African past.


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