The hunter-gatherers within us

By Razib Khan | November 6, 2011 8:43 pm


Lesley-Ann Brandt

One of the reasons that the HGDP populations are weighted toward indigenous groups is that there was the understanding that these populations may not be long for the world in their current form. But the Taino genome reconstruction illustrates that even if populations are no longer with us…they are still within us. With that in mind I decided to do some quick “back-of-the-envelope” calculations in relation to the Khoisan people of southern Africa. These are the descendants of the populations which were presumably there before the Bantu, and the basal relationship of the Bushmen to other human lineages is probably a partial testament to their long term residence in this region of Africa.

There are about 300,000 speakers of Khoisan languages left (mostly in South Africa and Namibia). These individuals are not all unmixed in their ancestry. If you look at some of the public genotypes available you can find Bantu African and European ancestry in Bushmen (the European may have come from Griqua). There are about 4 million Cape Coloureds and 8 million Xhosa. Both of these groups have some Khoisan ancestry. Let’s assume that the Cape Coloured are 20% Khoisan, and the Xhosa are 10% Khoisan. This is probably a moderately conservative, but I think it’s close from what I’ve seen. Multiplying that out you get 1.6 million Khoisan represented by the Cape Coloured and the Xhosa. That’s a ratio of over 5:1 in terms of the ancestral components attributed to Khoisan in modern populations being in those groups which don’t identify as Khoisan. This is probably a major underestimate, as other Bantu populations besides the Xhosa likely have some Khoisan ancestry, though less.


This came to mind because I recently watched Spartacus: Blood and Sand with some friends (or at least the first season). We were curious about the background of one of the characters, Lesley-Ann Brandt. From her blog you can find out this about her ethnic background:

You’re probably still asking what makes a “Coloured”, “Coloured”. Well like the name suggests, it is someone of many colours. My heritage consists of German, ( my last name), Indian, British and Spanish. My mother has the Indian, but is very fair and could be mistaken for white if you’ve never met her or you’re not from South Africa.

Her father however was a very dark man with Indian heritage. Her mother had an olive complexion. My father on the other hand has mostly European heritage, (a white German grandfather on his fathers side and a white British Grandfather and Spanish grandmother on his mothers side), but looks much darker than me. On my dad’s side, my grandfather had really dark olive colouring with green eyes and my grandmother was often mistaken as white during Apartheid. She would often sneak into white only grocery stores to buy food because no one really questioned her.

With all due respect to Ms. Brandt, just looking at her face and knowing that she’s Cape Coloured, her Khoisan ancestry seems rather clear to me in her features. From what I have read there’s some stigma associated with this int the Coloured community, or was, so perhaps that is why she seems to be ignorant of it, and attributes her visible non-white features to her Indian ancestry. Her father’s ancestry in particular doesn’t make sense in light of the phenotype she’s attributing to him.

But none of this really matters now. Genotyping would, and will, clear all of these issues up. Well, at least the scientific ones.

Image credits: Ian Beatty and Lesley-Ann Brandt.

  • RafeK

    I am curious what features code as Khoisan for you, she could easily pass as south asian/european mix to my eyes.

  • Eze

    Khoisan ancestry is actually higher in Xhosas than in Cape Coloureds. According to Tishkoff et al. Khoisan admixture is 36.7% in Xhosas and 24.7% in Cape Coloureds. Many Xhosas also show it strongly in their phenotype, e.g. Nelson Mandela. A South African TV show tested Mandela’s haplogroups and his mtDNA turned out to be L0d (a Khoisan marker).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #1, nose/mouth/jaw. the delicacy. which half-brownz are you thinking of anyway? never seen any that looked like that. #2, thanks. at least i went ‘conservative’.

  • RafeK

    I am not thinking of any particular half brownz, I only know one actually, and can’t think of any celebrites off hand. I was just going off her self description and thinking she looks like slightly exotic dark skinned caucasian to me. Khoisan are extremely distinctive look with a very different skull shape, and eye, skin, hair morphology. I do think the actress above resemble freida pinto vaguely.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I am not thinking of any particular half brownz, I only know one actually, and can’t think of any celebrites off hand.

    most of the famous ones don’t emphasize their ethnicity, and probably aren’t coded as part indian (e.g., ben kingsely/krishna banji, norah jones/geethali shankar). lesely-ann brandt does have a very generic human look. but that’s not the typical half-brown/white person. most of them get coded into either group i think because they resemble one or the other (partly because many south asians aren’t distinctive enough in the first place from europeans, and arabs who are not very black almost never are either).

  • Eze

    IMO, she does look slightly Khoisan influenced. I highly doubt she is just European+Desi.

  • http://www.rishon-rishon.com David Boxenhorn

    “Multiplying that out you get 1.6 million Khoisan represented by the Cape Coloured and the Xhosa.”

    However, it might well descend from a small founder population.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #7, i think so. might be ‘allelic surfing’ going on….

  • Justin Giancola

    “I do think the actress above resemble freida pinto vaguely.”

    I thought it was her at first; I was like “her again”…but she has so much make-up on in the pic she could be practically anybody. ;p

  • Sandgroper

    Maybe you can see the Khoisan better in these pics.

    http://thebringerofrain.net/interview/lesleyannbrandt/

    I do think so.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    She looks particularly Germanic when wielding that PPK!

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)
  • RafeK

    Looking at more pictures of her the african heritage is allot more obvious and in some pics I can see the jaw structure similarity to the khoisan your pointing out Razib. Very interesting looking person. She does look a little bit like halle berry as well but more robustly structured. The picture above looks really strikingly different from this one http://www.moono.com/html/lesley-brandt/lesley-brandt-pictures-45393.cfm Her face is far broader seeming in the later picture.

  • Sandgroper

    Beautiful girl. I’d like to see her without makeup, though.

  • Shay Riley

    Lesley-Ann Brandt is lying about her full ancestry, or is highly naive about it. I immediately spotted black African ancestry, but perhaps that’s because I’m African-American. She reminds me of Vanity (Prince’s former protegee, who is an Canadian mulatto).

    A quote from Lesley-Ann: “In Thailand, I’m mistaken as Thai, in New Zealand I’ve been told I look Polynesian, Indians can see my Indian heritage and in America, I’ve been told I look African American or Latin American. I like it that way.”

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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