From an analysis of the skeletons and pottery in those two seasons, scientists identified the two successive cultures that occupied the settlement. The Kiffians, some of whom stood up to six feet tall, both men and women, lived there during the Sahara’s wettest period, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. They were primarily hunter-gatherers who speared huge lake perch with harpoons.
Elena A. A. Garcea, an archaeologist at the University of Cassino in Italy, identified ceramics with wavy lines and zigzag patterns as Kiffian, a culture associated with northern Africa. Pots bearing a pointillistic pattern were linked to the Tenerians, a people named for the Ténéré Desert, a stretch of the Sahara known to Tuareg nomads as a “desert within a desert.”
Christopher M. Stojanowski, an archaeologist at Arizona State University, said the two cultures were “biologically distinct groups.” The bones and teeth showed that in contrast to the robust Kiffians, the Tenerians were typically short and lean and apparently led less rigorous lives. Perhaps, Dr. Stojanowski said, they had developed more advanced hunting technologies for taking smaller fish and game.
The shapes of the Tenerian skulls are puzzling, researchers said, because they resemble those of Mediterranean people, not other groups from the southern Sahara.
PLoS ONE 3(8): e2995. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002995
Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change
Paul C. Sereno et al.
Approximately two hundred human burials were discovered on the edge of a paleolake in Niger that provide a uniquely preserved record of human occupation in the Sahara during the Holocene (~8000 B.C.E. to the present). Called Gobero, this suite of closely spaced sites chronicles the rapid pace of biosocial change in the southern Sahara in response to severe climatic fluctuation.
Two main occupational phases are identified that correspond with humid intervals in the early and mid-Holocene, based on 78 direct AMS radiocarbon dates on human remains, fauna and artifacts, as well as 9 OSL dates on paleodune sand. The older occupants have craniofacial dimensions that demonstrate similarities with mid-Holocene occupants of the southern Sahara and Late Pleistocene to early Holocene inhabitants of the Maghreb. Their hyperflexed burials compose the earliest cemetery in the Sahara dating to ~7500 B.C.E. These early occupants abandon the area under arid conditions and, when humid conditions return ~4600 B.C.E., are replaced by a more gracile people with elaborated grave goods including animal bone and ivory ornaments.
The principal significance of Gobero lies in its extraordinary human, faunal, and archaeological record, from which we conclude the following:
The early Holocene occupants at Gobero (7700–6200 B.C.E.) were largely sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherers with lakeside funerary sites that include the earliest recorded cemetery in the Sahara.
Principal components analysis of craniometric variables closely allies the early Holocene occupants at Gobero with a skeletally robust, trans-Saharan assemblage of Late Pleistocene to mid-Holocene human populations from the Maghreb and southern Sahara.
Gobero was abandoned during a period of severe aridification possibly as long as one millennium (6200–5200 B.C.E).
More gracile humans arrived in the mid-Holocene (5200–2500 B.C.E.) employing a diversified subsistence economy based on clams, fish, and savanna vertebrates as well as some cattle husbandry.
Population replacement after a harsh arid hiatus is the most likely explanation for the occupational sequence at Gobero.
We are just beginning to understand the anatomical and cultural diversity that existed within the Sahara during the Holocene.