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Stone Age Graveyard Reveals Lifestyles Of A 'Green Sahara'

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Bianca
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« on: August 14, 2008, 02:49:02 pm »


     

This undated handout photo provided by the
National Geographic Society shows a triple burial
containing a woman and two children, their limbs
entwined, discovered at the Gobero site during
the 2006 field season.

(AP Photo/Mike Hettwer,
National Geographic Society)







                                               Remains of cemetery found in Sahara






By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID,
AP Science Writer
Thu Aug 14, 2008
 
WASHINGTON - A tiny woman and two children were laid to rest on a bed of flowers 5,000 years ago in what is now the barren Sahara Desert.
 
The slender arms of the youngsters were still extended to the woman in perpetual embrace when researchers discovered their skeletons in a remarkable cemetery that is providing clues to two civilizations who lived there, a thousand years apart, when the region was moist and green.

Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago and colleagues were searching for the remains of dinosaurs in the African country of Niger when they came across the startling find, detailed at a news conference Thursday at the National Geographic Society.

"Part of discovery is finding things that you least expect," he said. "When you come across something like that in the middle of the desert it sends a tingle down your spine."

Some 200 graves of humans were found during fieldwork at the site in 2005 and 2006, as well as remains of animals, large fish and crocodiles.

"Everywhere you turned, there were bones belonging to animals that don't live in the desert," said Sereno. "I realized we were in the green Sahara."

The graveyard, uncovered by hot desert winds, is near what would have been a lake at the time people lived there. It's in a region called Gobero, hidden away in Niger's forbidding Tenere Desert, known to Tuareg nomads as a "desert within a desert."

The human remains dated from two distinct populations that lived there during wet times, with a dry period in between.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine when these ancient people lived there. Even the most recent were some 1,000 years before the building of the pyramids in Egypt.

The first group, known as the Kiffian, hunted wild animals and speared huge perch with harpoons. They colonized the region when the Sahara was at its wettest, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.

The researchers said the Kiffians were tall, sometimes reaching well over 6 feet.

The second group lived in the region between 7,000 and 4,500 years ago. The Tenerians were smaller and had a mixed economy of hunting, fishing and cattle herding.

Their burials often included jewelry or ritual poses. For example, one girl had an upper-arm bracelet carved from a hippo tusk. An adult Tenerian male was buried with his skull resting on part of a clay vessel; another adult male was interred seated on the shell of a mud turtle.

And pollen remains show the woman and two children were buried on a bed of flowers. The researchers preserved the group just as they had been for thousands of years.

"At first glance, it's hard to imagine two more biologically distinct groups of people burying their dead in the same place," said team member Chris Stojanowski, a bioarchaeologist from Arizona State University.

Stojanowski said ridges on the thigh bone of one Kiffian man show he had huge leg muscles, "which suggests he was eating a lot of protein and had an active, strenuous lifestyle. The Kiffian appear to have been fairly healthy — it would be difficult to grow a body that tall and muscular without sufficient nutrition."

On the other hand, ridges on a Tenerian male were barely visible. "This man's life was less rigorous, perhaps taking smaller fish and game with more advanced hunting technologies," Stojanowski said.

Helene Jousse, a zooarchaeologist from the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria, reported that animal bones found in the area were from types common today in the Serengeti in Kenya, such as elephants, giraffes, hartebeests and warthogs.

The finds are detailed in reports in Thursday's edition of the journal PLoS One and in the September issue of National Geographic Magazine.

While the Sahara is desert today, a small difference in Earth's orbit once brought seasonal monsoons farther north, wetting the landscape with lakes with lush margins and drawing animals and people.

The research was funded by National Geographic, the Island Fund of the New York Community Trust, the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

___

On the Net:

PLoS One: http://www.plos.org

National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.ngm.com

People of the Green Sahara: http://www.projectexploration.org
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Bianca
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« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2008, 02:59:36 pm »




The remarkable archaeological site, dating back 10,000 years and called
Gobero after the Tuareg name for the area, was brimming with skeletons
of humans and animals — including large fish and crocodiles.

Gobero is hidden away within Niger's forbidding Ténéré Desert, known to
Tuareg nomads as a "desert within a desert."

The Ténéré is the setting of some of Sereno's key paleontological disco-
veries, including the 500-toothed, plant-eating dinosaur Nigersaurus that
lived 110 million years ago and the enormous extinct crocodilian Sarcosuchus,
also known as SuperCroc.



                                                                               



                                                     









                                          US scientists find stone age burial ground in Sahara






by Jean-Louis Santini
AUG. 14, 2008
 
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US-led team of archaeologists said Thursday they had discovered by chance what is believed to be the largest find of Stone Age-era remains ever uncovered in the Sahara Desert.
 
Named Gobero, the site includes remarkably intact human remains as well as the skeletons of fish and crocodiles dating back some 10,000 years to a time when what is now the world's largest desert was a swampy wetland.

The discovery, reported in the September issue of National Geographic Magazine, was stumbled upon by University of Chicago palaeontologist Paul Sereno as he and his team searched for dinosaur fossils in Niger.

The archaeological site is a part of the desert called Tenere, or "deserts of deserts" in the Tuareg nomads' language, and dates back to when the region was at its wettest period between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.

Gobero holds evidence of two different human populations that lived in the area more than 1,000 years apart.

Exposed by the hot winds of the Sahara, human bones were found strewn about a wide area, the researchers said.

"At first glance, it's hard to imagine two more biologically distinct groups of people burying their dead in the same place," said team member Chris Stojanowski.

The Arizona State University bioarchaeologist added: "The biggest mystery is how they seemed to have done this without disturbing a single grave."

One of the finds stopped the team in its tracks -- a 5,000-year old skeleton of a small woman facing the remains of two young children, her arms outstretched in a gesture of embrace.

Samples taken from underneath the bones revealed pollen clusters, evidence the team says, that those who perished had been buried on a bed of flowers.

Other finds at the site include a human jaw with a nearly complete set of teeth and the bones of a small hand jutting out of the sand with all its digits intact.

Alongside the human remains, the archaeologists also found harpoon points, stone implements and small, pierced decorations for making collars.

Because of the pristine condition in which the remains were found, the archaeologists say they are certain the burial ground was undiscovered until now.

"Everywhere you turned, there were bones belonging to animals that don't live in the desert, Sereno said. "I realized we were in the green Sahara."

The site yielded fossils of huge crocodiles and dinosaurs including the complete skeleton of Sarcosuchus imperator, one of the biggest crocodiles that ever roamed the earth some 110 million years ago.

Sereno also unearthed the Nigersaurus, a plant-eating dinosaur with a huge jaw studded with 500 teeth that lived in the same geologic period, the Cretaceous, some 110 million years ago.

Carbon-dating tests carried out on the bones and teeth by Stojanowski, from the University of Arizona, revealed more than 80 radiocarbon dates, showing two distinct populations lived on the banks of the lake, but 1,000 years apart.
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« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2008, 09:53:50 pm »








Stone Age embrace:

A remarkable triple burial -- containing a woman and two children who were 5 (left) and 8 years old, their limbs entwined -- was discovered at the Gobero site during the 2006 field season.

Pollen clusters found in the sand indicated the three had been buried on top of flowers. The skeletons showed no sign of injury and had been ceremonially posed and buried, along with four arrowheads.

The image appears in the September 2008 National Geographic.



(Credit:

Mike Hettwer
(c) 2008 National Geographic)
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« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2008, 10:00:46 pm »










                              Stone Age Graveyard Reveals Lifestyles Of A 'Green Sahara'






ScienceDaily
(Aug. 15, 2008)

— The largest Stone Age graveyard found in the Sahara, which provides an unparalleled record of life when the region was green, has been discovered in Niger by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and University of Chicago Professor Paul Sereno, whose team first happened on the site during a dinosaur-hunting expedition.

The remarkable archaeological site, dating back 10,000 years and called Gobero after the Tuareg name for the area, was brimming with skeletons of humans and animals — including large fish and crocodiles. Gobero is hidden away within Niger’s forbidding Ténéré Desert, known to Tuareg nomads as a “desert within a desert.” The Ténéré is the setting of some of Sereno’s key paleontological discoveries, including the 500-toothed, plant-eating dinosaur Nigersaurus that lived 110 million years ago and the enormous extinct crocodilian Sarcosuchus, also known as SuperCroc.

The discovery of the lakeside graveyard — representing two successive human populations divided by more than 1,000 years — is reported in the September 2008 issue of National Geographic magazine and the Aug. 14 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

As they explored the site, the team tiptoed among dozens of fossilized human skeletons laid bare on the surface of an ancient dune field by the hot Saharan wind. Jawbones still clenched nearly full sets of teeth; a tiny hand reached up through the sand, its finger bones intact. On the surface lay harpoon points, potsherds, beads and stone tools. The site was pristine, apparently never visited.   

“Everywhere you turned, there were bones belonging to animals that don’t live in the desert,” said Sereno. “I realized we were in the green Sahara.”
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« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2008, 10:04:26 pm »









Two seasons of excavation supported by the National Geographic Society eventually revealed some 200 graves clearly belonging to two successive lakeside populations. The older group, determined to be Kiffian, were hunters of wild game who left evidence that they also speared huge perch with harpoons when they colonized the green Sahara during its wettest period between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. Their tall stature, sometimes reaching well over 6 feet, was not immediately apparent from their tightly bound burial positions.

The more recent population was the Tenerian, a more lightly built people who appeared to have had a diverse economy of hunting, fishing and cattle herding. They lived during the latter part of the green Sahara, about 7,000 to 4,500 years ago. Their one-of-a-kind burials often included jewelry or ritual poses — a girl wearing an upper-arm bracelet carved from a hippo tusk, for example, and a stunning triple burial containing a woman and two children in a poignant embrace.

“At first glance, it’s hard to imagine two more biologically distinct groups of people burying their dead in the same place,” said team member Chris Stojanowski, a bioarchaeologist from Arizona State University. “The biggest mystery is how they seemed to have done this without disturbing a single grave.”

Although the Sahara has long been the world’s largest desert, a faint wobble in Earth’s orbit and other factors occurring some 12,000 years ago caused Africa’s seasonal monsoons to shift slightly north, bringing new rains to the Sahara. From Egypt in the east to Mauritania in the west, lakes with lush margins dotted the formerly parched landscape, drawing animals, fish and eventually people. Separating these two populations was an arid interval perhaps as long as a millennium that began about 8,000 years ago, when the lake disappeared and the site was abandoned.
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« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2008, 10:06:21 pm »










Dating the sun-bleached bones of fossil humans in the Sahara has proved very difficult. Using a new technique, the team has obtained nearly 80 radiocarbon dates from Gobero bones and teeth, including comprehensive dates based directly on human skeletons.

Archaeologist Elena Garcea of the University of Cassino in Italy helped identify the poorly known cultures so well-preserved at the site. Garcea, an expert in ancient pottery who has spent nearly three decades digging at Stone Age sites in northern Africa, traveled with Sereno in 2005 to the site, where she stood amazed, gazing at far more human skeletons than she had seen in all her previous digs combined.

She quickly homed in on two distinct types of pottery, one that bore a pointillistic pattern linked with the Tenerian and another that had wavy lines and zigzags. “These are Kiffian,” a puzzled Garcea told Sereno. “What is so amazing is that the people who made these two types of pots lived in the same place more than a thousand years apart.”

Over the next three weeks Sereno, Garcea and their team of five American excavators made a detailed map of the site. They exhumed eight burials and collected scores of artifacts from both cultures. In a dry lake bed nearby, they found dozens of Kiffian fish hooks and harpoons carved from animal bone as well as skeletal remains of massive Nile perch, crocodile and hippo.

A year later, a second round of excavation turned up more riddles: An adult Tenerian male was buried with his skull resting on part of a clay vessel; another adult male was interred seated on the shell of a mud turtle.

One burial, however, brought 2006 activity at the site to a standstill: Lying on her side, the skeleton of a petite Tenerian woman emerged from the sand, facing the skeletons of two young children; their slender arms reached toward her and their hands were clasped in an everlasting embrace. Samples taken from under the skeletons contained pollen clusters — evidence the people had been laid out on a bed of flowers. The team employed a range of new techniques to preserve this remarkable burial exactly as it had been for more than 5,000 years.
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« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2008, 10:08:07 pm »









Bioarchaeologist Stojanowski analyzed dozens of individuals’ bones and teeth for clues to the two populations. “This individual, for example, had huge leg muscles,” he said of ridges on the thigh bone of a Kiffian male, “which suggests he was eating a lot of protein and had an active, strenuous lifestyle. The Kiffian appear to have been fairly healthy — it would be difficult to grow a body that tall and muscular without sufficient nutrition.” In contrast, the femur ridge of a Tenerian male was barely perceptible. “This man’s life was less rigorous, perhaps taking smaller fish and game with more advanced hunting technologies,” Stojanowski said.

Analysis of measurements on Kiffian skulls links them to skulls found across northern Africa, some as old as 16,000 years, Stojanowski said. The Tenerian, however, are not closely linked to these ancient populations.   

Ancient bones from many animals common today on the Serengeti were identified at the site by Hélène Jousse, a zooarchaeologist from the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria. The evidence showed that elephants, giraffes, hartebeests, warthogs and pythons all made Gobero their home. Abundant bones of 6-foot-long Nile perch indicate the presence of a deep lake during Kiffian times; remains of small catfish and tilapia make it likely that the waters were shallower during Tenerian times. 

The team is continuing to analyze Gobero bones for more clues to the people’s health and diet. A large-scale return expedition is planned to the site to further explore the two populations that coped with extreme climate change.

Besides National Geographic, the research at Gobero is funded by the Island Fund of the New York Community Trust, the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

The National Geographic magazine article and special Web features on Gobero are at http://www.nationalgeographic.ngm.com. Extensive information about the discovery and science of Gobero is available at Project Exploration’s “People of the Green Sahara” Web site, http://www.projectexploration.org.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Journal reference:

Sereno et al. Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change. PLoS ONE, 2008; 3 (Cool: e2995 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002995
Adapted from materials provided by National Geographic Society.
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 MLA National Geographic Society (2008, August 15). Stone Age Graveyard Reveals Lifestyles Of A 'Green Sahara'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 17, 2008, from



http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/08/080815101317.htm
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« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2008, 10:16:59 pm »



Dr. Rik Tjallingii investigates the Earth's climatic past by analysing sediment cores from the sea floor;

here at the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University.



(Credit:
CAU,
J. Haacks)
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« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2008, 10:21:20 pm »









                                                    The Green Sahara, A Desert In Bloom






ScienceDaily
(Oct. 7, 2008)

— Reconstructing the climate of the past is an important tool for scientists to better understand and predict future climate changes that are the result of the present-day global warming. Although there is still little known about the Earth’s tropical and subtropical regions, these regions are thought to play an important role in both the evolution of prehistoric man and global climate changes.

New North African climate reconstructions reveal three ‘green Sahara’ episodes during which the present-day Sahara Desert was almost completely covered with extensive grasslands, lakes and ponds over the course of the last 120.000 years. The findings of Dr. Rik Tjallingii, Prof. Dr. Martin Claussen and their colleagues will be published in the October issue of Nature Geoscience.

Scientists of the MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Research in Bremen (Germany) and the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven (Germany) studied a marine sediment core off the coast of Northwest Africa to find out how the vegetation cover and hydrological cycle of the Sahara and Sahel region changed. The scientists were able to reconstruct the vegetation cover of the last 120.000 years by studying changes in the ratio of wind and river-transported particles found in the core. “We found three distinct periods with almost only river-transported particles and hardly any wind dust particles, which is remarkable because today the Sahara Desert is the world’s largest dust-bowl,” says Rik Tjallingii.

He now works at Kiel University, researching within the cluster of excellence 'The Future Ocean’. The scientists explain these periods by an increase of the precipitation that resulted in a much larger vegetation cover resulting in less wind dust and stronger river activity in the Sahara region. The green Sahara episodes correspond with the changing direction of the earth’s rotational axis that regulates the solar energy in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Periods of maximum solar energy increased the moisture production while pushing the African monsoon further north and increasing precipitation in the Sahara.

To validate their interpretations, the scientist compared their geological reconstruction with a computer model simulation of the Sahara vegetation cover, performed by the research group of Prof. Dr. Martin Claussen. Dr. Claussen is Director of the Max-Planck-Institute of Meteorology in Hamburg and chairs the cluster of excellence ‘Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediciton’ at the University of Hamburg.

The computer model simulation shows three periods with an almost completely vegetated Sahara at the same time as seen in the geological record. This supports the interpretation of geologists and, in turn, demonstrates the value of computer model results. Additionally, the computer model indicates that only a small increase in precipitation is sufficient to develop a vegetation cover in the Sahara.

Computer model simulations for the future suggest an expansion of the vegetation cover in the Sahara Desert if human-driven climate change leads to aggressive global warming. However, it is difficult to conclude that the Sahara will actually become greener than it is today, as the simulations do not account for the influence of human activity in this area.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Adapted from materials provided by Christian-Albrechts-Universitaet zu Kiel.
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http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/09/080930081357.htm
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« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2008, 09:08:00 am »

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    Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara
« on: September 25, 2008, 03:15:58 am » Quote 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------











                                                      Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara






                                       How a dinosaur hunter uncovered the Sahara's strangest


                                                             Stone Age graveyard






By Peter Gwin
National Geographic Staff
Photograph by Mike Hettwer

On October 13, 2000, a small team of paleontologists led by Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago clambered out of three battered Land Rovers, filled their water bottles, and scattered on foot across the toffee-colored sands of the Ténéré desert in northern Niger. The Ténéré, on the southern flank of the Sahara, easily ranks among the most desolate landscapes on Earth. The Tuareg, turbaned nomads who for centuries have ruled this barren realm, refer to it as a "desert within a desert"—a California-size ocean of sand and rock, where a single massive dune might stretch a hundred miles, and the combination of 120-degree heat and inexorable winds can wick the water from a human body in less than a day. The harsh conditions, combined with intermittent conflict between the Tuareg and the Niger government, have kept the region largely unexplored.

Sereno, a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence and one of the world's most prolific dinosaur hunters, had led his first expedition into the Ténéré five years earlier, after negotiating agreements with both the leader of a Tuareg rebel force and the Niger Ministry of Defense, allowing him safe passage to explore its fossil-rich deposits. That initial foray was followed by others, and each time his team emerged from the desert with the remains of exotic species, including Nigersaurus, a 500-toothed plant-eating dinosaur, and Sarcosuchus, an extinct crocodilian the size of a city bus. The 2000 expedition, however, was his most ambitious—three months scouring a 300-mile arc of the Ténéré, ending near Agadez, a medieval caravan town on the western lip of the desert. Already, his team members had excavated 20 tons of dinosaur bones and other prehistoric animals. But six weeks of hard labor in this brutal environment had worn them down. Most had mild cases of dysentery; several had lost so much weight they had to hitch up their trousers as they trudged over the soft sand; and everyone's nerves had been on edge since an encounter with armed bandits.

Mike Hettwer, a photographer accompanying the team, headed off by himself toward a trio of small dunes. He crested the first slope and stared in amazement. The dunes were spilling over with bones. He took a few shots with his digital camera and hurried back to the Land Rovers.

"I found some bones," Hettwer said, when the team had regrouped. "But they're not dinosaurs. They're human."

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/green-sahara/gwin-text
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« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2008, 09:13:42 am »










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    Re: Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2008, 03:19:00 am » Quote 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Heat, thirst, and, for the moment, dinosaurs were forgotten as the team members followed Hettwer back to the three dunes and began to gingerly survey their slopes. In just a few minutes they had counted dozens of human skeletons. Parts of skullcaps pushed up through the sand like upturned china bowls; jawbones clenched nearly full sets of teeth; a tiny hand, perhaps a child's, appeared to have floated up through the sand with all its finger bones intact. "It was as if the desert winds were pulling them from their final resting places," said Hettwer. Insinuated among the human bones was a profusion of clay potsherds, beads, and stone tools— finely worked arrowheads and axheads and well-worn grindstones. There were also hundreds of animal bones. In addition to antelope and giraffe, Sereno quickly recognized the remains of water-adapted creatures like crocodiles and hippos, then turtles, fish, and clams. "Everywhere you turned, there were bones belonging to animals that don't live in the desert," said Sereno. "I realized we were in the Green Sahara."

For much of the past 70,000 years, the Sahara has closely resembled the desert it is today. Some 12,000 years ago, however, a wobble in the Earth's axis and other factors caused Africa's seasonal monsoons to shift slightly north, bringing new rains to an area nearly the size of the contiguous United States. Lush watersheds stretched across the Sahara, from Egypt to Mauritania, drawing animal life and eventually people.

Archaeologists have inventoried the stone tools used by these early inhabitants and the patterns inscribed on their ceramics. They have also identified thousands of their rock engravings, which depict herds of ostriches, giraffes, and elephants. Some of the images suggest that along the way the people of the Green Sahara learned to domesticate cattle. But they remain veiled in mystery. Did they arrive here from the Mediterranean coast, central African jungles, or Nile Valley? Were they nomads, or did they stake out territories and build settlements? Did they trade with each other and intermarry, or did they wage war, or both? As the monsoons began to recede, how did they cope with a drying landscape? The only part of the story that then seems clear is that by some 3,500 years ago the desert had returned. The people vanished.

Seeking answers to such questions is normally the domain of anthropologists and archaeologists—not dinosaur hunters. But Sereno had become transfixed by the discovery. "There is something soul stirring about looking into the face of an ancient human skull and knowing this is my species," he said. Whenever he could steal a moment from his paleontological work, he pored through every scholarly publication he could find on the Green Saharans, tracked down the authors and badgered them with emails full of questions. Sometimes he would read all night before downing a cup of coffee and heading back to his lab. In 2003, during another dinosaur expedition in Niger, he took three days off to revisit the dunes and survey the site, counting at least 173 burials. To dig any deeper, however, would require more time, money, and expertise.
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    Re: Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2008, 03:19:49 am » Quote 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the spring of 2005 Sereno contacted Elena Garcea, an archaeologist at the University of Cassino, in Italy, inviting her to accompany him on a return to the site. Garcea had spent three decades working digs along the Nile in Sudan and in the mountains of the Libyan Desert, and was well acquainted with the ancient peoples of the Sahara. But she had never heard of Paul Sereno. His claim to have found so many skeletons in one place seemed far-fetched, given that no other Neolithic cemetery contained more than a dozen or so. Some archaeologists would later be skeptical; one sniped that he was just a "moonlighting paleontologist." But Garcea was too intrigued to dismiss him as an interloper. She agreed to join him.

"I was impressed that he hadn't just ignored the burials and continued looking for dinosaurs," she told me.

They arrived at the site six months later. Clad in a salt-stained T-shirt and jeans, Sereno, vibrating with energy, powered up the first of the three dunes, identifying animal bones with nearly every stride—giraffe vertebra … hippo ulna … gazelle humerus. Garcea, a petite woman in unwrinkled chinos and a tennis hat, followed at a more measured pace, bending at the waist to scrutinize each item.

At the top, they surveyed a macabre scene. Around them lay dozens of human skeletons in various degrees of completeness, far more than Garcea had seen at all her other digs combined. Nonetheless, she seemed more interested in what looked to me like tiny gray chunks of gravel. "They're potsherds," she said, and held up one inscribed with a pointillistic pattern. She identified the markings as belonging to a people known to scholars as the Tenerian, a nomadic herding culture that lived during the latter part of the Green Sahara era, 6,500 to 4,500 years ago. Then she picked up another piece. She studied it for a moment, looking perplexed. Instead of little dots, this sherd was decorated with wavy lines. She picked up another like it, then another. "These are Kiffian," she said, her voice rising with excitement.

Garcea explained that the Kiffian were a fishing-based culture and lived during the earliest wet period, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. She held a Kiffian sherd next to a Tenerian one. "What is so amazing is that the people who made these two pots lived more than a thousand years apart."
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Bianca
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« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2008, 09:17:34 am »









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    Re: Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2008, 03:20:28 am » Quote 

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Over the next three weeks, Sereno and Garcea—along with five American excavators, five Tuareg guides, and five soldiers from Niger's army, sent to protect the camp from bandits—made a detailed map of the site, which they dubbed Gobero, after the Tuareg name for the area. They exhumed eight burials and collected scores of artifacts from both cultures. In a dry lake bed adjacent to the dunes, they found dozens of fishhooks and harpoons carved from animal bone. Apparently the Kiffian fishermen weren't just going after small fry: Scattered near the dunes were the remains of Nile perch, a beast of a fish that can weigh nearly 300 pounds, as well as crocodile and hippo bones.

Garcea suspected that the Tenerian had made most of the stone tools. Nearly three-fourths of them were hewed from a strange green volcanic rock that bore a glasslike sheen and yielded razor-sharp edges when fractured. The abundance of green flakes on the dunes indicated that the Tenerian spent long periods of time at Gobero making and sharpening their tools. "But it's possible they lived part of the time at the place where they quarried the green rock," said Garcea. One of the Tuareg said he had seen big boulders of it in the Aïr mountains, some hundred miles to the northwest.

At dusk the heat gave way to the cool evening air, and the camp divided into three groups. The soldiers, dressed in threadbare fatigues and combat boots with no socks, gathered around their fire, speaking Hausa, Niger's dominant language. At the Tuareg fire, the guides removed their linen chèches, which they kept neatly wound around their faces during the day. They reclined on foam mattresses, served each other strong, sugary tea, and quietly discussed Niger's restive politics in their native Tamashek. Meanwhile, the dig team cooked couscous and freeze-dried vegetables on a propane stove, eating by the light of their headlamps. Their conversations focused on the stark differences in the burials. Some appeared to be little more than a tight bundle of bones, as if the body had been bound or squeezed into a basket or a leather bag, which had long since decomposed. These compact burials belied the fact that some of these individuals were surprisingly large—as much as six feet eight inches tall, with thick bones suggesting they had been well muscled.

By contrast, other skeletons belonged to much smaller people, about five-and-a-half feet tall. They were buried on their sides in relaxed positions, as if they had fallen asleep and drifted into death. Some of their graves contained beads, arrowheads, or animal bones. But since no potsherds were found in the burials, it wasn't clear which were Kiffian and which were Tenerian. Until the age of the bones could be determined, no one could say for sure. And what had led the Tenerian to bury their dead in the exact same spot as the Kiffian had laid theirs to rest, thousands of years earlier?
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« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2008, 09:19:05 am »









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    Re: Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2008, 03:21:12 am » Quote 

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"Perhaps the Tenerian found the Kiffian burials and recognized this place as sacred," Garcea offered. "It's possible they thought these bones belonged to their own ancestors."

The search for answers could not wait long. Gobero held at least 200 burials, which would take several field seasons to excavate. But the constant desert wind was eroding the site year by year, scattering the bones down the sides of the dunes. An even more dire concern was looters. Officials in Niger have identified close to a hundred Stone Age sites in the T�n�r� and report that nearly all were looted before they could be excavated. Often Tuareg traveling in camel caravans find the sites and scavenge artifacts to sell to dealers in Agadez, who in turn sell them illicitly to tourists. Though the Niger government has outlawed the sale of antiquities, only Gobero and one other site remained unlooted.

Members of the dig team suspected that a few of the soldiers were picking up artifacts as they patrolled the site's perimeter. When confronted by Sereno, they denied it. One night by the Tuareg fire, I asked one of the guides whether he thought anyone might pilfer artifacts. He shrugged. "When you are hungry and your children are hungry, what can you do?" Another confided to me that over the years he had collected a small number of artifacts during his travels in the desert. He produced a leather pouch that held an array of gemlike arrowheads and a beautiful knife chipped from the strange green stone. "These are not for sale," he said. "They are for my children. It is their history. I want them to see it before it is all gone."

SERENO FLEW HOME with the most important skeletons and artifacts and immediately began planning for the next field season. In the meantime, he carefully removed one tooth from each of four skulls and sent them to a lab for radiocarbon dating. The results pegged the age of the tightly bundled burials at roughly 9,000 years old, the heart of the Kiffian era. The smaller "sleeping" skeletons turned out to be about 6,000 years old, well within the Tenerian period. At least now the scientists knew who was who.

In the fall of 2006 they returned to Gobero, accompanied by a larger dig crew and six additional scientists. Garcea hoped to excavate some 80 burials, and the team began digging. As the skeletons began to emerge from the dunes, each presented a fresh riddle, especially the Tenerian. A male skeleton had been buried with a finger in his mouth. Another had been interred inside a frame of disarticulated human bones. Among the strangest was an adult male buried with a boar tusk and a crocodile ankle bone and his head resting on a clay pot. Parts of the skeleton appeared to have been burned, hinting that an elaborate ritual had accompanied his burial.
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« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2008, 09:20:20 am »









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    Re: Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2008, 03:21:45 am » Quote 

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Garcea paid close attention to these details. In lieu of a written language, such clues are critical to understanding what she described as a culture's "software"—its traditions, value system, and beliefs about the supernatural. The very act of burial contains a message, Garcea told me as she delicately brushed dirt from another Tenerian skeleton. "By infusing the land with the remains of your people, you claim it."

Unlike the Tenerian burials, the bundles of Kiffian bones came with few artifacts to shed light on their culture. But bones and teeth alone can say a lot about the daily lives of a vanished people. Their appearance can reveal an individual's sex, age, and general health, and they hold chemical signatures that, analyzed in a lab, can reveal the kinds of food a person ate and the location of the water sources he drank from.

Even at the site, Arizona State University bioarchaeologist Chris Stojanowski could begin to piece together some clues. Judging by the bones, the Kiffian appeared to be a peaceful, hardworking people. "The lack of head and forearm injuries suggests they weren't doing much fighting," he told me. "And these guys were strong." He pointed to a long, narrow ridge running along a femur. "That's the muscle attachment," he said. "This individual had huge leg muscles, which means he was eating a lot of protein and had a strenuous lifestyle—both consistent with a fishing way of life." For contrast, he showed me the femur of a Tenerian male. The ridge was barely perceptible. "This guy had a much less strenuous lifestyle," he said, "which you might expect of a herder."

Stojanowski's assessment that the Tenerian were herders fits the prevailing view among scholars of life in the Sahara 6,000 years ago, when drier conditions favored herding over hunting. But if the Tenerian were herders, Sereno pointed out, where were the herds? Among the hundreds of animal bones that had turned up at the site, none belonged to goats or sheep, and only three came from a cow species. "It's not unusual for a herding culture not to slaughter their cattle, particularly in a cemetery," Garcea responded, noting that even modern pastoralists, such as Niger's Wodaabe, are loath to butcher even one animal in their herd. Perhaps, Sereno reasoned, the Tenerian at Gobero were a transitional group that had not fully adopted herding and still relied heavily on hunting and fishing.
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