Monday, August 25, 2008

Saharan Hunter-Gatherers Unearthed

The media recently covered an archaeological discovery in Niger that caught my attention. In the middle of the Sahara desert, researchers found a hunter-gatherer burial site containing over 200 graves ranging from about 10,000 to 4,500 years old. During this period, the region was lush and productive.

There were two groups: the Kiffian, who were powerful hunters and fishermen, and the Tenerian, who were smaller pastoralists (herders) and fishermen.

Individuals at the Kiffian sites averaged over 6 feet tall, with some reaching 6' 8". They were powerfully muscled, and found with the remains of elephants, giraffes, pythons, giant perch and other large game.

Not that you have to be Conan the Barbarian to kill an elephant. Forest pygmies traditionally hunt elephants, and there's a picutre in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration to prove it. They use stealth, agility and an intimate knowledge of their prey to make up for their small size and primitive weapons.

Both the Kiffians and the Tenerians had excellent dental development and health. Take a look at some of the pictures. Those are the teeth of a wild Homo sapiens. Straight, free of decay and with plenty of room for the wisdom teeth. They must have had good dentists.

Both cultures also showed a high level of intelligence and empathy. They were found with decorated pottery shards and their bodies were arranged in imaginative and empathetic ways. A man was buried sitting on a tortoise shell. A mother was buried with her two children. Here's the picture. I can't say it better than the LA Times:
Among the Tenerian graves was a heart-rending burial tableaux [SIC!!]: A young woman was lying on her side. Pollen under her body suggested that she was placed on a bed of flowers. Lying on their sides facing her were two young children, their fingers interlocked with hers, leaving a tangle of bones.
Haha, I couldn't let the spelling error slide, it should be 'tableau'. Hey, I'm half French, give me a break.


Peter said...

"They must have had good dentists"

Well that gave me a laugh!

Tragic re mother and children. It's not comfortable to think about these things, but life stops earlier for some than for others...


Debs said...

That was a pretty extraordinary discovery.

I wish we could get rid of the common misconception that earlier human beings were all short. Sure, after they started eating grains they were. But most people don't know about that distinction, and just think everyone was about three feet tall until recently.

Food Is Love

Stephan Guyenet said...


Despite their meticulous search, the team couldn't find any evidence of paleo-braces or fluoride paste!


Yes, many people don't intuitively make the distinction between hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists. It's a problem when you're thinking about these things.

Methuselah said...

Since we are engaging in grammatical pedantry, I must point out that the 'A' in 'A young woman' should not be capitalised, since it follows a colon, not a full stop. ;-)

Pay Now Live Later

Stephan Guyenet said...

Two mistakes in one paragraph! Their editors are asleep on the job!

John said...

@ Methuselah

You're suppose to capitalize the first letter of the first word after a colon that separates two sentences (as opposed to a sentence and a list).