Quite recently, information has been released on a burial site in Gobero, in central Niger. Burials from two eras have been found; from the Kiffian culture, roughly 9,700 years ago, then the later Tenerian culture about 6,500 years ago. This site is the source of the information, and is well worth a good look.
The Kiffian culture is associated with the wavy line pottery pottery found in the Sahara. So far the earliest date for this pottery is an unreliable 11,400 years from Mali (it’s sediment dated). This wavy line pottery was spread all over the Sahara, and eventually made it as far as Nubia about 9,500 years ago. However, pottery turns up in Iran just prior to the pottery in Nubia, so it’s unclear to where the original point of discovery was, as there’s no nice ’bullseye’ pattern of dates as yet to give a location. But there does seem to be a reasonable case for the Mechtoid people to have discovered pottery in the Sahara.
The Kiffians appeared to be hunter gatherers, hunting with barbed harpoons and fishing with carved hooks.
The Kiffians were exceptionally tall, with heights of 2m not uncommon . The bodies were found in tightly curled up foetal positions, suggesting they had been tighly bound up at burial, or perhaps buried in basketry. The bones themselves were stained a dark brown by repeated inundations. There doesn’t seem to have been much evidence of personal items in the burials, with no jewellery being found other than the odd bead.
The Craniofacial dimensions of the skulls suggests that these people were related to the contemporary people of Mali and Mauritania, who in turn were related to the Mechta Afalou people of the Mahgreb. This concurs with observations about Eurasian haplotypes moving into the southern Sahara at some ancient time (Mt DNA haplotype U and Y chromosome R1b). These people seem to have split off from the Southern Cro Magnons about 30,000 years ago or more, but also have a minor affinity to Nubian populations, probably from the Wadi Halfa northwards expansion about 25,000 years ago.
These people abandoned Gobero when the climate dried out about 8,000 years ago.
Principal components analysis of craniofacial dimensions among Late Pleistocene to mid-Holocene populations from the Maghreb and southern Sahara.
Plot of first two principal components extracted from a mean matrix for 17 craniometric variables (Tables 4, 7) in 9 human populations (Table 3) from the Late Pleistocene through the mid-Holocene from the Maghreb and southern Sahara. Seven trans-Saharan populations cluster together, whereas Late Pleistocene Aterians (Ater) and the mid-Holocene population at Gobero (Gob-m) are striking outliers. Axes are scaled by the square root of the corresponding eigenvalue for the principal component. Abbreviations: Ater, Aterian; EMC, eastern Maghreb Capsian; EMI, eastern Maghreb Iberomaurusian; Gob-e, Gobero early Holocene; Gob-m, Gobero mid-Holocene; Mali, Hassi-el-Abiod, Mali; Maur, Mauritania; WMC, western Maghreb Capsian; WMI, western Maghreb Iberomaurusian.
DNA studies of the Taforalt population that is the closest to the Kiffians on the chart (WMC)shows no Sub Saharan Mt DNA in it, just Eurasian specific lineages H, U, JT, V (90.5%) and North African specific U6. This is also supported by this study..
The Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene Populations of Northern Africa.
COLIN P. GROVES AND ALAN THORNE 1999
We studied three northern African samples of human cranial remains from the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary: Afalou-bou-Rhummel, Taforalt, and Sudanese Nubia (Jebel Sahaba and Tushka), and compared them to late Pleistocene Europeans and Africans. Despite their relatively late dates, all three of our own samples exhibit the robusticity typical of late Pleistocene Homo sapiens. As far as population affinities are concerned, Taforalt is Caucasoid and closely resembles late Pleistocene Europeans, Sudanese Nubia is Negroid, and Afalou exhibits an intermediate status. Evidently the Caucasoid/Negroid transition has fluctuated north and south over time, perhaps following the changes in the distribution of climatic zones.
It would seem that the Eurasian deirived mechtoids of Western Morocco followed the coast around as far as Mali, and moved inland as the Sahara turned into Savannah.
The later Holocene buirals at Gobero where of a very different people, the Tenereans. These people recolonised the Gobero lake area about 7,000 years ago when the rains returned.
The darker skull is a Kiffian, the lighter a Tenerian. As can be sen, they are very different shapes.
These were a much shorter, more gracile people, who farmed and kept domesticated animals. They were much smaller and lightly build. As yet, studies of their skulls have failed to associate them with another known population, and they vanished when the Sahara began it’s present dessication, about 4,500 years ago.
One remarkable burial was found, a woman with two children embracing each other, from the Tenerian era.
It’s unclear how they died, but they seem to have buried with a lot of flowers (pollen found in the grave) as well as four arrowheads.
This is explained much better in the publication by the team studying the burials.
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.