Tag Archives: Africa

Pastoral rock art in the Horn of Africa; making sense of udder chaos

Pastoral rock art in the Horn of Africa; making sense of udder chaos

Seriously, this is the papers title. Unable to cut and paste any, I’ll copy out a few snippets:

Pastoral rock art appears to be a comparatively recent phenomenon in the Horn, spanning only the last four to five thousand years.

The only evidence for cultigens is from Lalibela cave near lake Tana in north central Ethiopia where Dombrowski recovered barley chickpea and legumes from levels dating to no earlier than 2,500 BP.

The archaeological evidence for cattle is largely restricted to dental fragments  from Gobedra and Lalibela in the Ethiopian highlands, lake besaka in the Southern Afar rift, Laga Oda on the Somali plateau near Harar and Gogoshiis Qabe shelter ar Buur Heybe, southern Somalia. None of these faunal remains date to earlier tha 3,500 bp. Clay figurines from the site of Hawlti show that Pre-Axumites were still breeding humpless cattle as late as the first to second century AD. The earliest evidence of a humped Zebu cow is in the form of a small figurine from the 2nd century AD early Axumite site of Zeban Kutur.

It has some info on the rock art in Somalia and Ethiopia, it’s from 1987, but as far as I know no earlier dates have been found in Ethiopia for domesticates. However, some dates fo finger millet and sorghum are older in the Arabian peninsula and India, becoming staples by 2000 BC.

Domestication of the donkey: Timing, processes, and indicator


Abydos donkeys in brick tombs.

Domestication of the donkey: Timing, processes, and indicator

Domestication of the donkey from the African wild ass transformed ancient transport systems in Africa and Asia and the organization of early cities and pastoral societies. Genetic research suggests an African origin for the donkey, but pinpointing the timing and location of domestication has been challenging because donkeys are uncommon in the archaeological record and markers for early phases of animal domestication are hard to determine.We present previously undescribed evidence for the earliest transport use of the donkey and new paleopathological indicators for early phases of donkey domestication. Findings are based on skeletal data from 10 ~5,000-year-old ass skeletons recently discovered entombed in an early pharaonic mortuary complex at Abydos, Middle Egypt, and a concurrent study of 53 modern donkey and African wild ass skeletons. Morphometric studies showed that Abydos metacarpals were similar in overall proportions to those of wild ass, but individual measurements varied. Midshaft breadths resembled wild ass, but midshaft depths and distal breadths were ntermediate between wild ass and domestic donkey. Despite this, all of the Abydos skeletons exhibited a range of osteopathologies consistent with load carrying. Morphological similarities to wild ass show that, despite their use as beasts of burden, donkeys were still undergoing considerable phenotypic change during the early Dynastic period in Egypt. This pattern is consistent with recent studies of other domestic animals that suggest that the process of domestication is slower and less linear than previously thought.

As the paper says at one point:

In the 1980s zooarchaeologists working in southwestern Asia found bones attributable to donkey from sites in Syria, Iran, and Iraq dating to ca. 2800–2500 B.C.

the oldest date at 4,800 BP is from the Iranian highlands. So logically the domestiction of the ass in Africa would date to a substantial amount before 2,800 BC, and given the rate of expansion of camels and other livestock I’d say 6,000 years would be more realistic.

The Making of the African mtDNA Landscape

The Making of the African mtDNA Landscape

Africa presents the most complex genetic picture of any continent, with a time depth for mitochondrial DNA
(mtDNA) lineages 1100,000 years. The most recent widespread demographic shift within the continent was most probably the Bantu dispersals, which archaeological and linguistic evidence suggest originated in West Africa 3,000–4,000 years ago, spreading both east and south. Here, we have carried out a thorough phylogeographic analysis of mtDNA variation in a total of 2,847 samples from throughout the continent, including 307 new sequences from southeast African Bantu speakers. The results suggest that the southeast Bantu speakers have a composite origin on the maternal line of descent, with ~44% of lineages deriving from West Africa, ~21% from either West or Central Africa, ~30% from East Africa, and ~5% from southern African Khoisan-speaking groups. The ages of the major founder types of both West and East African origin are consistent with the likely timing of Bantu dispersals, with those from the west somewhat predating those from the east. Despite this composite picture, the southeastern African Bantu groups are indistinguishable from each other with respect to their mtDNA, suggesting that they either had a common origin at the point of entry into southeastern Africa or have undergone very extensive gene flow since.

An old paper from 2002 that I’m posting for reference while I’m hunting down info on L3a.

Paragroup L3A
We here define two previously unlabeled subclades of L3A, L3f, and L3g. The lineages remaining within L3* represent ~20% of all L3A types in Africa. Although they are distributed throughout the continent, they reach the highest frequencies in East Africa, where they account for about half of all types from this region. This frequency profile suggests an origin for L3 in East Africa (Watson et al. 1997). This is supported by the evidence that the out-of-Africa migration, which took place from a source in East Africa 60,000–80,000 years ago, gave rise only to L3 lineages outside Africa.

Cattle before crops :The Beginnings of Food Production in Africa

Cattle before crops :The Beginnings of Food Production in Africa
In many areas of the world, current theories for agricultural origins emphasize yield as a major concern during intensification. In Africa, however, the need for scheduled consumption shaped the development of food production. African cattle were domesticated during the tenth millennium BP by delayed return Saharan hunter-gatherers in unstable, marginal environments where predictable access to resources was a more significant problem than absolute abundance. Pastoralism spread patchily across the continent according to regional variations in the relative predictability of herding versus hunting and gathering. Domestication of African plants was late (after 4000 BP) because of the high mobility of herders, and risk associated with cultivation in arid environments. Renewed attention to predictability may contribute to understanding the circumstances that led to domestication in other regions of the world.

An interesting pdf, that has a fair bit of information on Nabta Playa and how modern hunter gatherers transplant plants nearer to their homes, and pen wild animals to feed up for meat at social/ritual events. It’s insightful as to the reasons behind some pre-domestication behaviour. I agree with the observation that it’s the favoured/hard to find foods and not the bulk foods that seem to be more likely to be domesticated first. If I think about what I grow in the garden, it’s things like strawberries and tomatoes, for flavour, not as a bulk calorie source. It’s much easier to go out to fetch the bulk of my food, and it seems to be the same for hunter gatherers. I notice they omit that Grigson described the early cattle at Nabta as morphologically wild though.


The observation that wild animals are penned and fed up for special occasions may shed some light on the Nabta Playa cattle remains. There’s been a cattle cult in the area for a long time, and it makes sense that you’ll make sure that you have access to a bull to sacrifice/eat, rather than risk being empty handed on the big day. One of the other Saharan sites is thick with wild Barbary sheep dung so there is a precedent for penning wild animals in the area; a precursor to domestication. I suspect this is more likely to be what happened at Nabta Playa than a full domestication complete with dairying. There was a cattle cult at Catal Hoyuk in Turkey (site of the Turkish domestication of cattle), the same as in El Nabta, so the same incentive would have been on both groups to ensure reliable supply of the animals. However, so far the evidence isn’t great that it got beyond penning  for Nabta. One way to settle this one would be to sample the cattle from Nabta for mt DNA (if possible) to see if they are ancestral to the earlier cattle remains in Egypt and North Africa. A nice direct line back to Nabta into the early neolithic cattle would settle that debate.


The paper also has a good section on the domestication of African crops. It should be noted that some African crops turn up in Asia before they are found in African sites though, so I wouldn’t take the domestication dates at sites as gospel. An interesting (for me at least) observation is that wild grains are often not harvested with a sickle, but are hand stripped or knocked into a basket, which could mean the grains were being eaten in mesolithic Europea too (there’s pollen evidence for it, but plant material doesn’t survive the damp climate).

Phylogenetic and phylogeographic analysis of African mitochondrial DNA variation

Phylogenetic and phylogeographic analysis of African mitochondrial DNA variation
Sadie Anderson-Mann, March 2006

With mitochondrial DNA lineages tracing back more than 100,000 years, the genetic diversity
present throughout Africa is unparalleled. Within this continent, a wide array of different
mitochondrial haplotypes are found; as a result of the numerous demographic movements
that this region has witnessed, these have been differentially dispersed, some being
geographically localised whilst others are found over a large proportion of the continent.
Along with the Atlantic slave trade, the Bantu dispersals are the most recent of population
movements to have had significant effect on the genetic landscape of Africa, and are
associated with the distribution of several different haplogroups. Here, phylogenetic and
phylogeographic analysis of over 2,000 predominantly sub-Saharan African mtDNA
sequences has been carried out, through construction of reduced median and, where
necessary, median joining networks, based on mtDNA hypervariable segment 1 (HVS-I)

A big article that I will read sometime I don’t have food poisoning. It contains a lot of info about the Bantu expansion in it.

Are Africans genetically more vulnerable to HIV?

While reading up on the Duffy blood type the other day, I found this article..

Duffy antigen receptor for chemokines mediates trans-infection of HIV-1 from red blood cells to target cells and affects HIV-AIDS susceptibility.

Duffy antigen receptor for chemokines (DARC) expressed on red blood cells (RBCs) influences plasma levels of HIV-1-suppressive and proinflammatory chemokines such as CCL5/RANTES. DARC is also the RBC receptor for Plasmodium vivax. Africans with DARC -46C/C genotype, which confers a DARC-negative phenotype, are resistant to vivax malaria. Here, we show that HIV-1 attaches to RBCs via DARC, effecting trans-infection of target cells. In African Americans, DARC -46C/C is associated with 40% increase in the odds of acquiring HIV-1. If extrapolated to Africans, approximately 11% of the HIV-1 burden in Africa may be linked to this genotype.After infection occurs, however, DARC-negative RBC status is associated with slower disease progression. Furthermore, the disease-accelerating effect of a previously described CCL5 polymorphism is evident only in DARC-expressing and not in DARC-negative HIV-infected individuals. Thus, DARC influences HIV/AIDS susceptibility by mediating trans-infection of HIV-1 and by affecting both chemokine-HIV interactions and chemokine-driven inflammation.

If I understand this correctly, the Duffy negative individuals catch HIV easier, but it takes longer to kill them. Personally I think I’d prefer being less likely to catch it in the first place. According to the Times this means about 2.5 million Africans have HIV because of their Duffy negative blood.

Another Y chromosome study showing a back migration into Africa from Asia.

A back migration from Asia to sub-Saharan Africa is supported by high-resolution analysis of human Y-chromosome haplotypes.

The variation of 77 biallelic sites located in the nonrecombining portion of the Y chromosome was examined in 608 male subjects from 22 African populations. This survey revealed a total of 37 binary haplotypes, which were combined with microsatellite polymorphism data to evaluate internal diversities and to estimate coalescence ages of the binary haplotypes. The majority of binary haplotypes showed a nonuniform distribution across the continent. Analysis of molecular variance detected a high level of interpopulation diversity (PhiST=0.342), which appears to be partially related to the geography (PhiCT=0.230). In sub-Saharan Africa, the recent spread of a set of haplotypes partially erased pre-existing diversity, but a high level of population (PhiST=0.332) and geographic (PhiCT=0.179) structuring persists. Correspondence analysis shows that three main clusters of populations can be identified: northern, eastern, and sub-Saharan Africans. Among the latter, the Khoisan, the Pygmies, and the northern Cameroonians are clearly distinct from a tight cluster formed by the Niger-Congo-speaking populations from western, central western, and southern Africa. Phylogeographic analyses suggest that a large component of the present Khoisan gene pool is eastern African in origin and that Asia was the source of a back migration to sub-Saharan Africa. Haplogroup IX Y chromosomes appear to have been involved in such a migration, the traces of which can now be observed mostly in northern Cameroon.

I’m just to tired to focus on this right now.. I’ll read it later.

Click to images to see full size.

The ancient North Africans.

I was looking about for classical descriptions of Egyptians and Libyans. Where the term Libyan is used, it refers to Caucasian North Africans, Ethiopian is the classical term for black Africans, at one point Herodotus writes about the the Ethiopians that live in parts of Libya. Herodotus considered Egyptians to be the third race of people in Egypt in north Africa.


Libya to the Egyptians and Greeks meant all of North Africa.

This is a map drawn by Herodotus himself. He names the Libyan people as the Nasamones, and interestingly, the Nile was believed to originated in the Atlas mountains instead of it’s real origin , a straight line southwards.

Foreign prisoners of Ramesses III: Libyan, Nubian, Syrian, Shasu Bedouin, and Hittite (The Hittites were an Indo-European people from Turkey).

A Libyan and a Nubian on king Tutankhamun’s staff.

And the mural of the races from the tomb of Ramses, from Belzoni’s illustration and the rather damaged original. Showing Libyans, a Nubian, a Syrian and an Egyptian.

And another freize showing various people, Syrians, Nubians and Libyans.

The Tassili Ladies, dated about 3,000 BC from  Southern Algeria.

The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived from c.480 – c.425 B.C wrote of the Nasamones..

They are a numerous race, who in the summer leave their flocks behind by the sea and go up to the region of Augila to gather the fruit of the date-palms, which grow in great numbers and very large and are all fruit-bearing: they hunt the wingless locusts, and they dry them in the sun and then pound them up, and after that they sprinkle them upon milk and drink them.
Their custom is for each man to have many wives, and they make their intercourse with them common in nearly the same manner as the Massagetes, that is they set up a staff in front of the door and so have intercourse. When a Nasamonian man marries his first wife, the custom is for the bride on the first night to go through the whole number of the guests having intercourse with them, and each man when he has lain with her gives a gift, whatsoever he has brought with him from his house.

The forms of oath and of divination which they use are as follows: they swear by the men among themselves who are reported to have been the most righteous and brave, by these, I say, laying hands upon their tombs; and they divine by visiting the sepulchral mounds of their ancestors and lying down to sleep upon them after having prayed; and whatsoever thing the man sees in his dream, this he accepts. They practice also the exchange of pledges in the following manner, that is to say, one gives the other to drink from his hand, and drinks himself from the hand of the other; and if they have no liquid, they take of the dust from the ground and lick it.

 The Nasamones bury bodies in a sitting posture, taking care at the moment when the man expires to place him sitting and not to let him die lying down on his back.

They have dwellings composed of the stems of asphodel entwined with rushes, and so made that they can be carried about.

Herodotus, Histories, 4.172-173, 190

Herodotus also describes the Garamantes, the Lotophagi (lotus eaters) and Macae.

Further inland to the southward, in the part of Libya where wild beasts are found, live the Garamantes, who avoid all intercourse with men, possess no weapons of war, and do not know how to defend themselves. Along the coast to the westward the neighbours of the Nasamones are the Macae. These people wear their hair in the form of a crest, shaving it close on either side of the head and letting it grow long in the middle; in war they carry ostrich skins for shields. The river Cinyps, which rises on a hill called the Hill of the Graces, runs through their territory to the sea. The Hill of the Graces is about twenty-five miles inland, and is densely wooded, unlike the rest of Libya so far described, which is bare of trees.

…Ten days’ journey west of the Ammonians, along the belt of sand, there is another similar salt-hill and spring. This place, called Augila, is also inhabited and it is here that the Nasamonians come for their date harvest. Again at the same distance to the west is a salt-hill and spring, just as before, with date palms of the fruit-bearing kind, as in the other oases; and here live the Garamantes, a very numerous tribe of people, who spread soil over the salt to sow their seed in. From these people is the shortest route—thirty days’ journey—to the Lotophagi; and it is amongst them that the cattle are found which walk backwards as they graze. The reason for this curious habit is provided by the formation of their horns, which bend forwards and downwards; this prevents them from moving forwards in the ordinary way, for, if they tried to do so, their horns would stick in the ground. In other respects they are just like ordinary cattle—except for the thickness and toughness of their hide. The Garamantes hunt the Ethiopian hole-men, or troglodytes, in four-horse chariots, for these troglodytes are exceedingly swift of foot—more so than any people of whom we have any information. They eat snakes and lizards and other reptiles and speak a language like no other, but squeak like bats.

The faces of the Carthaginians

A selection of coins from Carthage showing: the goddess Tanit and the Greek Pegasus (top) then Hannibal Barca’s own coinage, and then an electrum coin from 250 BC. A cathaginian coin minted in SIcily, and a coin from Massinissa. A coin of  Hadsrubal Barca (Hannibals brother), a tetradrachm from the Carthaginians in Sicily from circa 320 BC, and finally another coin of Hannibal complete with an elephant, 230 BC.

Hannibals coins were minted by order of Hannibal himself, not on the orders of some third party. So they are probably close to what he looked like in life.

I’ve been unable to find any statues, it seems the Romans did a very thorough job of destroying them

Iron working in Africa

Did They or Didn’t They Invent It? Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa

Stanley B. Alpern

Judging from a number of recent publications, the long-running debate over the origins of iron smelting in sub-Saharan Africa has been resolved… in favor of those advocating independent invention. For Gérard Quéchon, the French archeologist to whom we owe very early dates for iron metallurgy from the Termit Massif in Niger, “indisputably, in the present state of knowledge, the hypothesis of an autochthonous invention is convincing.”

This is an interesting essay about the case for and against against iron working originating in sub-Saharan Africa. In essence it picks apart some of the very early dates, showing them to be more the product of wishful thinking and poor archeological practises. Most notably, dating a buried object in Niger from a potsherd found on the surface (very poor practise) and the common use of ancient charcoal to smelt iron giving false antiquity to artifacts, and the lack of calibration when using carbon 14 dating. It also points out the lack of prior technology that could could have lead to the discovery of iron working, notably that coppper working appeared almost at the same time, and that the pottery was fired in low temperature pit kilns that wouldn’t have produced iron accidentally.

It also notes that the movement of iron technology appears to have been from North to South, with Egypt being one of the last Mediterranean cultures to adopt iron tools, with Turkey being the oldest known site. This is the reverse of what you would see of the technology was of African origin moving Northwards.

So it looks like a Turkish origin for Iron working is still the most likely.

Y chromosome study from Guinea-Bissau.

This study attributes the Y chromosome R1b to slave traders, but this is unlikely, as one inland African tribe the Ouldeme is almost totally R1b. You see this haplotype in Berbers, so it’s probably from them, before the Neolithic revolution swamped them with E3b1b. this would make it another marker of the Eurasian back migration into Africa. As this study says.

Some English family called Revis shows up positive for one of the world rarest Y chromosome clades from Guinea Bissau (A1). They are thought be be the descendants of an African slave, some time in the Georgian era. It’s amazing how DNA gets about.

Y-chromosomal diversity in the population of Guinea-Bissau: a multiethnic perspective


The Guinea-Bissau Y chromosome pool is characterized by low haplogroup diversity (D = 0.470, sd 0.033), with the predominant haplogroup E3a*-M2 shared among the ethnic clusters and reaching a maximum of 82.2% in the Mandenka people. The Felupe-Djola and Papel groups exhibit the highest diversity of lineages and harbor the deep-rooting haplogroups A-M91, E2-M75 and E3*-PN2, typical of Sahel’s more central and eastern areas. Their genetic distinction from other groups is statistically significant (P = 0.01) though not attributable to linguistic, geographic or religious criteria. Non sub-Saharan influences were associated with the presence of haplogroup R1b-P25 and particular lineages of E3b1-M78.