(ORDO NEWS) — 10 thousand years ago, real giants lived in the then green Sahara, whose growth exceeded two meters. 8 thousand years ago, they disappeared, and after a thousand years they were replaced by other people – small, but not alien to the beautiful. At least they knew how to bury their dead beautifully and variedly.
When in 2000, the paleontologist Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago went to look for new dinosaur bones in the Sahara desert, he did not expect that he would return from there as an archaeologist. Arriving in the northeast of Niger, Sereno and his colleagues day after day sifted through the sand of Tener, one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world, which even the nomadic inhabitants of the Sahara call “desert in the desert”.
There were practically no finds. In the evening on the last day of the excavation, the scientists were about to leave, and most of them went to the camp, but Sereno still insisted that his team get to a distant hill, promising their employees that the expedition was on this hill.
Sereno fulfilled his promise, but the end of that expedition was the beginning of a great new work: on the way to the hill, scientists found a whole stone age cemetery.
Human bones, perfectly preserved in African sand, stick out directly from the ground, and their paleontologist-archaeologist noticed from the car, approaching the cemetery. Sereno himself spoke about this at a press conference organized by the American National Geographic Society, which partially funded the work.
For the first time in 2003, scientists returned to Niger, in the Gobero region, and over the past five years they found about 200 Stone Age graves located on two ancient dunes, each about a hundred meters across; the dunes are only a couple of hundred meters apart. About a third of these graves – to be exact, 67 pieces – scientists managed to investigate in detail. It is the results of the study of these 67 burials and the numerous bones and artifacts found both in these graves and in their environs that make up the content of the article published in PLoS ONE.
Paleontologists are not used to exploring real bones, and not their fossilized remains. As a rule, they get, in fact, casts of ancient bones, the substance of which for millions of years has been replaced by another breed. Of course, working with “real” material is more interesting, but there are also difficulties. For example, in paleontology it is relatively easy to determine the age of the fossils – just look at the layer in which they were found. Here, Sereno and his colleagues had to apply carbon analysis directly to the bones themselves.
As it turned out, the bones of people belonging to two cultures at once lie in Gobero.
The first about 10 thousand years ago came here tribes of strong people, hunters and fishers, which scientists attributed to the Kiffi culture. Just two millennia earlier, the last ice age ended, the Earth entered the Holocene, and the Sahara, which remained a dry desert for many thousands of years, was filled with water and life. There was a small lake in Gobero, which, according to archaeologists, attracted people. At the bottom of the lake there were many shells of bivalve mollusks, which people of the Stone Age ate, and in its waters up to 8 meters deep there were turtles and fish, including relatives of the giant Nile perch, whose length reached 1.5–2 meters. The skeletons of these fish, which are really very similar to the perch that is many times more familiar to us, were found by archaeologists both on the bottom of the dried lake and on its coast,
In the forests surrounding the lake, there was also something to profit from. Judging by the abundance of bones and teeth of animals that scientists were able to find, the territory where Niger is now located, one of the poorest and most joyless countries on the planet, 10 thousand years ago resembled a mixture of modern Kenya with South Africa. There were elephants, rhinos, giraffes, antelopes and African boars. Probably all of them were food for the people who inhabited Gobero from about 7,700 to 6,200 BC.
To hunt elephants, rhinos and giant fish, you need to have remarkable strength. And, it seems, the Kiffians met these requirements. They were real giants: judging by the skeletons that were discovered in the graves of the Kiffi episode in the history of Gobero – The growth of these people who lived 10 thousand years ago often exceeded 2 meters.
And the average growth of adult inhabitants of the environs of the ancient lake was about 1.8 meters – both men and women. The Kiffians were not just giants, they had a massive physique and were very muscular, as evidenced, in particular, by the outstanding marks in the places of attachment of muscles to the bone, which remained on some hips removed from the graves. Often on the bones, which are several thousand years old, one can also find the remnants of soft tissues, but in the case of the Sahara desert, exceptional weather conditions force anthropologists to base their judgments solely on the analysis of bones.
In order to maintain powerful muscles, the Kiffians had to get protein-rich food, and this, in the conditions of the Stone Age, always had to mean a very intense rhythm of life with constant hunting and fishing. Apparently, these people lived like this for one and a half thousand years, but about 8 thousand years ago they suddenly disappeared.
According to Sereno and his colleagues, at that moment another drought came to Africa, turning the Sahara back into the desert for a thousand years.
A thousand years later, another period of “green Sahara” began – the last at the moment. True, the lake, on the shore of which the Kiffians buried their dead, never returned to their original level. According to the calculations of archaeologists, from eight meters its depth returned only to a three-meter mark. This, however, did not prevent the fish from somehow returning here after a thousand-year drought.
Comparison of the skulls of representatives of the Kiffian (left) and Tenerian (right) Gobero population. The Kiffian died in adulthood, scientists estimate the age of the skull by the radiocarbon method at 9.5 thousand years. The age of the Tenerian at the time of death is about 18 years, his skull is already 5.8 thousand years old.
People also returned, but they were no longer two-meter giants, but people of ordinary physique, much smaller growth of 1.5-1.6 meters. Apparently, they were not the descendants of the Kiffians who returned to the once abandoned land to the shore of their dear lake. Representatives of this culture, which was named the Tenerian desert by the name of the Tenere desert, were biologically different from their predecessors. According to archaeologists, the structure of the skull of the Tenerians makes them look more like Mediterranean peoples than the current inhabitants of southern Sahara. And on their bones, traces of muscle attachment are practically invisible, which means that they were significantly inferior in terms of muscularity to Kiffians.
The culture has changed. The Tenerians, who lived in the area of Gobero for almost three thousand years – from about 5200 to 2500 BC, were not purely hunters. They came to the lake, having already learned to graze cattle, although judging by the preserved bones, they did not refuse fishing, either. True, the giant Nile perch was no longer in the shallowed lake; it was replaced by telapia and catfish.
Artifacts related to the Tenerian period are also significantly different. Not only clay pots and stone spearheads are found in their graves. The art of the Tenerians was far more developed, and the rituals more refined. However, they were incredibly diverse: people in the graves are located in completely different poses.
Perhaps the most astounding find of archaeologists is connected with this culture, which made us recall the ancient Romeo and Juliet, found last year in northern Italy. This time, in the grave, scientists unearthed the skeletons of three people at once – a young woman aged about 25 years and two children – probably her children, aged about 5 and 8 years.
Tenerians buried a mother and her children on a carpet of flowers.
Paleontologists who turned into archaeologists did not forget their art and were able to discern a huge amount of pollen of completely different colors in the grave. In addition, unlike archaeologists, who usually photograph burial sites and then disassemble them into separate bones, Sereno and his colleagues used the typical paleontological method. True, there is no solid rock, a piece of which they could cut along with bones, on an ancient sand dune. Instead, scientists poured all the special plastic and removed the ancient burial from the ground as a whole.
Five thousand years later, children and mother still stretch their arms to each other, hugging forever after death. Nothing of the kind is known among the prehistoric relics.
The most amazing thing, according to Sereno and his colleagues, is that, despite the thousand years that separated the burials of the Kiffians and Tenerians, despite the fact that they are not related to each other in any way and despite the fact that there is practically nothing in common between the two cultures, both of them chose the same place to bury their dead. The graves of the Kiffians and Tenerians are interspersed and seem to be completely randomly scattered across two ancient dunes.
Moreover, not one of the Tenerian graves disturbed the peace of the dead Kiffians.
This is a very remarkable fact, say Sereno and his colleagues. Perhaps the ancient graves were somehow designated. It is not clear, however, how grave signs could exist for thousands of years, separating two cultures from each other, but not survive until today, after 5 thousand years ago the Sahara finally turned into a desert, the land and sand of which perfectly preserved the bones of ancient people.
Perhaps the answer to this question will be given by the study of other burials: two-thirds of them remain intact, and some may not be discovered.
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