Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tishkoff on the origins of patoralism in Africa

Convergent adaptation of human lactase persistence in Africa and Europe
Tishkoff et al

"Archeological evidence suggests that cattle domestication originated in southern Egypt as early as ~9,000 years ago but no later than ~7,700 years ago and in the Middle East ~7,000-8,000 years ago28, consistent with the age estimate of ~8,000-9,000 years (95% c.i. ~2,200-19,200 years) for the T-13910 allele in Europeans. The more recent age estimate of the C-14010 allele in African populations, ~2,700-6,800 years (95% c.i. ~1,200-23,000 years), is consistent with archeological data indicating that pastoralism did not spread south of the Sahara and into northern Kenya until ~4,500 years ago and into southern Kenya and northern Tanzania ~3,300 years ago28,29. The ability to digest milk as adults is likely to be adaptive owing to the increased nutritional benefits from milk (carbohydrates as well as fat, protein and calcium) and also because milk is an important source of water in arid regions2,28,30,31. Considering the symptoms of lactose intolerance, which includes water loss from diarrhea, individuals who had the lactase persistence–associated alleles and could tolerate milk could have had a very strong selective advantage2. This is supported by our high estimates for the selection coefficient (s = 0.035-0.097). Because the selective force, adult milk consumption, is associated with the cultural development of cattle domestication, the recent and rapid spread of the lactase persistence–associated alleles, together with the practice of pastoralism in East Africa, is an excellent example of ongoing adaptation in humans32 and coevolution of genes and culture3."

"We observe the oldest age estimates of the C-14010 allele, ~6,000-7,000 years (95% c.i. ~2,000-16,000 years), in the Kenyan Nilo-Saharan and Tanzanian Afro-Asiatic populations (Table 1). We also observe an old age estimate in the Tanzanian Sandawe, but its low frequency suggests it was introduced via recent gene flow (Supplementary Discussion). However, we cannot distinguish with certainty whether this allele first arose in the Cushitic-speaking Afro-Asiatic populations, who are thought to have migrated into Kenya and Tanzania from Ethiopia ~5,000 years ago33 and practice a mixture of agriculture and pastoralism, or in the Nilotic-speaking Nilo-Saharan populations, who are thought to have migrated into Kenya and Tanzania from southern Sudan within the past ~3,000 years33 and are strict pastoralists28. These results are consistent with both linguistic34 and genetic data (F.A.R. and S.A.T., unpublished data) indicating cultural exchange and genetic admixture between these groups. The absence of C-14010 in the southern Sudanese Nilo-Saharan–speaking populations suggests that this allele either originated in or was introduced to the Kenyan Nilo-Saharan populations after their migration from southern Sudan. Regardless of the population origins of the C-14010 allele, it spread rapidly throughout the region along with the cultural practice of pastoralism, consistent with a demic diffusion model of genetic and cultural expansion35."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Karkur Talh: Mom Gets a Break

A Family
Children milking a cow while her calf stands aside
Late Bovidian Period
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)

When I first looked at this image, I could hardly believe my eyes.  Here is a family, with two children milking or suckling a cow.  Any person who has ever been involved in the exhausting process of breast feeding a baby or toddler will "get" this picture. 

It must have been a huge innovation when human beings could get milk for their children from cows, rather than having the sole source of milk coming from the mother or her lactating relatives. Having not yet developed lactase persistence, adults would not have benefited significantly from drinking cow milk.  Yet, the advantage to unweaned children would have been immediate and would have incentivized keeping, rather than eating, friendly wild cows.

The warmth of this picture suggests that the painter wanted to express that the cow was a blessing to his or her family.  It's an extraordinary and timeless picture.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Karkur Talh: Archers

Holding bow and arrows in their left hands
Late Bovidian Period
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Karkur Talh: Late Bovidian Paintings

Karkur Talh:  Late Bovidian Period
FJExpeditions: "In 1938 [Hans] Winkler spent some time exploring the side valleys, and during these trips, came accross a unique site near the watershed towards Karkur Murr. The site itself is clearly from the later part of the bovidian period, but the strange symbols and shapes are without parallel, and their meaning is unknown."
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)

Most of the Karkur Tahl engravings are from the main valley.  Their focus on a mix of animals, including barbary sheep, bovines, giraffes and ostriches, suggests that most these engravings are from an early period in the great Wet Phase when the Karkur Tahl was a grassland.  The paintings, on the other hand, seem to be concentrated in side valleys.  They are more stylized than the early engravings.  The cattle in many of these late stage paintings have lost their speckles and instead have large white spots and dark heads and backs.  There are very few paintings of anything but cattle. 

One of the most beautiful and vivid late state paintings is pictured above.  In addition to cattle, the artist draws several symbols. One of the symbols, star like with dots on the end of the star arms, is likely a version of a bolas.   As it turns out, archeological evidence of the bolas has turned up in both North Africa (link) and East Africa (link), so there is a very good chance that the painter of the above picture is illustrating the use of the bolas on Karkur Talh cattle.

The other partly faded shapes in the top right of the above picture are less identifiable. They might represent hunting blinds, but that is just a guess.


Karkur Talh Rock Art (Link)


Harrison, A. R. C. 1947. A Bolas-and-Hoop Game in East Africa, MAN:  A Monthly Record of Anthropological Science, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. XLVII, pages 169-176. (Link)

Lagercrantz, S. 1936. Did bolas anciently occur in Africa? Ethnos:  Journal of Anthropology, Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 30-34 (Link)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Karkur Talh: The Hunt

Early Rock Art Engraving at Karkur Talh
The Hunt
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)

On the left of the above picture, two "horned" human figures are shown, along with a hunter holding a spear and another kind of weapon, possibly a net or lasso.  A figure in the foreground appears to have their arms raised.

The horned figures are perhaps stalkers or other figures who's role it is to confuse the prey into thinking they are also bovines.  Although this might seem to be far-fetched, stalkers and imposter figures were key to the buffalo hunt on the North American prairie.  In a similar fashion, the hunters of Karkur Talh may also have used stalkers to confuse or lead bovines.

The figure with arms raised possibly has the role of frightening the animals toward an enclosed area where the hunter with spear is waiting.

At the far right of the picture are two other human figures, one holding a weapon in the air. The figures enclose the herd from the opposing side.  The effect is to indicate that the herd is trapped.

All of the above is certainly conjectural, but the above figures do hint that some form of the ancient methods of stalking and driving bovines was used at Karkur Talh.


reindeer in Norway,
gazelles in Syria,
caribou in the Arctic and
buffalo on the North American prairie

Evidence for African seasonal grassland tactical hunting during the LGM (Link)
Karkur Talh Rock Art (Link)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Speckled Longhorns, Then and Now

Karkur Talh:  Images of Speckled and Patterned Longhorns
Courtesy: Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)
   Ankole/Watusi Cattle and Herder     Unusually Patterned Texas Longhorn   
    Courtesy: Andy&Melinda blog (Link)     Courtesy: Rio Vista Ranch (Link)

Longhorn Cow, Road to Kampala         Speckled Texas Longhorn    
Courtesy:  Hilary Out of Africa Blog (Link)                 (Link)           

                Luis Aldamiz (
                mentions that Mertolenga cattle also have speckles. 

Karkur Talh: Aurochs and Giraffes

Early Rock Art at Karkur Talh
Aurochs and Giraffes
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)

The artist has carefully included the patterning on the giraffes.  A small bovid appears in the middle of the picture just in front of the center giraffe.  Close examination shows that the artist has drawn a dapple pattern on the aurochs.


Incipient Domestication on the Nile (Link)
The great Wet Phase of the early Holocene (Link)
Karkur Talh Rock Art (Link)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Karkur Talh: Archers, Ostriches, Giraffes, Bovids, Dogs, Oryx

Early Rock Art at Karkur Talh:
Top left:  Oryx, Ostrich, Wild Dog, Giraffe
Top right:  Auroch or Cattle, Human and Dog
Bottom Right:  Giraffes, Ostrich
Bottom Left: Archer, Auroch or Cattle
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)

In the above picture, it's notable that the top right auroch/cattle has different horns than the bottom left auroch/cattle.


Incipient Domestication on the Nile (Link)
The great Wet Phase of the early Holocene (Link)
Karkur Talh Rock Art (Link)

Karkur Talh: Addax, Ostrich, Wild Dog, Gazelle

Early Rock Art at Karkur Talh, showing an addax, many ostriches, African wild dogs (or possibly hyena), and a gazelle.
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)


Incipient Domestication on the Nile (Link)
The great Wet Phase of the early Holocene (Link)
Karkur Talh Rock Art (Link)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Karkur Talh Rock Art

Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link) has a beautiful web display of the rock art of Karkur Talh, at Jebel Uweinat in the southwest corner of Egypt.  The great Wet Phase once made this region greener and friendly to many animals that are not present today. 

Some of the images show giraffes and cattle in the same picture.  Others show the tethering of ostriches, giraffes and cattle.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Transition to Food Production

Excerpts from "The Emergence of a Food-Producing Economy in the Sahara" by A. Muzzolini from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)


"In an arid zone, a degree of sedentism is necessary to maintain a close link to a water supply.  Complete sedentism, with permanent dwellings, appears to be a more or less obligatory condition for the cultivation of cereals, but not for the pastoral system of the Saharan Neolithic.  Nevertheless, increased sedentism is clear as compared to epipalaeolithic or earlier times; ethnic groups now became distinct, characterized by, for example, specialized lithic industries and styles of rock art.  The people remained nomadic but confined to certain territories, thus producing ethnic identity."

Material culture and economy

"In the early Holocene, material equipment was considerably improved.  Pottery may have been used for the storage of grain, and was possibly also used for cooking; the lithic industry developed beyond all recognition - edge-ground cutting tools, and above all microliths, allowing for the manufacture of specialized and efficient composite tools.  Various skillfully flaked macrolithic tools, such as arrowheads and adzes, were added to the toolkit.  Specialized hunting and fishing, together with intensive collecting of wild grain, which characterized the early Holocene everywhere, may have developed in association with the specialization and the efficiency of these new tools."

Demographic pressure

"The density of remains and sites in certain areas of the Sahara gives clear evidence of demographic pressure:  for every one Aterian or Acheulean site there are a hundred neolithic.  This radical increase in population, immediately obvious from Pachur & Roper's (1984, p. 64) tables, and emphasized by Gabriel (1986, p. 21) for the eastern Sahara, is also illustrated by Tassilian rock art 'villages' with their abundance of engravings and paintings (Muzzolini 1986); a similar trend is observable in Capsian territory (Lubell, Sheppard & Jackes 1984), in the 'late Neolithic' of Nabta Playa/Bir Kiseiba (Wendorf, Close & Schild 1985), in the southern Atbai (Marks, Abbas, Hays & Elamin 1983) and in the valley of the Nile (Hassan, Ch. 33, this volume).  The suddenness with which this population explosion burst upon the scene - and the uneven way in which it then progressed in comparison with other factors - suggests that, although not the sole cause of the neolithic upheaval, it must have been a major one."

   "The principal objections against population pressure models stress that the 'carrying capacity' of a biotope constitutes only a flexible ceiling, and numerous adaptations can modify it (Hassan 1979).  However, this objection seems less valid in an arid zone."

   "In fact, the vital link with a water source, for animals as well as for humans, rigidly determines land occupation as soon as a critical population threshold is reached and all the sources of water are in use (that is, either permanently occupied or regularly visited, according to the 'rights' of each group).  Neither animals nor humans then have any further possibility of migrating to another supply of water.  This first 'crisis', which had never occured before the Neolithic, had the end result of creating and fixing 'territories' within finite limits."

   "As a result of demographic increase all possible 'territories' were occupied; these now included even the most difficult, such as the sand seas.  For the first time there was no more virgin land in the Sahara.  There followed an increase in sedentism, competition between groups, specialized hunting of the only species existing in the biotope and an intensification of local food-collecting; all this resulted in an accelerated population increase.  This continued until a second 'crisis' was set off by the inevitable natural limitations and carrying capacity of the biotope, which is more fragile and, above all, less flexible in an arid zone, if it continues to be exploited in the traditional way by semi-sedentary people.  Two solutions were possible.  Warfare, in the modern sense of the term, emerged as a new form of relationship between organized groups.  Evidence of this exists in J. Sahaba in Nubia, around 12,000 bp, where a burial ground yielded fifty-nine projectile points protruding into twenty-four bodies (Wendorf 1968c).  Alternatively, a transition to a still more intensive and planned exploitation of the 'territory' could be made.  The possibility had been known; now it became a necessity.  It consisted of the regulation of reserves to a far higher degree than simple storage of collected grain in pots or granaries; it involved the accumulation of protein in managed livestock or, where possible, in cultivated cereals."


Pachur, H. J. & H. P. Roper 1984.  Die Bedeutung palaoklimatischer Befunde aus den Flachbereichen der ostlichen Sahara und des nordlichen Sudan. Zeitschrift fur Geomorphologie 50, 59-70.

Gabriel, B. 1986.  Die ostliche libysche Wuste im Jungquartar.  Berlin:  Institut fur Geographie der Technischen Universitat.

Muzzolini, A. 1986.  L'Art rupestre prehistorique des massifs centraux sahariens.  Oxford:  British Archaeological Reports.

Lubell, D., P. Sheppard & M. Jackes 1984.  Continuity in the Epipalaeolithic of north Africa with special emphasis on the Maghreb.  In Advances in World Archaeology 3, Wendorf, F. & A. E. Close (eds), 143-91.  New York:  Academic Press.

Wendorf, F., A. E. Close, R. Schild 1985.  Prehistoric settlements in the Nubian desert.  American Scientist 173, 132-41.
Marks, A. E., M. A. Abbas, T. R. Hays & Y. Elamin 1983.  Preliminary report of the Butana Archaeological Project.  The 1982/3 field season.  Nyame Akuma 22, 26-7.
Hassan, F. A., Town and village in ancient Egypt: ecology, society and urbanization, The Archaeology of Africa, Shaw, Sinclair, Andah, Okpoko (eds). 1993.
Hassan, F. A. 1979.  Demography and archaeology.  Annual Review of Anthropology 8, 137-60.
Wendorf, F. 1968c.  Site 117:  a Nubian final palaeolithic graveyard near Jebel Sahaba, Sudan.  In The Prehistory of Nubia, Vol. 2. Wendorf, F. (ed.), 954-95.  Dallas:  Fort Burgwin Research Center & Southern Methodist University Press.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not Just a Load of Old Bull

Scene from the lost tomb-chapel of Nebamun, exposed in the British Museum, scene showing the presentation of cattle to Nebamun, Inv.: BM EA 37976, Painted about 1350 BC (Link)

Egyptian Longhorn Cattle from the Elite Cemetery at HK6: 
Not Just a Load of Old Bull

Wim Van Neer
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels

Except from the paper, which describes cattle buried in the Egyptian Elite Cemetery HK6 in Hierakonpolis:

  "Traditionally the Sanga has been considered a cross breed between the humpless taurine cattle and the zebu; however, an alternative view sees it not as a cross breed, but rather as a direct descendant of locally domesticated African aurochs. This theory makes sense, especially since zebu cattle were only introduced into Africa in significant numbers by Arab traders from the 10th century AD onwards. The few ancient depictions of true zebu cattle always occur in the context of tribute from Syria and it is unlikely that this cattle type could have made a large impact back then. Most of the humped cattle depicted in Dynastic scenes have only a small protuberance and are missing the dewlap typical of true zebu."
   "Other characteristics shared by the ancient images and Sanga cattle are the rather long and slender horns on the males, and long and slender limb bones for both sexes. The skull of the bull from Tomb 43 is too poorly preserved to observe the horn size and shape. However, the measurements of its long bones and those of the cow confirm that they both have slender extremities.  The specimens from HK6 can therefore be considered as likely descendants of the African aurochs and in turn the ancestors of the Egyptian Longhorn cattle on the later tomb walls."

The first villages

Excerpts from "The Emergence of a Food-Producing Economy in the Sahara" by A. Muzzolini from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)
   "In the arid zone, the semi-sedentism resulting from periodic return to the same water sources cannot be considered as a 'revolutionary' innovation - it is a necessity, common to all periods; however, building with durable materials around water sources shows a greater degree of sedentism.  This condition is evident in the Egyptian Western Desert, not only in seasonal encampments of the eighth millennium BC (the El-Adam facies around 9500 bp) but also during the seventh, in which the first traces of stone-built houses and of underground granaries are found (starting with the remains of El-Kortein c. 8750 bp and El-Ghorab c. 8450 bp).  At Nabta Playa, from c. 8000 bp onwards, encampments appear to be in almost continuous occupation, and fourteen circular houses are arranged in two rows to make a 'street'.  At El-Ghorab pits or houses are laid out along the arc of a circle.  Associated with these houses are various underground storage chambers and wells, some of which have sunken access ramps (Wendorf, Schild & Close 1984, pp. 1, 414, 415; Wendorf, Close & Schild 1985)."
   "These first developments show that in Africa, as elsewhere, human groups were becoming larger, and that henceforth they concentrated their dwellings, if not their activities, within relatively small 'territories'.  This major turning point sowed the seeds from which neolithic and later societies grew.  Sedentism and demographic increase, at one and the same time, make possible and necessitate division of labour, storage of food and more complex organization of social relations within the group and between groups."
Wendorf, F., R. Schild & A. E. Close (eds) 1984. In Cattle-keepers of the Eastern Sahara: the Neolithic of Bir Kiseiba.  Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.
Wendorf, F., A. E. Close, R. Schild 1985.  Prehistoric settlements in the Nubian desert.  American Scientist 173, 132-41.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The great Wet Phase of the early Holocene

Excerpts from "The Emergence of a Food-Producing Economy in the Sahara" by A. Muzzolini from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)
"Towards 12,000 bp the rains returned and, in the period from 12,000 to 7500 bp, watercourses and lakes appeared everywhere."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Domestication on the Nile series now "clickable"

All articles in the Domestication on the Nile series are now "clickable" from the right sidebar.

Nabta Playa

Except from Nabta Playa-Kiseiba Region:  Neolithic Egypt in the Western Desert by K. Kris Hirst (Link)

"The first settlements in the Nabta Playa-Kiseiba Region date to the El Adam phase, ca 10,800-9,800 cal BP. El Adam phase settlements are sites with hut foundations with central hearths. The sites are characterized by a lithic tool kit dominated by bladelets, perforators, and large endscrapers made from Egyptian flint, the source of which is located about 75 km north of Nabta Playa. Animal bone found at El Adam sites include cattle, gazelle, hare, jackal, turtle, rodents and birds. El Adam cattle are likely wild, although some scholars believe that the process of domestication began during this period."

Incipient Domestication on the Nile

The Addax

Excerpts from "Foraging and Farming in Egypt" by Wilma Wetterstrom from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)

   "Clark (1971, pp. 55-64) has suggested that a form of incipient animal domestication was practised during the Epipalaeolithic, which involved capturing wild animals and taming, feeding and fattening them for eventual slaughter.  Some of these practices seem to have been depicted on predynastic rock engravings in Upper Egypt and more extensively in Middle Kingdom tombs.  Tomb paintings indicate that a great variety of animals were subjected to this process, including two types of gazelle, ibex, deer, oryx, addax, cattle, hyaena, small game and birds.  Clark (1971, p. 57) suggests that these practices go far back beyond the Predynastic and came about in order to supply a growing population with meat."

   "Wendorf & Schild (1984a. p. 422) proposed that the Nile valley may have been an independent centre for cattle domestication, although no faunal evidence of early domestic Bos has been found.  They point out, however, that evidence may be lacking because of the paucity of faunal material in the Nile valley and the possibility that wild cattle were hunted, while the early domestic forms were kept mainly for milk and blood."


Clark, J. D. 1971.  A re-examination of the evidence for agricultural origins in the Nile valley.  Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 37, 34-79.

Wendorf, F. & R. Schild 1984a. Conclusions. In Cattle-keepers of the Eastern Sahara: the Neolithic of Bir Kiseiba, Wendorf, F., R. Schild & A. E. Close (eds), 404-28. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Late Palaeolithic shift to diversification in the Nile valley

Excerpts from "Foraging and Farming in Egypt" by Wilma Wetterstrom from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)

"Beginning about 21,000 BP, many of the sites [in the Nile valley] began producing masses of fish bones, which Wendorf & Schild (1989, p. 819) interpreted as evidence of a shift to harvesting fish for later consumption.  This might mark the beginning of a post-pleistocene type of foraging system with its shift away from large pleistocene mammals.  At these sites the mammal remains were nearly indentical to those at Wadi Kubbaniya; the hartebeest, aurochs and dorcus gazelle were the only common mammals.  But the hippo, which may have been more abundant in the Nile valley than Wadi Kubbaniya, turned up in these sites in small numbers (Wendorf & Schild 1989, p. 818).  Some local variations are also seen in the faunal assemblages."


Wendorf, F. & R. Schild 1989.  Summary and synthesis.  In The Prehistory of the Wadi Kubbaniya, Vol 3:  Late Palaeolithic Archaeology.  Wendorf, R., R. Schild and A. E. Close (eds.), 768-824. Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Mammals of late Palaeolithic Wadi Kubbaniya

Wadi Kubbaniya

Excerpts from "Foraging and Farming in Egypt" by Wilma Wetterstrom from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)

"We now have a better understanding of hunter-gatherer subsistence in the Nile valley than even a few years ago, thanks to the work of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at Wadi Kubbaniya in Upper Egypt (Wendorf, Schild & Close 1989). Wadi Kubbaniya, dated to 18,000 BP, provides a baseline from which one can begin to understand foraging adaptations in holocene Egypt and some of the factors involved in the transition to farming."


"Large mammals would have been important for meat and hides but the faunal remains indicate a very limited role.  Little mammal bone was recovered from the Wadi Kubbaniya sites compared to fish and bird.  At one site mammals represented only about 1 per cent of the bone (Wendorf & Schild 1989, p. 819).  These low quantities can probably be attributed to an impoverished environment.  The Nile valley at this time, covered mostly with wetlands and meadows, could have supported neither a large number nor a great variety of game.  The monotonous flora would have provided grazing for only a limited number of species;  indeed, only three large mammals were common at Wadi Kubbaniya, as well as at later sites in the Nile valley - the hartebeest, aurochs and dorcas gazelle.  This stands in marked contrast to the rich faunas at sites in the Sudan (Gautier & van Neer 1989, pp. 156-7).  In addition, the river's flood regimen would have severly limited the size of the game populations.  During the two to four weeks of maximum flood, people and animals were driven out of the wadi and Nile valley.  Between the floodwaters and the arid desert, large mammals would have found a very narrow band of grazing that would have effectively restricted the land's carrying capacity.  As a result, the available biomass of the hartebeest and aurochs may have been only a few animals per square kilometer (Gautier & van Neer 1989, pp. 158-9).  Finally, the game's behavior would have rendered them unpredictable and difficult to hunt at times."

"Little is known of the behavior and ecological requirements of wild cattle, as these creatures have been extinct for several centuries.  Gautier & van Neer (1989, pp. 135-6) suggest they were fairly tolerant herd animals, adapted to good grassland with or without wooded vegetation."

"Dorcas gazelle are a rare sight in the Nile valley today, but they can be seen in the wadis and canyons of the Red Sea hills and the Western Desert and at the margin of oases (Dorst & Dandelot 1970, p. 239)."

"If need be, [gazelles] can migrate great distances in search of food and water (Delany & Happold 1979, p. 154). "

"Kubbaniya hunters may have used spears for taking the larger ungulates and nets and traps for the smaller ones.  They may have driven the large herbivores into shallow water where they could have been more easily attacked (Gautier & van Neer 1989, p. 159.) "


Delany M. J. & D. C. D. Happold 1979, Ecology of African Mammals.  London:  Longman.

Dorst J. & P. Dandelot 1970, A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. London:  Collins.

Gautier, A. & w. van Neer 1989, Animal remains from the late paleolithic sequence at Wadi Kubbaniya.  In The Prehistory of North Africa: Vol. 2:   Stratigraphy, Paleoeconomy, and Environment and Late Palaeolithic Archaeology. Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Wendorf, F., R. Schild & A. E. Close (eds) 1989 In The Prehistory of the Wadi Kubbaniya, Vol 2 & 3:  Stratigraphy, Paleoeconomy, and Environment and Late Palaeolithic Archaeology. Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Wendorf, F. & R. Schild 1989.  Summary and synthesis.  In The Prehistory of the Wadi Kubbaniya, Vol 3:  Late Palaeolithic Archaeology.  Wendorf, R., R. Schild and A. E. Close (eds.), 768-824. Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

High Desert Abydos: 70,000 years of Desolation

Excerpt from paper Paleolithic Abydos (Link):

"[T]he surface context of the Egyptian high desert has a near absence of post-Paleolithic cultural disturbances. In part this results from prevailing arid to hyper-arid conditions following the marine isotope stage 5 pluvial event, which peaked around 120,000 years ago (e.g., Crombie et al. 1997; Kleindeinst et al. in press; Smith et al. 2004; Sultan et al. 1997; Wendorf et al. 1993). Occasional dates on sediments indicating humid conditions in central and southern Egypt occur around 70–80 kyr (e.g., Crombie et al. 1997; Szabo et al. 1995), and again at 40–50 kyr (Churcher et al. 1999; Hamdan 2000; Smith et al. 2004), but the only well-recognized younger pluvial phase is that of the early Holocene (e.g., Brookes 1989; Haynes 2001; Hoelzmann et al. 2000; Nicoll 2001). This climatic amelioration would have allowed incursions into the high desert near seasonal playas, and there is evidence of a much later small Roman presence in limited areas of the high desert, as well as a few Coptic monastic cells and trails. By and large, however, human presence in the high desert was extremely limited for the last 70,000 years."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paleolithic Abydos: Reconstructing Individual Behaviors across the High Desert Landscape

                    Abydos Survey for Paleolithic Sites (Link)

Laurent Chiotti, Shannon R. McPherron, Deborah I. Olszewski, Utsev Schurmans, Harold L. Dibble, Jennifer R. Smith


"Recent work in the high desert of Egypt, near the historic site of Abydos, has revealed a Paleolithic landscape that, in many respects, has remarkable potential for archaeological research. It is a virtually undisturbed landscape with millions of lithic artifacts left as they were discarded tens and even hundreds of thousands of years ago. Furthermore, the extreme stability of the desert surface, coupled with the lack of vegetation, means that the visibility of archaeological materials is nearly one hundred percent complete. Yet, at the same time, the region lacks many kinds of evidence that would normally be considered essential for a comprehensive reconstruction of past behavior. In particular, there are no organic remains and there are no means of grouping materials into assemblages that can be reliably dated. Somewhat ironically, these problems are a result of the very same factors that makes the area so pristine: principally the stability of the desert surface. Thus, the Egyptian high desert is far from being perfect, but the same can be said for most any Paleolithic site or survey area; there are, after all, very few sites like Pompeii, particularly in deep time. The challenge in this case is the same as that faced by every archaeologist—to determine what can be learned from a site or study area and to develop a research design that is most suited to its potential. In this article we will present some of the results to date that illustrate the archaeological potential of the high desert for Paleolithic research, focusing on the discovery of several lithic knapping events that demonstrate the undisturbed nature of this area and which also are revealing insights into Middle and Upper Paleolithic behaviors on this landscape."

Maps Added to the Sidebar

I've added a side list for maps.  In this discussion of the Nile, I thought it necessary to have a very good map on hand.  The map of the Nile in the sidebar under "MAPS" is a high resolution topographical map of the Nile and surrounding regions.  I also replaced the map of the Nile in an earlier post with this much better map.  As time permits, I'll be scanning through old posts to add other maps.

Climate at the end of the Pleistocene on the Egyptian Nile

Excerpted from "Foraging and Farming in Egypt" by Wilma Wetterstrom from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)

"It is impossible to understand ancient, or modern, Egypt without considering the Nile and its profound influence on plant and animal life.  Flowing north-northwest, the Nile has incised a narrow river valley through pleistocene sands and gravels.  Just north of Cairo, it fans out across the wide expanse of delta, channelled today into two branches.  Through most of its Egyptian course, some 800 km from the Sudanese border to Cairo, it is virtually the only source of water.  The floodplain, now carpeted with acres of irrigation fields, varies widely along the length of the Nile; near Aswan it is little more than the width of the river.  Further downstream it is broader, reaching up to 23 km in some places (Issawi 1976).  Thus the potential for foraging and farming varied markedly through the river valley."

   "Skirting the river's floodplain are the low desert terraces, with cliffs rising above them.  Beyond lie the deserts:  to the east is the Eastern Desert with low rugged mountains, steep scarps and valleys; on the opposite side of the river lies the Western Desert, a flat monotonous plain, barren except for several oases (Issawi 1976)."

   "The climate today is hyperarid, with practically no precipitation south of the Delta except for occasional rain in the Red Sea hills (Issawi 1976).  But this was not always the case.  Egypt has seen climatic changes and important alterations in the river regime over the last 20,000 years.  The period from 20,000 to 12,000 BP was hyperarid, like the present, but cooler.  At the end of the Pleistocene as the glaciers retreated, rainfall and temperature increased (Wendorf & Schild 1989, pp. 768-88). Rainfall levels remained higher through much of the early to mid-Holocene, which saw three moist phases.  Drier conditions started about 5400 BP and have continued to the present (Wendorf & Schild 1980, pp. 236-41; see also Grove, Ch. 1, and Maley, Ch. 2, this volume)."

   "Partly as a result of these climatic changes, the Nile has had a complex geological history.  The river has at various times built its floodplain and at others cut it down, as its water volume and sediment load have varied.  This has undoubtedly had far-reaching consequences for the archaeological record in the Nile valley.  For example, these geological processes may be responsible for the void in the record for the Nile valley north of the Qena bend.  There are no sites in this region [in the Nile valley] between upper paleolithic and predynastic times, although it is hard to imagine that this potentially rich area would have been ignored by holocene foragers."

   Editors' note:  "In the Sohag-Abydos region just north of the Qena bend a few in situ middle and upper paleolithic sites have been located, but all of these are preserved in wadis outside the Nile valley or are on protected terraces high above the valley floor (Paulissen & Vermeersch 1987, pp. 32, 34, 37-8, 40)."


Isawi, B.  1976.  An introduction to the physiography of the Nile valley.  In Prehistory of the Nile Valley, Windorf, F. & R. Schild (eds.), 3-22.  New York:  Academic Press.

Paulissen, E. & P. M. Vermeersch 1987.  Earth, man and climate in the Egyptian Nile valley during the Pleistocene.  In Prehistory of Arid North Africa:  essays in honor of Fred Wendorf, Close, A. E. (ed.), 29-67.  Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Wendorf, F. & R. Schild 1980.  Prehistory of the Eastern Sahara.  New York:  Academic Press.

Wendorf, F. & R. Schild 1989.  The Prehistory of the Wadi Kubbaniya, Vols 2 & 3:  Stratigraphy, Paleoeconomy, and Environment and Late Palaeolithic Archaeology.  Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Climate at the end of the Pleistocene in Africa

Excerpted from "Africa's Climate in the Holocene" by A. T. Grove from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)

"The low level of moraines on the high mountains of east Africa and Ethiopia indicate that snowlines were about 1000 m lower than at present in the last glaciation somewhere between about 30,000 and 14,000 years ago.  Temperatures were about 5 degrees C lower than they are now, assuming the precipitation was much the same at the present day, or as much as 9 degrees C lower, taking into account the fact that precipitation between about 18,000 and 14,000 BP seems to have been less than now.  The cooling has been confirmed by analysis of pollen from cores taken from mountain lakes which show that the altitudinal vegetation zones were also lowered by something like 1000 m (Maley, Caballe and Sita 1990).  The whole of Africa was significantly cooler than now.  Periglacial features in South Africa and Lesotho dating from the last glaciation suggest that temperature may have been as much as 14 degrees C lower (Lewis 1988) though a cooling of 5 degrees C is more usually accepted.  With the steeper latitudinal temperature gradients, winds were probably stronger than at present, and climatic conditions at both the southern and northern extremities of continent must have resembled those of Patagonia at the present day.  Northern Africa would have been subject to icy blasts in winter from notherwesterly winds sweeping across the sea-ice, which extended across the Atlantic as far south as Portugal."

   "Between the tropics, towards the end of the Pleistocene, the climate was generally much more arid than now.  Saharan dunes extended some 500 km south of their present limits, ponding back the Senegal, Upper Niger, Logone-Shari, and the Nile north of Khartoum.  Closed basins where lake sediments remained from earlier wetter conditions were deflated.  The entire upper Nile basin was an area of inland drainage with most of the floor of Lake Victoria dry as recently as 13,000 years ago.  However, the northern Kalahari some 18,000 to 15,000 years ago was occupied by great lakes flooding 40,000 square kilometers of the Makgadikgadi basin and extending from an enlarged Lake Ngami northeast to the Zambezi above the Victoira Falls (Shaw, Cooke & Thomas 1988)."

   "The glaciers on the east African mountains retreated about 15-14,000 BP (Hamilton 1982) and after an interval of a millennium or two lake levels began to rise in Tibesti, the Sahel, the White Nile valley south of Khartoum, southern Ethiopia and east Africa."


Hamilton, A.  1973.  Environmental History of East Africa:  a study of the Quaternary.  London:  Academic Press.

Lewis, C. A. 1988.  Periglacial features in southern Africa:  a review, 1987.  Palaeoecology of Africa 19, 357-70.

Maley, J., G. Caballe & P. Sita 1990.  Etude d'un peuplement résiduel à basse altitude de Podocarpus latifolius sur le flanc congolais du massif du Chaillu:  implications paléoclimatiques et biogéographiques:  étude de la pluie pollinique actuelle.  In Paysages quaternaires de l'Afrique Centrale Atlantique, Lanfranchi, R. & D. Schwartz (eds.), 336-49.  Paris:  ORSTOM (Institut Français de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement en Coorpération).

Shaw, P. A., H. J. Cooke & D. S. G. Thomas 1988.  Recent advances in the study of quaternary landforms in Botswana.  Palaeoecology of Africa 19, 15-26.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunting and Animal Domestication on the Nile

The Nile and Region

My posts for the next few weeks will focus on evidence for hunting and animal domestication on the Nile during the epipaleolithic.  Many African domestic animals such as the goat appear to have come to the continent  in the early Neolithic by way of South East Asia.  In this regard, Melinda A. Zeder has focused on domestication on the Taurus-Zagros arc and Levant (link).  Other animals such as the zebu came to Africa from South Asia (link). However, not all African domesticated animals are imports. There is genetic evidence that some African cattle are partly descendants of Nile aurochs. On the Nile, it is likely that there was a long process of insipient domestication of many animals, of which only a small number became full domesticates.

I'll be quoting from works on the Nile epipaleolithic that discuss the archaeological evidence for the auroch, hartebeest, rhinoceros and gazelle.  I'll then focus on genetic studies of African cattle that are believed to have originated on the Nile such as the N'dama breed.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Four "Dienekes" Posts Taken Together

Northern Africa, including the Nile and Sahel

I don't generally reference Dienekes' Blog, for reasons which I have mentioned in a previous post.

However, several papers that he has put up over the last few months are interesting to consider together.  For an objective view, it's best to read the actual papers rather than rely heavily on Dienekes' comments.

In the comments of yesterday's post, "Copernican" Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree, there is a discussion of recent finds in the Southern Arabian Peninsula.  The researcher who is commenting indicates a connection between Southern Arabian archaeology and the Nubian Complex. 

In conjunction with these comments, it's interesting to read Dienekes' post on a paper on the Nubian Complex, 106 thousand years ago.  Another related post is The "Upper Paleolithic" of South Arabia.  These fascinating archaeological finds show the lithic transition, running backwards and forwards into the Southern Arabian peninsula, up and down the Nile and the Great Rift, and into and out of the Levant.

Surprisingly, Dienekes doesn't make the connection with  another of his posts.  A careful reading of the paper Y-chromosomes variation of Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights into the history of Niger-Congo groups does suggest that men carrying Y-chromosome E1b1a sweep backwards and forwards across the African Sahel, between the Horn of Africa, the Upper Nile and West Africa.  Much later, E1b1a* men then sweep southward and eastward in the Bantu expansion.

Comments in this paper include:

"Mande and Kordofanian—two of the three major branches of Niger-Congo—have been suggested as belonging to an earlier split, and some authors even doubt the affiliation of one or the other to the phylum."

"Since the migration of modern humans out of Africa, numerous population movements have played a role in shaping patterns of linguistic and genetic variation within the continent itself (Campbell and Tishkoff 2008). New forms of subsistence and technological improvements such as those derived from agriculture have driven population expansions even over long geographic distances. However, the major African linguistic phyla are assumed to have originated and spread much earlier than the advent of agriculture, which developed relatively late in sub-Saharan Africa: Cultivated plants did not appear before 4,000 ya. Indeed, it has been suggested that the expansion of Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan started 12,000-10,000 ya with the improving climate at the beginning of the Holocene when speakers were still hunter gatherers."

"Haplogroups E1b1a* and its derivative E1b1a8 are characteristic of the Mande[Western Sahel], which belong to the earliest split of the linguistic tree. The derived haplogroup E1b1a7* is characteristic of Gur speakers[Western Sahel], and the most derived haplogroup analyzed here, E1b1a7a, is characteristic of Bantu-speaking groups, who represent one of the most derived branches of the Niger-Congo linguistic tree."

There is not yet enough information to pin point the origin of Y-chromosome E1b1, but it does hint at an origin somewhere along the nexus of the Sahel, Lake Chad, Great Rift and Nubia.

It's interesting to think about Nubian Complex archaeology as it radiates northward and eastward. This illustrates the Out-of-Africa process. Just as fascinating is the In-Africa process, with the eventual expansion from the region of the Nubian Complex to points westward and southward. I'm certainly looking forward to more investigation of the Nubian Complex and related archaeology.

Related open access papers:

A "Copernican" Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root

The Nubian Complex of Dhofar, Oman: An African Middle Stone Age Industry in Southern Arabia

Dienekes' related posts:

"Copernican" Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree

The Nubian Complex in southern Arabia, 106 thousand years ago

The "Upper Paleolithic" of South Arabia

Y-chromosomes of Niger-Congo groups

Tishkoff on the genetic structure of Africans and African Americans

Related posts on this blog:

Saudi and Bedouin mt-DNA

Embarking on an exploration of the E Haplogroup Dispersal with relation to Admixture

Gazelle Hunters

African Genetic History: Three Papers

Out of Africa Tactical Hunter Migrations Driven by Glacial Cycles