Thursday, May 24, 2012

Early, possibly predomestication divergence of N'dama cattle

Genome-Wide Survey of SNP Variation Uncovers the Genetic Structure of Cattle Breeds

The Bovine HapMap Consortium

From the main body of the paper:

To examine relatedness among breeds, we analyzed SNP genotype frequencies with InSTRUCT () and performed principal component analysis (PCA) using Eigenstrat () (Fig. 1 and fig. S27). Varying the number of presumed ancestral populations (K) within InSTRUCT revealed clusters consistent with the known history of cattle breeds (Fig. 1A). The first level of clustering (K = 2) reflects the primary, predomestication division of taurine from indicine cattle. Consequently, breeds derived from indicine and taurine crosses (Beefmaster, Santa Gertrudis, and Sheko) show signatures of admixture with both approaches. At K = 3, the African breeds N’Dama and Sheko separate from the European breeds—a division that reflects an early, possibly predomestication, divergence. PCA recapitulated these findings (Fig. 1B). At higher levels of K, we observed clusters that identify single breeds as closed endogamous breeding units. For example, at K = 9, Jersey, Hereford, Romagnola, and Guernsey each form unique clusters.
Fig. 1

Fig. 1

(A) Population structure assessed by InStruct. Bar plot, generated by DISTRUCT, depicts classifications with the highest probability under the model that assumes independent allele frequencies and inbreeding coefficients among assumed clusters. Each individual (more ...)

From the Supplemental Material:
The tree in Fig. S23 clearly separates the indicine breeds (Nelore, Gir, and Brahman) from the taurine breeds. Also the hybrid breeds (Santa Gertrudis, Beefmaster, and Sheko) are placed intermediate to the indicine and taurine breeds and the African taurine N’Dama breed is positioned distant from the taurine and indicine breeds consistent with the hypothesis of a separate African site of domestication (S16). Of the European breeds, the British Island breeds (Hereford, Guernsey, and Jersey), and European mountain Brown Swiss are the most distinct probably reflecting their phylogeographical origin.

Multidimensional scaling plots were also generated from the Fst distances and are presented in Fig. S24. In Fig. S24A in which all breeds are included in the analysis, the first dimension clearly represents an indicine division in cattle genomes. The two pure indicine breeds are to one extreme and both the European and African taurine cattle are to the other extreme for the first dimension. Again, the hybrid Sheko, Santa Gertrudis, and Beefmaster are intermediate on this axis. It is possible that there might be some indicine ancestry in the Italian Romagnola breed - previous microsatellite work has suggested that there may be traces of indicine in Mediterranean breeds (Romagnola is the most easterly of the European breeds represented in the sample.) In Fig. S24B, in which the indicine and hybrid breeds were excluded from the analysis, there is a clear separation of the West African N’Dama from the other breeds, supporting the tentative archaeological and mtDNA evidence that suggests that there may have been a separate African
site of cattle domestication.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The onset of food production among Proto-Northern Sudanic speakers

Excerpt from "Nilo-Saharans and the Saharo-Sudanese Neolithic" by Christopher Ehret in The Archaeology of Africa (1993) edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)

Chris Ehret's Nilo-Saharan language tree with Proto-Northern Sudanic dated at 10,500 BP
 (Expand by clicking on the diagram) 
[From Tishkoff et al Supplementary Material link, but also available in the above reference]

page 109:

"The earliest point in the differentiation of the Nilo-Saharan languages to which some practice of food production can be traced is Proto-Northern Sudanic.  For the next successive periods of Proto-Saharo-Sahelian and Proto-Sahelian, the volume of reconstructible vocabulary which is unambiguously indicative of food production continues to increase.  It might be thought at first glance that the increase reflects simply greater retention of evidence because the latter two periods are more recent in time.  But one key repeated feature of the evidence makes this explanation untenable:  at each of the three successive periods, the newly identifiable evidence includes one or more coherent bodies of new vocabulary expressing a suite of practices or knowledge not found at all in the vocabulary reconstructible for the immediately preceding era.

   "To the Proto-Northern Sudanic language can be attributed the following subsistence vocabulary (with known distributions of each in brackets):

1  *ndw  'to milk'  [Kunama; Eastern Sudanic (Tama; Gama; Kuliak)]
2  *su:k  'to drive' (domestic animals)'  [Kunama; Saharan; Eastern Sudanic (Nubian)]
3  *a:yr  'cow'  [Kunama; Eastern Sudanic (Nara; Southern Nilotic of Kir group)]
4  *Way  'grain'  [Kunama; For; Eastern Sudanic]
5  *ke:n  'ear of grain'  [Kunama; Songay]
6  *p'εl  'grindstone'  [Kunama; Eastern Sudanic (Western Nilotic or Kir group)]

   "Of these six roots, only the first two are actually diagnostic of food production.  Together with the third item, they indicate that proto-Northern Sudanians raised at least some cattle.  The root for 'cow' is not diagnostic by itself of food production since cattle would have been known in wild form to early Nilo-Saharans if they lived far enough north in the modern Saharan zones;  and the three grain terms would have been as necessary to the vocabulary of wild grain collectors as to that of the cultivators of domestic grains.

   "Two other Proto-Northern Sudanic roots deserve notice for their archaeological implications:

7  *sa:p or *sa:B  'temporary shelter'  [Kunama; Songay; Eastern Sudanic (Southern Nilotic)]
8  *ted  'to make a pot'  [KunamaFor; Maban; Eastern Sudanic (Western Nilotic)]

   "No word for any kind of more permanent structure, such as a house, can yet be reconstructed for the Proto-Northern Sudanic language or for the two earlier periods of Nilo-Saharan history.  One additional root word applying to an earthenware container may be traceable back to the proto-Sudanic era, however.  Its suggested reflexes are Kunama dosa 'earthenware bowl' and [a similar word in] Proto-Central Sudanic [meaning] 'water pot'.  Its validity remains uncertain because its postulation requires some sound shifts which, though probably regular, are not yet fully substantiated.  If it is a validly reconstructable root, it would show the invention of pottery among Nilo-Saharans to predate the Northen Sudanic period and the appearance of cattle-raising.  An interesting possibility, in view of the meanings of the Kunama and Central Sudanic terms, is that the earliest ceramic vessels may not have been used for cooking."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chris Ehret Lecture on African Genetics and Linguistics

Christopher Ehret, an expert on African linguistics, who I have have referenced in the preceeding post, Locating early Nilo-Saharan societies (Link), was a speaker at the recent African Genetics International Conference (Link).  Ehret was also a coauthor on the important paper The genetic structure and history of Africans and African Americans (Link).  In this talk, available by youtube above, some of the questions he asks and attempts to answer are:

When can we give credence to linguistic claims about the past?

How do demographic processes and language history intertwine?

How does linguistic change actually proceed?

Are there historical linguistic tools and techniques that allow us to formulate testable hypothesis about demic and genetic change and the nature of different eras of demographic encounter in the past?

These questions are important in understanding past demic expansions in Africa.  Their answer may also be relevant to the relation of genetics and linguistics in the broader context.


The slide that Ehret presents of the Nilo-Saharan language tree is also in the supplementary material of the paper Tishkoff et al, The genetic structure and history of Africans and African Americans, referenced above.  Here is an expandable version of the slide:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Locating early Nilo-Saharan societies

Excerpt from "Nilo-Saharans and the Saharo-Sudanese Neolithic" by Christopher Ehret in The Archaeology of Africa (1993) edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link):


"Inferring the probable locations of earlier speech communication is accomplished by applying the principle of least moves to explain the language distribution of subsequent times:  the most probable earlier locations are those which require the fewest population movements or cultural-cum-linguistic expansions to account for later locations.  The course of argument in such determinations begins normally with the more closely related tongues and proceeds by stages to the more distant.

"The Kir-Abbaian group provides a suitable starting point for the process of establishing probable and possible earlier locations of Nilo-Saharan communities.  Previous work (Ehret 1983) has shown that the proto-Kir-Abbaian homeland is best located somewhere in the Blue Nile (Abbai) river region of the modern nation of Sudan.  Kir Abbaian is one of three branches of Eastern Sudanic, the others being Astaboran and Kuliak.  The modern locations of languages of the Astaboran branch - along an exis extending from Tama and its related dialects on the east side of J. Marra, to Nara of the far northwestern Ethiopian highlands - suggest an original spread of the languages of that branch out of an intermediate area, just to the north of the lands in which the earlier Kir-Abbaian speakers are most probably to be placed.  In other words, the proto-Astaboran society probably lived north of the latitudes of the Blue Nile, perhaps in the plains of the Atbara region or to the west of the Nile in the same latitudes.  (The name Astaboran is taken from the ancient recorded form of the name of the Atbara river.)  The third branch of Eastern Sudanic, Kuliak, is composed of languages spoken today only in eastern Uganda, far to the south.  But the traceability of both the other branches to adjoining areas of northern Sudan indicates that the proto-Eastern Sudanic society, from which all three derive, is also best located in northern Sudan, probably in notheastern or central parts of that country.  Only one movement, southward out of that region, is then required to account for the Kuliak presence in Uganda."

"The focus of cultural and linguistic divergence in the several eras immediately preceeding proto-Eastern Sudanic times apparently lay in those portions of northern Sudan westward from the Nile.  The Maban languages are concentrated in and around the Wadai region of Chad, just beyond the western border of Sudan.  In addition to its Eastern Sudanic and Maban branches, the Sahelian group has two other branches which each contain only a single language today.  Of these, For is spoken in the J. Marra region (Darfur) in western Sudan, just east of the Maban heartland and adjacent to the span of territory to its northeast in which the early Eastern Sudanic speech areas were most probably located.  Songay alone is spoken far away from the other three branches, in areas 2000km to the west near the great bend of the Niger river.  As for Eastern Sudanic, so for Sahelian can all but one of its branches thus be traced to adjoining regions, with the distant locations of its remaining branch explainable by a single movement away from the others.  The proto-Sahelian country thus probably lay somewhere in or around the northwestern quarter of Sudan.   The Songay presence far to the west is evidence that the break-up of the proto-Sahelian speech community was accomplished in part by a major expansion of people westward across what is today the Sahel and southern Sahara.

"These inferences about the location of the early Sahelian people are further strengthened by the evidence pertaining to the next earlier era of Nilo-Saharan differentiation, in which the Proto-Saharo-Sahelian language was spoken.  The Saharo-Sahelian mother language diverged into two daughter languages, one of which was Proto-Sahelian, the homeland of which lay, as has just been proposed, in or around the northwestern parts of Sudan.  The other daughter language was Proto-Saharan, from which the present day Kanuri, Tibu and Zaghawa languages derive.  The work of Saxon (n.d.) has shown that the Proto-Saharan language was most probably spoken in the areas extending from Tibesti on the north to Ennedi or J. Marra on the south - in other words, in the northwestern quarter of Chad, just next to the region where its sister language, Proto-Sahelian, was most likely spoken.  The proto-Saharo-Sahelian society can therefore also be placed somewhere in the combined regions of northwestern Sudan and northeastern Chad."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Maasai

Maasai Girls
Maasai Association (Link)

Tishkoff et al:  "Many Nilo-Saharan–speaking populations in East Africa, such as the Maasai, show multiple cluster assignments from the Nilo-Saharan (red) and Cushitic (dark purple) AACs, in accord with linguistic evidence of repeated Nilotic [Nilo-Saharan language group] assimilation of Cushites [Afroasiatic language group] over the past 3000 years () and with the high frequency of a shared East African–specific mutation associated with lactose tolerance ()."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Neighbor-joining tree of Saharan Groups and Other Africans

Figure S18 [Tishkoff et al]:  Un-rooted neighbor-joining tree from pairwise net nucleotide genetic distances calculated from the inferred ancestral allele frequencies at K = 14 from STRUCTURE analysis of the African dataset. Major clades observed in the tree include the North African/Dogon, Fulani, Cushitic, and Mbugu AACs, the SAK-Mbuti Pygmy and W. Pygmy AACs, and the Hadza and Sandawe AACs. The Nilo-Saharan and Chadic-Saharan AAC form a sister group and cluster with the Central Sudanic AAC. The Bantu AACs radiate from the center of the tree.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Origins of Nilo-Saharan and Cushitic Speakers

"Figure S15 [Tishkoff et al]:  STRUCTURE analysis of the African dataset only (121 populations) with all genetic data (848 microsatellites, 476 indels and 3 SNPs) from K = 2 - 14. Each vertical line represents an individual. Individuals are clustered by self-identified ethnic group (shown at bottom) and ethnic groups are clustered by major geographic region. The colors represent the proportion of inferred ancestry from K ancestral populations. Values for K are shown on the left and the number of similar runs (F) for the primary mode for each set of 25 STRUCTURE runs at each K value is shown on the right."

The genetic structure and history of Africans and African Americans

Tishkoff et al,  Science. 2009 May 22;324(5930):1035-44. Epub 2009 Apr 30. (Link)

From the Supplement:

Origins of Nilo-Saharan and Afroasiatic Cushitic speaking populations

"The southern/central Sudanese show high levels of both the Nilo-Saharan(red) and Afroasiatic Cushitic purple AACs from K=8-13 (Fig. S15), consistent with linguistic arguments suggesting a long history of extensive contact and gene flow ~20,000-10,500 ya, along the western edges of the Ethiopian highlands.  The history of regional interactions between Nilo-Saharans and Cushites 5,000-1,000 ya in southwestern Sudan and adjacent parts of Uganda and Kenya were likely to have reinforced the genetic patterns observed in the STRUCTURE analyses.

"Our data support the hypothesis based on linguistic, archeological, mtDNA, and Y chromosome data, that the Sahel has been a corridor for bi-directional migration between eastern and western Africa.  We observe the highest proportion of the "Nilo-Saharan AAC” in the southern/central Sudanese populations (Nuer, Dinka, Shilluk, Nyimang), with decreasing frequency from northern Kenya (e.g. Pokot) to northern Tanzania (Datog, Maasai). From K = 5-13, all Nilo-Saharan speaking populations from Kenya, Tanzania, southern Sudan, and Chad cluster with west-central Afroasiatic Chadic speaking populations (Fig. S15).  These results are consistent with linguistic and archeological data, suggesting a possible common ancestry of Nilo-Saharan speaking populations from an eastern Sudanese homeland within the past ~10,500 years, with subsequent bi-directional migration westward to Lake Chad and southward into modern day southern Sudan, and more recent migration eastward into Kenya and Tanzania ~3,000 ya (giving rise to Southern Nilotic speakers) and westward into Chad ~2,500 ya (giving rise to Central Sudanic speakers).  A proposed migration of proto-Chadic Afroasiatic speakers ~7,000 ya from the central Sahara into the Lake Chad Basin may have caused many western Nilo-Saharans to shift to Chadic languages.  Our data suggest that this shift was not accompanied by large amounts of Afroasiatic gene flow. Analyses of mtDNA provide evidence for divergence ~8,000 ya of a distinct mtDNA lineage present at high frequency in the Chadic populations and suggest an East African origin for most mtDNA lineages in these populations."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Roger Blench on African Humpless Longhorns

Excerpt from "Prehistory of African Ruminant Livestock, Horses and Ponies" by Roger Blench in The Archaeology of Africa (1993) edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link):

"The main present-day representation of the humpless longhorn in Africa is the n'dama, which flourishes between the Ivory Coast and the western seaboard (Starkey, 1984).  Humpless longhorn cattle present something of a paradox.  They are by far the most common type of cattle in iconographic representations in the Sahara, ancient north Africa and Ethiopia and are also clearly more ancient than shorthorns.  Yet they are today confined to a very small region of western Africa."

"The humpless longhorns crossed the dessert, perhaps via a western route, as their geographical dispersal was never as broad as the shorthorns.  Nonetheless, they seem to have adapted to the derived savanna and the northern forest regions and to have spread between the Senegambia and northern Cameroon.  They presumably interbred with the muturu [See reference below], and the brown and white muturu types in semi-arid west Africa may be the descendants of these crosses.  The humpless longhorns clearly illustrated in Ethiopian rock art have apparently vanished without trace, although they must have made some genetic contribution to present-day zebu races.

"Apart from the flourishing n'dama populations, there is more fragmentary evidence for a wider distribution of humpless longhorns in west Africa.  Rock paintings in Birnin Kudu, northern Nigeria, clearly represent humpless longhorn cattle, and near Zing in northeastern Nigeria, are traces of a race that appears to be a humpless longhorn.  They are kept by the Mumuye people, and are regarded as the 'traditional' type, although they have now almost disappeared on account of repeated crossing.  Another residual population of these animals, locally known as pabli, has been recorded in northern Benin Republic (Troquereau 1961). Epstein (1971) cites existing populations among the Dowayo (Namji) and Pape in northern Cameroon as well as a record of a population in the Atlantika mountains that became extinct before 1939."

References (in order of citation):

Starkey, P. H. 1984. N'dama cattle - a productive trypanotolerant breed.  World Animal Review 50, 2-15.

Adebambo, Olufunmilayo A.  The muturo:  A rare sacred breed of cattle in Nigeria (Link)

Troquereau, P. J. A. 1961.  Les ressources animales de la République du Dahomey. Report to the Government of Dahomey.

Epstein, H. 1971.  The Origin of Domestic Animals in Africa.  2 vols.  New York:  Africana Publishing Corporation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Spread of Domestic Cattle in Africa

Excerpt from "Domestic cattle:  Bos taurus and Bos indicus" by Juliet Clutton-Brock in The Archaeology of Africa (1993) edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link):

"The history of cattle in Africa is better known than that of any other domestic species; it is also very complicated because for at least three thousand years the continent has been a melting-pot for unhumped cattle (Bos taurus) brought in from Eurasia and humped cattle (Bos indicus) brought in from Asia, in particular from India.  In addition, it is possible that cattle were locally domesticated in north Africa from the endemic wild aurochs (Bos primigenius).

"At present, the earliest securely dated finds of cattle in a cultural context come from Capeletti in Algeria and date from the seventh to the sixth millenium BC (Roubet 1978).  Other early finds have been recorded from sites in the Sahara and in west Africa (see Smith 1980a; Smith 1986; Clutton-Brock 1989b).  Whether these cattle originated from western Asia, through Egypt or were domesticated in Africa, cannot be determined, but the earliest records are still at least a thousand years later than the first remains of domestic cattle in western Asia.  Gautier (1984) has postulated that the remains of domestic cattle from early neolithic sites, dated to 9000 BP, in the Bir Kiseiba region of the Eastern Sahara, could be from domesticated animals derived from wild Bos primigenius in the Nile valley.  However, the bovid remains are very fragmentary and their status is questionable, as recognized by Gautier (see also Smith 1986; Clutton-Brock 1989b; Wetterstrom, Chapter 10, this volume).

N'dama cattle

"By 6000 BP it is probable that cattle pastoralism was well established throughout north Africa and that with the increasing desertification of the Sahara people began to move south with their cattle, only to meet the tsetse-fly belt (Shaw 1977).  The archaeological evidence for the presence of cattle in west Africa for a very long time and their continuity to the present day is provided by the small humpless N'Dama breed, which has evolved a natural immunity to trypanosomiasis, the disease carried by tsetse-fly (Epstein & Mason 1984, p. 21).

"In east Africa pastoralism became established late in the third millenium BC, and over the next 1000 years domestic livestock slowly moved towards Tanzania (Robertshaw 1989; Robertshaw, Chapter 19, this volume).

"These cattle were probably humpless, for the earliest evidence for humped cattle comes from ancient Egyptian paintings dated to around 1500 BC.  Epstein (1971) and Epstein & Mason (1984) separate the humped and the later thoracic humped or true zebu.  These authors believe that cattle with cervico-thoracic humps (i.e. with humps on their necks) were first introduced into the Horn of Africa. 

Zebu (Link)

"They spread west and by interbreeding with the long-horned cattle of West Africa, developed into the Fulani breed."

Red Fulani cattle and herders (Link)

Ankole cattle and herder (Link)

"In eastern and southern Africa humped cattle (at first neck humped but later replaced by thoracic humped) were crossbred with the local humpless cattle to produce the mixed breeds called 'Sanga'.  Notable amongst these are the Ankole cattle of Uganda and the Afrikander cattle of South Africa."

"Humped cattle can be distinguished in the archaeological record by the shape of the skull or by the posterior thoracic vertebrae which, in the zebu, have bifurcated neural spines."

Related Post:
Reconsidering the Spread of mtDNA T1 Cattle (link)
Ancient Crossings (link)
Early, possibly predomestication divergence of N'dama cattle (link)
The Aurochs of Qurta (link)

References (in order of citation):

Roubet, C. 1978.  Une économie pastorale, pré-agricole en Algérie orientale:  le Néolithique de tradition capsienne.  L'Anthropologie 82, 583-6.

Smith, 1980.  The environmental adaptation of nomads in the west African Sahel:  a key to understanding prehistoric pastoralists.  In The Sahara and the Nile:  quaternary environments and prehistoric occupation in norhern Africa, Williams, M. A. J. & H. Faure (eds), 467-87.  Rotterdam:  Balkema.

Smith, 1986.  Review article: cattle domestication in north Africa.  African Archaeology Review 4, 197-203.

Clutton-Brock. 1989.  Cattle in ancient north Africa.  In The Walking Larder:  patterns of domestication, pastoralism, and predation, J. Clutton-Brock (ed.), 200-6.  London:  Unwin Hyman.

Gautier, A. 1984.  Archaeozoology of the Bir Kiseiba region, eastern Sahara.  In Cattle-keepers of the Eastern Sahara:  the Neolithic of Bir Kiseiba, Wendorf, F., R. Schild & A. E. Close (eds), 163-87.  Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Shaw, T. 1977.  Hunters, gatherers and first farmers in west Africa.  In Hunters, Gatherers and First Farmers beyond Europe:  an archaeological survey, Megaw, J. V. S. (ed.) 69-125.  Leicester:  Leicester University Press.

Epstein, H. & I. L. Mason. 1984.  Cattle.  In Evolution of Domesticated Animals, Mason, I. L. (ed.), 6-27.  London:  Longman.

Robertshaw, P. 1989.  The development of pastoralism in east Africa.  The Walking Larder:  patterns of domestication, pastoralism, and predation, J. Clutton-Brock (ed.), 207-14.  London:  Unwin Hyman.

Epstein, H. 1971.  The Origin of Domestic Animals in Africa.  2 vols.  New York:  Africana Publishing Corporation.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Karkur Talh: An Ancient Cattle Trail

Traces of a cattle trail along a tributary of the Karkur Talh, which once flowed into a now dried guelta (bottom right).  Stars indicate the location of ancient rock engravings along the road.

Un chemin dans l'Uweynât

Jean-Loïc Le Quellec
Sahara 22 (2011): 149-152


[Please see the above link for the excellent photos mentioned in this paper.  From the author's list of papers, select the "Quick view" button for the above paper.]

The following is a translation of most of the original short paper, written in French:

"Many recent publications have drawn attention to the ancient trails of the Gilf Kebir (Berger, 2009) and of Jebel el-'Uweynat (Menardi Noguera, 2007).  The facility for this type of work, which has brought increased attention to the archaeology of the prehistoric Sahara (Schönfeld, 2007; Förster et al. 2010), has benefitted from better availability of satellite maps. (Ur, 2003, Skriwanek, 2007)."

"This present contribution is intended only to further highlight the archaeological potential of Jebel el-'Uweynat.  In November of 2003, András Zboray amicably invited me to visit the site he had reported in October 2002 as a large dried up guelta (Zboray, 2003) and he suggested getting there faster by walking along a "sheep trail", to use his words, following a small northern tributary of Karkur Talh."

"After heading about 700 meters up the trail in a northwesterly direction, I noticed a few barely visible rock engravings that had escaped my hiking companion on his first visit:  First, two spotted bovines on an isolated slab (Fig. 2), then, some fifty meters farther along, a quadruped and a sandal imprint, also spotted, on a rock slab (Fig. 3) with other engraved signs."

"Further along, the images became more numerous, and I noticed in particular a bovine (Fig. 4), and also a giraffe surrounded by five ostriches (Fig. 5).  Among others that I could make out, was a spotted figure that resembles a mounted quadruped, most probably a bovine (Fig. 6)."

"Certain petroglyphs were sometimes difficult to decipher, but others were very clear, in particular a spotted giraffe (Fig. 7).  The most surprising were the presence of bovines of tiny dimensions, finely incised (Fig. 8).  One of them, about 10 cm long, is very carefully realized and presents an aspect unusual in the region."

"In one rough section of the path (No. 2 on the map), the trail continues among rock slabs that are remarkably worn smooth by the repeated passage of multiple hooves, as evidenced by fine grooves visible only in oblique light."

"The smooth polish of use sometimes erodes certain path engravings, which confirms that the trail was long used after the trail engravings were drawn.  After having visited the rock art sites along the route, I realized, viewing from the north bank of Karkur Talh, that there was a better point of access than the one we had used.  I detected an aqba which clearly had been a running stream at some ancient date. (Fig. 13 and No. 1 on the map)."

"András Zboray has given this trail, according to his nomenclature, the reference KTN 23. In November 2009, he was lucky enough to find another similar cattle trail, on a north-south orientation, and descend it to the south branch of the Karkur Talh. ("

"Even if wild sheep also used these trails, in no way can it be assumed that these were the usual "sheep trails" so frequently encountered on the plateau, because they are much larger and, without a doubt, were enlarged by men.  The most frequent engraving representations along the route are those of the humpless longhorn, undoubtedly made by herders.  Why then did these herders risk driving their herd up onto the plateau by way of the steep aqba where the cows would have had difficulty climbing?  The reason probably lies with the presence of the grand guelta (cf. carte, No. 3) near which are traces of other cattle engravings.  Now dry, it would have been filled with water, at least temporarily at the time that the herders enlarged the cattle trail.  It is possible to imagine that the guelta would have been an excellent watering hole for a herd when water would have been scarce elsewhere.  But to get there with cattle, it would have been difficult to drive the herd through the wadi (see map) because the bottom would have been littered with boulders.  It would have been hardly practical for a herd:  the risk of injuring a cow would have been too great.  The herders realized a practical solution:  clear a path, steep but short, in order to drive their herd over the aqba and then down to the waters edge." 

"This track, once known locally, was easy to identify on satellite images.  On the images, we subsequently noticed many other potential tracks in this region, and also on various parts of the plateau."

"This would seem to be the beginning of a promising research program, justifying the publication of this short note."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Assessing Gilf Kebir Cultural Transmission

Map of Egypt showing ancient desert routes: 
Dakhla-Gilf Kebir-Kufra
Gilf Kebir-Uweinat

In this paper, the authors assess the possibility that Wet Phase herders transmitted their mythical beliefs between the Nile Valley and Gilf Kebir in the Western Desert.  The assessment is based on a comparison of drawings at Gilf Kebir [dated to approximately 6500 bp and located on the route north from Jebel Uweinat] and the written funerary texts of the ancient Egyptian Nile.

Prehistoric Swimmers in the Sahara

Pauline de Flers, Phillippe de Flers, and Jean-Loïc Le Quellec (2007)
Arts et Cultures, Revue des Musées Barbier-Müller, 2007 : 46-61

"The Neolithic Age underwent a long period when atmospheric conditions made life impossible in the dessert.  A less arid stage followed over several millenia when desert populations began to settle and civilizations developed.  Then a period of renewed dryness set in and these populations were forced to emigrate to the south and also east toward the Nile Valley."

"Recent twenty-first century discoveries have given rise to a series of new questions.  Were these movements really as one-directional as previously believed?  Could a return to the desert have been possible in spite of the extreme drought conditions that caused the initial exodus?  And, what overwhelming attraction could have driven these people to re-confront such conditions?"

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mentuhotep II Expedition to Jebel Uweinat

Mentuhotep II expedition to Jebel Uweinat
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)

Recent discoveries tell us that the ancient Egyptians travelled to Jebel Uweinat.  An inscription discovered in 2008 tells us that Mentuhotep II, first Pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom, or his emissaries, reached Uweinat.  It would have been made several thousand years after the end of the great Wet Phase.  However, Jebel Uweinat would still have been more verdant than it is today.  Archaeological evidence shows that Uweinat continued to function as a stopping point for travellers and traders on the route between Egypt and possibly Lake Bodele in Chad, south of Uweinat.  Even at the time of Mentuhotep II, this lake would not yet have dried up.  (See the Blue Marble 3000 time lapse map between 4000 BC and 2000 BC, in the right side bar under "MAPS".) 

The description and translation of the Uweinat expedition message is described by the Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions team (link).  Again, their website is an extraordinary source of information.

Additional research, although somewhat unproven, does suggest that from Uweinat, the Egyptians either travelled to Chad or traded to acquire foodstuff from Chad.  Based on the Mentuhotep discovery, the extent of this Egyptian-Chadian relationship is now under investigation by researchers, including Thomas Schneider of the University of British Columbia.  He says:  this is "a route where not just physical commodities (but) also ideas, concepts could have entered Egypt.  Egyptian intellectual history needs to be at one point re-written.  There are influences from regions that we never believed, ten years ago, that there might have been influence." (link)

The Mentuhotep II discovery doesn't tell us directly about the destiny of the West Phase Jebel Uweinat herders, but the evidence of this continuously used trade route does indicate two exit options:  Lake Bodele and Lake Chad to the southwest and the Dakla Oasis to the northeast.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Karkur Ibrahim: Hitching Up

Four calves at a hitching post
Rock Art at Karkur Ibrahim in Western Uweinat
Late Bovidian Period
Courtesy Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions (Link)
Returning to the discussion on domestication in Southern Egypt and the Nile, rock art pictures in western Jebel Uweinat at Karkur Ibrahim (see map at right) show the final stage in the domestication of cattle.  Calves are secured at a hitching post, while their cow mothers and humans look on.  I can imagine the prolonged bellowing "moos" of the mothers calling to their calves.

These Late Bovidian pictures at Jebel Uweinat show many humans, including large groups of humans, as well as herds of cattle.  This place must have once been bustling.  Yet, we know that the cessation of the rains at the end of the great Wet Phase gradually returned Jebel Uweinat to the desert.  There is still a spring at Karkur Murr and the area is on the way point of an arduous journey between Northern Egypt and the country of Chad.  But evidence would indicate that with the cessation of rain, the cattle and herder civilization that once filled Jebel Uweinat headed south into the Sudan, and eastward to the Nile Valley.  There's also some evidence that some made an exit south and west along the Sahel corridor.

That evidence I plan to discuss in the next posts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

News Flash: Developments with Y Haplogroup A

Paul Conroy sends me news of an unfolding story that is taking place in the personal genomics sphere.  The Y Haplogroup A project has found a descendant of Albert Perry, a person of African descent, who has been database matched to people in the vicinity of Buea, of coastal Cameroon.  It is exciting that a match can be found to a specific location in Africa, particularly because most people of African American descent end up with a generalized place of origin for their paternal ancestor.  This A0 result is exceptionally interesting because the STR values indicate that Mr. Perry's y haplogroup represents an early branch on the A0 tree.

Bonnie Schrack, the Group Administrator for the Y Haplogroup A project has this to say: 

"There is a huge amount of interest in questions related to human origins, out-of-Africa migrations, interbreeding with archaic humans, etc., etc., which people feel that the A haplogroup (as it's called, though it actually incorporates several haplogroups) will help to illuminate. For anyone out there who has been out of the loop, this is because of findings by Cruciani last year which showed all haplogroups descending from a branch of A. I have now updated the ISOGG haplogroup A tree to show this."

"The other side of the first main branching of A, the one from which other haplogroups are *not *descended, is being called A0. (The rest of us are descended from A1, which can also be called A1T.) A0 is very rare, so far found in Cameroon and Ghana, and we are only beginning to find out how many branches are within it. Cruciani and previous scientists were only aware of one branch, which they called A1b. Thanks to research we're doing in our Haplogroup A project, with the great contributions of Thomas Krahn, we now have two branches, A0a and A0b, both downstream of 16 A0* SNPs (though A0b is not quite ready to show on the ISOGG tree, as a second set of positive test results for the new SNPs are required for these SNPs to gain a non-private status, so we have to wait a little for these SNPs to be ordered and tested)."

"Perry's results apparently will establish a third branch of A0, which branches off earlier than the current A0a and A0b. Thus the great interest."

Even prior to DNA testing (Veeramah et al), Cameroon was thought to be one of the few forest refuges which survived continuously intact during the arid phases that Africa was exposed to during the Quaternary (J. Maley).  Thus it is possible that Perry's paternal African ancestors had been in place in Cameroon since before the beginning of the African great arid phase which began 70,000 years ago. 

It's an impressive result for personal genomics.   I will be interested to follow this story as it develops.


RootsWeb:  Kit N64496 HAS NO HAPLOGROUP AT ALL (Link)

Tishkoff, SA; et al. (22 May 2009).  "The genetic structure and history of Africans and African Americans", Science, 324(5930):1035-44. Epub 2009 Apr 30. (Link)

Cruciani, Fulvio; et al. (19 May 2011). "Revised Root for the Human Y Chromosomal Phylogenetic Tree:  The Origin of Patrilineal Diversity in Africa." doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.05.002.

Veeramah, Krishna R.; et al.  (2010). "Little genetic differentiation as assessed by uniparental markers in the presence of substantial language variation in peoples of the Cross River region of Nigeria", BMC Evolutionary Biology, 10:92. (Link)

Maley, J; "The climatic and vegetational history of the equatorial of Africa during the upper Quaternary" in The Archaeology of Africa, Food, Metals and Towns, Shaw, Sinclair, Andah and Okpoko (editors), 1993.