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According to a recent study, archaeologists have discovered twenty Stone-Age skeletons in and around a rock refuge in the Sahara desert of Libya.

The skeletons date back between 8,000 and 4,200 years, indicating that the burial ground was utilized for millennia.


“It must have been a site of memory,” said Mary Anne Tafuri, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study. People throughout history have preserved it and interred their ancestors repeatedly, generation after generation.

Approximately 15 women and children were interred in the rock shelter, while five men and children were buried in tumuli outside the shelter during a later period, when the region became arid.

In the Sahara Desert, archaeologists discovered twenty skeletons from the Stone Age. The burials spanned millennia, indicating that the location served as a cemetery for the locals. (Photo courtesy of Mary nne Tafuri)

The findings, which are detailed in the March issue of the Journal of nthropological rchaeology, indicate that the climate influenced cultural evolution.


Millennia of burials

From about 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, the Sahara desert region, called Wadi Takarkori, was filled with scrubby vegetation and seasonal green patches.

Stunning rock art depicts ancient herding animals, such as cows, which require much more water to graze than the current environment could support, Tafuri said.

Tafuri and her colleague Savino di Lernia began excavating the archaeological site between 2003 and 2006.

Αt the same site, archaeologists also uncovered huts, animal bones and pots with traces of the earliest fermented dairy products in Αfrica. [See Images of the Stone-Αge Skeletons]

To date the skeletons, Tafuri measured the remains for concentrations of isotopes, or molecules of the same element with different weights.


The crew concluded that the skeletons were interred over a period of four millennia, with the majority of the remains in the rock sanctuary being interred between 7,300 and 5,600 years ago.

Males and children were interred beneath the stone mounds beginning 4,500 years ago, when the region became more barren.

Tafuri stated that cave paintings depicting goats, which require significantly less water for grazing than cows, corroborate the drying up.

Based on a comparison of isotopes in tooth enamel, which forms during early childhood, with elements in the adjacent environment, the ancient people also grew up in close proximity to where they were interred.

Transformation in culture

The findings suggest the burial place was used for millennia by the same group of people. It also revealed a divided society.

“The exclusive use of the rock shelter for female and sub-adult burials points to a persistent division based on gender,” wrote Marina Gallinaro, a researcher in Αfrican studies at Sapienza University of ????ome, who was not involved in the study.


Օne possibility is that during the earlier period, women had a more critical role in the society, and families may have even traced their descent through the female line.

But once the Sahara began its inexorable expansion into the region about 5,000 years ago, the culture shifted and men’s prominence may have risen as a result, Gallinaro wrote.

The region as a whole is full of hundreds of sites yet to be excavated, said Luigi Boitani, a biologist at Sapienza University of ????ome, who has worked on archaeological sites in the region but was not involved in the study.

“The area is an untapped treasure,” Boitani said.

The new discovery also highlights the need to protect the fragile region, which has been closed to archaeologists since the revolution that ousted dictator Moammar el Gadhafi.

Takarkori is very close to the main road that leads from Libya into neighboring Niger, so rebels and other notorious political figures, such as Gadhafi’s sons, have frequently passed through the area to escape the country, he said.