Archaeologists have uncovered 20 Stone-Age skeletons dating back between 4,200 and 8,000 years ago in and around a rock shelter in Libya's Sahara desert, according to a new study. About 15 women and children were buried in the rock shelter, while five men and juveniles were buried under giant stone heaps called tumuli outside the shelter during a later period, when the region turned to desert., stated study co-author Mary Ann Tafuri, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge.
"It must have been a place of memory.People throughout time have kept it, and they have buried their people, over and over, generation after generation."
Tafuri and her colleague Savino di Lernia began excavating the archaeological site called Wadi Takarkori, between 2003 and 2006. At the same site, archaeologists also uncovered huts, animal bones and pots with traces of the earliest fermented dairy products in Africa.
“From about 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, this region 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.
She also noted that Takarkori is very close to the main road that leads from Libya into neighboring Niger, often used by rebels and other notorious political figures, such as Gadhafi's sons to escape the country.
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 African studies at Sapienza University of Rome, who was not involved in the study.
According to Gallinaro, one theory 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.”
The region as a whole is full of hundreds of sites yet to be excavated, said Luigi Boitani, a biologist at Sapienza University of Rome, who has worked on archaeological sites in the region but was not involved in the study.
"The area is an untapped treasure," exclaimed Boitani.
The Taburi’s and di Lernia’s study is detailed in the March issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.