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PREHISTORIC CONTEXT OF THE NAMORATUNGA


Turkana Archaeology pages

 

1. This period of elevated rainfall sustained thousands of lakes and marshes, many of which are large enough to be mapped even at continental scales, as we see here. Together with the adjoining savannah and step, they supported first hunters and fishers, and later, by about 7,600 years ago, pastoralists who herded cattle and soon added sheep and goats to their herds.

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2. These are harpoons from an archaeological site on the shores of Lake Turkana. The one on the left is more than six inches long and comes from the early period at the site. The others are from later periods and show the development of local harpoon technology over about 7,000 years.

Between 11,000 and 8,000 years ago, lakes and marshes could be found all across north Africa. An aquatic adapted culture developed and spread among these lakes and eventually spread down the Nile, through the Sud, and into the Turkana Basin. This culture is one of the first in the world to make and use pottery, which often exhibits a wavy line motif.

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Visit this harpoon site.

 



3. This is an example of the wavy line pottery made by the people of this aquatic culture. It comes from Gobero in Niger from the margin of a small fossil lake. By 8,000 years ago, marshes and lakes were becoming less extensive and the aquatic way of life was being restricted to smaller and smaller areas.

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4. As aquatic habitats shrank, pastoral societies, herders of cattle, developed and spread across the steppes and savannas of North Africa, becoming ubiquitous by about 7,000 years ago. It is not clear if cattle were domesticated in North Africa, spread from the Middle East, or a little of both. They left a long record of rock paintings depicting their herds and many aspects of their cultures.

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5. The pastoralists quickly developed diverse, complex societies.

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6. Ovicaprids (goats and sheep) begin spreading through the area about 6,000 years ago and lead to the development of pastoral adaptations that are ecologically more adaptable.

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7. Remember, during the period in which these pastoral societies were spreading and diversifying, the southern Sahara and Sahel are thought to have received 250 to 450 mm. more in rainfall per annum than is the case today.

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8. This diversification is reflected partly in the potsherds that are scattered over the places where these pastoral peoples lived in cattle camps or in briefly occupied villages. This is a typical surface assemblage that has been exposed by wind erosion. During the early pastoral period, though the decorative designs are very numerous, they are mainly made either by a simple stylus or a comb with up to about eight teeth.

The middle picture shows a comb stamp from North Africa and the impressions it makes in modeling clay. The lower image shows clearly impressions that are made by a single, simply stylus.

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9. As pastoral societies continued to develop and adapt to an environment with declining pasturage, many new pottery decorations were developed in different regions. Here, dating from about 5,000 years ago, we see a portion of a vessel from Karkur decorated with burnished ripples. As we shall see, this is part of the ceramic tradition that spread into northern Kenya by about 4,500 years ago.

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11. Occasionally, as in this case from Nabta Playa, you find material in situ, unmoved from its original place of burial, and in the context of a habitation site.

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12. Nabta Playa is also the site of what may be an ancient calendar circle that could date to as early as 7,000 years ago, though it also might be quite a bit more recent. This is one of the few sites in North Africa with standing stones and is frequently compared with the Namoratunga of the Turkana Basin, especially in the blogosphere. We will return to this structure later in the course.

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13. There is also another circle of stones at Nabta Playa, which has unfortunately been all but destroyed as you can see in this set of photographs taken over a period of about one year.

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14. Part of the distruction may have been done by the museum people in Aswan, who are said to have removed many of the stones in order to create an out-door display. Boo hiss!

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15. And, just to spice things up, there are hundreds of pillar sites in the Ethiopian Highlands. Most are thought to date from the Medieval Period, but quite a few may be much older. Some are very impressive indeed.

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16. This Linguistic map of Africa shows the southward expansion of languages from the Sudan and Ethiopian Highlands into the East African savannah corridor.

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View Large Version of Map.

 





©2009 by Charles M. Nelson
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