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Plant particles found during the excavation of this Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan) turned out to be traces of domestic cereals when analysed in a lab. copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

A research team successfully identified ancient barley and wheat residues in grave goods and on teeth from two Neolithic cemeteries in Central Sudan and Nubia, showing that humans in Africa were already exploited domestic cereals 7,000 years ago and thus five hundred years earlier than previously known.

The results of the analyses were recently published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Barley and wheat crops

Dr. Welmoed Out from Kiel University said, “With our results we can verify that people along the Nile did not only exploit gathered wild plants and animals but had crops of barley and wheat.”

These types of crops were first cultivated in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago and spread out from there to Central and South Asia as well as to Europe and North Africa – the latter faster than expected.

The diversity of the diet was much greater than previously assumed,” states Out and adds: “Moreover, the fact that grains were placed in the graves of the deceased implies that they had a special, symbolic meaning.”

The research team, coordinated by Welmoed Out and the environmental archaeologist Marco Madella from Barcelona, implemented, among other things, a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Hereby, they were supported by the fact that mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive very long, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, the millennia-old teeth, in particular adherent calculus, provide evidence on the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths contained therein.



One of the graves at the Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan), containing a skeleton and plant material deposited behind the skull (white area at the left picture margin). Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

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Past horizons



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Plant particles found during the excavation of this Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan) turned out to be traces of domestic cereals when analyzed in a lab. Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Humans in Africa already exploited domestic cereals 7,000 years ago and thus several centuries earlier than previously known. Researchers have successfully verified ancient barley and wheat residues in grave goods and on teeth from two Neolithic cemeteries in North and Central Sudan.

The results of the analyses were recently published (online) in the journal PLoS ONE.

Dr. Welmoed Out from the University of Kiel was involved in the investigation. “With our results we can verify that people along the Nile did not only exploit gathered wild plants and animals but even crops of barley and wheat.”

These were first cultivated in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago and spread out from there to Central and South Asia as well as to Europe and North Africa – the latter faster than expected. “The diversity of the diet was much greater than previously assumed,” states Out and adds: “Moreover, the fact that grains were placed in the graves of the deceased implies that they had a special, symbolic meaning.”

The research team, coordinated by Welmoed Out and the environmental archaeologist Marco Madella from Barcelona, used a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive for a very long time, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, calculus on the teeth provide evidence about the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths.

Read full paper here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0110177

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One of the graves at the Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan), containing a skeleton and plant material deposited behind the skull (white structure at the left picture margin). Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Original article:
past horizons
November 26, 2014 by past horizons

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Topic:Water

(Phys.org) —Researchers have solved the riddle of how one of Africa’s greatest civilisations survived a catastrophic drought which wiped out other famous dynasties. Geomorphologists and dating specialists from The Universities of Aberystwyth, Manchester, and Adelaide say that it was the River Nile which made life viable for the renowned Kerma kingdom, in what is now northern Sudan.

Kerma was the first Bronze Age kingdom in Africa outside Egypt.

Their analysis of three ancient river channels where the Nile once flowed shows, for the first time, that its floods weren’t too low or too high to sustain life between 2,500 BC and 1,500 BC, when Kerma flourished and was a major rival to its more famous neighbour downstream.

They also show that the thousand year civilisation came to end when the Nile’s flood levels were not high enough and a major channel system dried out – though an invasion by resurgent Egyptians was the final cause of Kerma’s demise.

Downstream in Egypt, a catastrophic 30 year drought 4,200 years ago, which produced low Nile floods, created chaos in the old kingdom for at least a century.

Other civilisations in the near east and Mesopotamia were also severely hit by this drought.

The team’s findings, funded by the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS) and the Australian Research Council, are published in the journal Geology.

Professor Mark Macklin from The University of Aberystwyth said: “This work is the most comprehensive and robustly dated archaeological and palaeoenvironmental dataset yet compiled for the desert Nile.

“The relationship between climate change and the development of Old World riverine civilizations is poorly understood because inadequate dating control has hindered effective integration of archaeological, fluvial, and climate records.”

Professor Jamie Woodward from The University of Manchester said: “In Nubia four thousand years ago the Kerma people farmed what we might call the Goldilocks Nile: its floods were just large enough to support floodwater farming, but not so big as to cause damage to the riverside settlements.

“It’s quite remarkable that the Kerma civilization was able to flourish, produce amazing craftsmanship and wealth, at a time when their Egyptian rivals to the North were struggling with environmental, social, and political strife.

“Until now we didn’t understand why that was – but thanks to our field work in Sudan, this riddle has now been solved.”

The team used cutting edge geological dating methods to analyse the dried up channels, now 20 km from the today’s river course. It is the first time individual flood events on the desert Nile have been dated.

Using hundreds of deep irrigation pits dug by modern Sudanese farmers, Macklin and Woodward were able to observe the geological history of the old channels. In places, these old channel belts are well preserved at the modern land surface. They are between 1 and 3 km wide with Kerma sites on their margins.

According to Derek Welsby from the British Museum who led the archaeological survey, Kerma’s wealth and power may have been underpinned by its agriculturally-rich hinterland utilising the banks of the ancient channels.

Archaeological surveys of the floodplain in the Dongola Reach to the south of Kerma have discovered more than 450 sites spanning the Neolithic (pre–3500 B.C.) to the Medieval Christian period (A.D. 500–1500). Many sites are associated with the Nile’s ancient channels.

He said: “Kerma’s success was also down to their reliance on animal husbandry practices that are less susceptible to changes in flood level, more mobile, and better able to cope with environmental stress.

“They were a truly remarkable civilisation, producing some of the most exquisite pottery in the Nile Valley.”

The paper is titled “Reach-scale river dynamics moderate the impact of rapid Holocene climate change on floodwater farming in the desert Nile.”

Original article:
Phys.org

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Richard Lobban, professor emeritus of anthroplogy, unearths Sudanese skeleton
For additional photos see https://picasaweb.google.com/RICNPR/LobbanArchaeologyPhotos

Topic Sudanese temple- cooking pots

In the austere landscape of the eastern Butana desert in Sudan where there is no running water, no electricity nor paved roads, and where the few passersby are the occasional camel, goat or sheep, archaeologist Richard Lobban has discovered a lost temple of the Meroitic Empire.

He works steadily with trowel and brush, while 10 Sudanese workers haul away the dirt. He has only two months out of the year – November and December – to excavate, before the desert sun becomes too scorching to continue. Here, temperatures can climb to 120 degrees.

It’s noon on this day in late 2012. Lobban calls off work. The heat is too much. The crew drink from water bottles brought in from the nearby village of Kabushiya. Even without a road, their taxi driver manages to find his way through the desert to whisk them back to their lodgings.

Each year, for the past four years, Lobban and two other archaeologists, Eleonora Kormysheva, from the Oriental Institute in Moscow, and Eugenio Fantusati, from the University of Rome, have taken this journey to Abu Erteila to unearth a Sudanese (Nubian) temple.

Lobban is professor emeritus of anthropology at Rhode Island College. He’s been a scholar of the Sudan for 43 years and is one of only half a dozen experts in the world on Sudan history, ethnography, linguistics and archaeology.

In 2008 he retired from his full-time teaching position at RIC but describes himself as “a retiree failure.”

That year, when he heard there might be promising “koms” (Arabic for “mounds”) of archaeological interest in Abu Erteila in the eastern Butana desert, he left for Sudan.

The koms, he said, were about six feet high. Broken pottery that dated back to the Meroitic Period (fourth century BC) and to the early Christian era (fourth century AD) was found scattered about the koms.

The team hired two Russian experts to use ground-penetrating radar to determine if there were formations beneath the surface. Immediately, the radar detected underground features that proved to be walls. They did an analysis of the orientation of the walls that were angled toward the sun, and realized beneath the surface was a solar temple.

“Temples were built for royalty,” Lobban said. “Based on this temple’s size, it appears that the temple belonged to a local prince. Larger temples were built for the ruling king and queen. This temple was smaller.”

He said the local prince and his people would have used the temple, as one would a local church. Their religious system was polytheistic – a belief in many gods.

In January 2009, licensed by the Sudanese National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums, the international team began their dig. Lobban would do much of the actual excavation, while archaeology students from Italy, Russia and America would also come to help, including RIC students Robert Borges ’06 and Andrea Dill ’07.

“Based on the radar reading, we knew we would not find the temple intact,” said Lobban. “We knew most of the original walls had been dismantled for reasons we don’t know.”

However, they did unearth portions of the walls that enclosed eight rooms. In each room he found diverse painted pottery. He also found six cooking pots sitting on a pile of charcoal.

“We determined that the northeast side of the temple had been used for the mass production of food. When the local people came to the temple on a daily or weekly basis to worship they were also given food.”

Grinders and the bones of butchered animals, such as sheep, goats, camels and cattle, were found where they had been left next to the kitchen. As the excavation continued, Lobban found adult skeletons identified as Sudanese. The koms had been used as a burial site.

“You see, most of the walls of the temple had been broken down and the temple buried six feet high. The people may have remembered that this was once a sacred place – a Howsh al-Kufar (the abode of nonbelievers) – and decided to bury their dead there on the kom.”

Based on carbon dating, the team discovered that the bodies dated back to early Christian times – the ninth or 10th century – when the Meroitic Empire had ended and the Christian era had begun, brought to the Sudan from Ethiopia and Egypt.

“We know the bodies were Christian by the orientation of the burial. Their heads were facing west, so that when they were resurrected, they would sit up and face east. In subsequent years we found more of these buried Christian Sudanese, 10 in all,” he said.

In 2011 the team opened a new 15 x 15 foot square on a kom, and there they had their most dramatic find to date. They unearthed columns from the temple inscribed with hieroglyphic writing and carved with images of deities, such as the image of the Nile god Hapy.

“Hapy is a bisexual god of the river who could create life by himself,” said Lobban. “He represents unity of the Nile valley.”

Other columns, he said, were carved with “the protective combination of ‘nekhbet’ (vulture) and ‘wedjat’ (cobra),” which Lobban said is unique to Nile valley royalty.

Among legible inscriptions, he found reference to “neb-tawi,” meaning “Lord of Two Lands,” a title reserved exclusively for royalty and nobility. “This title meant that they still considered themselves not only kings of Meroe, but of all Egypt,” he said.

The team also found a lintel used to decorate the top of a window or an entryway. It was made of sandstone and carved with a solar disc and a wing. The lintel was virtually identical to those found in other Meroitic solar temples dedicated to the sun god Amun.

Based on all of these findings, his team was able to confirm, at last, that they were at the site of an ancient Meroitic temple that had not been otherwise known or recorded.

Lobban’s reaction? He gave a wry smile. “Here I am reading hieroglyphics on a column that is 2,000 years old and that no one has seen before. That’s a pretty good deal,” he said.

In future seasons, he hopes to excavate further and deeper and find still more of the missing pieces of this temple. He said, “There’s a lot of African history just sitting there. Meroe was a classical civilization. They have a writing system that’s never been translated. There’s a lot of research work to be done.”

Back at Rhode Island College, anthropology students Adam and Laura Gerard – husband and wife – work with Lobban to translate the Meroitic language. Laura described Lobban as a fascinating man. She said, “I heard the Lobban legend in the anthropology department, long before I met him.”

“Legend is he was a journalist in war-torn countries and that he helped liberate people in the jungles of West Africa,” she said.

Lobban modestly confirmed that these past exploits were true.

“He’s also known as the modern-day Indiana Jones,” she said.

Lobban is founder, first president and executive director of the Sudan Studies Association. He works at the Office of Naval Research in Newport, R.I., where he does research on the Sudan conflict. And he teaches at the Naval War College “African Security and Transnational Threats,” “African Religion and Politics,” “The Governance and Economics of Africa” and “African Culture and History.”

He has also taught at the University of Khartoum and the American University in Cairo and published scores of articles, reviews, book chapters, encyclopedia entries and books on the Middle East.

Adam Gerard likened his mentor to the “greats of ages past” – great in knowledge and great in building bridges of cross-cultural understanding.

Donations to the archaelogical team’s expedition may be made to the Sudan Studies Association at http://www.sudanstudies.com.
Original article:

ric.edu

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