Remains of Cemetery Found in Sahara





A tiny woman and two children were laid to rest on a bed of flowers 5,000 years ago in what is now the barren Sahara Desert. The slender arms of the youngsters were still extended to the woman in perpetual embrace when researchers discovered their skeletons in a remarkable cemetery that is providing clues to two civilizations who lived there, a thousand years apart, when the region was moist and green.
Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago and colleagues were searching for the remains of dinosaurs in the African country of Niger when they came across the startling find, detailed at a news conference Thursday at the National Geographic Society.

"Part of discovery is finding things that you least expect," he said. "When you come across something like that in the middle of the desert it sends a tingle down your spine."

Some 200 graves of humans were found during fieldwork at the site in 2005 and 2006, as well as remains of animals, large fish and crocodiles.

"Everywhere you turned, there were bones belonging to animals that don't live in the desert," said Sereno. "I realized we were in the green Sahara."

The graveyard, uncovered by hot desert winds, is near what would have been a lake at the time people lived there. It's in a region called Gobero, hidden away in Niger's forbidding Tenere Desert, known to Tuareg nomads as a "desert within a desert."

The human remains dated from two distinct populations that lived there during wet times, with a dry period in between.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine when these ancient people lived there. Even the most recent were some 1,000 years before the building of the pyramids in Egypt.

The first group, known as the Kiffian, hunted wild animals and speared huge perch with harpoons. They colonized the region when the Sahara was at its wettest, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.

The researchers said the Kiffians were tall, sometimes reaching well over 6 feet.

The second group lived in the region between 7,000 and 4,500 years ago. The Tenerians were smaller and had a mixed economy of hunting, fishing and cattle herding...



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