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Libya and the Maghreb:

Posted by big mike M on May 21, 2013 at 10:55 AM

Libya and the Maghreb:


If the archaeology of the Sahara’s southern margins remains rela- tively poorly understood, the Maghreb has long been the focus of sustained activity focused on the Pleistocene/Holocene transition (Lubell 2000, 2005). Here and at Haua Fteah in northeastern Libya, the Iberomaurusian industry introduced in Chapter 7 continued to be made into the terminal Pleistocene (McBurney 1967; Close and Wendorf 1990). Several unusual features are of interest, including evidence, rare at this time depth, for sculpture. This takes the form of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic ceramic figurines from Afalou, Algeria, baked from locally available clay to temperatures of 500◦–800◦C (Hachi 1996, Hachi et al. 2002). Dating 15–11 kya, they are complemented by an earlier fragmentary figurine from the nearby site of Tamar Hat (Saxon 1976). Distinctive, too, are the many burials known from these later Iberomaurusian contexts, including apparent cemeteries at Afalou (Hachi 1996) and Taforalt, Morocco (almost 200 individuals; Ferembach et al. 1962). Analysis of these remains (see inset) raises issues of territoriality, limited mobility, and group identity that economic data are still too few to explore further.


Knowing that people hunted Barbary sheep and other large mammals and that they collected molluscs, both terrestrial and marine, is very different from being able to develop this checklist of ingredients into a meaningful set of recipes or menus that could illuminate the details of Iberomaurusian subsistence-settlement strategies.




The extremely large skeletal samples that come from sites such as Taforalt (Fig. 8.13) and Afalou constitute an invaluable resource for understanding the makers of Iberomaurusian artifacts, and their number is unparalleled elsewhere in Africa for the early Holocene. Frequently termed Mechta-Afalou or Mechtoid, these were a skeletally robust people and definitely African in origin, though attempts, such as those of Ferembach (1985), to establish similarities with much older and rarer Aterian skeletal remains are tenuous given the immense temporal separation between the two (Close and Wendorf 1990). At the opposite end of the chronological spectrum, dental morphology does suggest connections with later Africans, including those responsible for the Capsian Industry (Irish 2000) and early mid-Holocene human remains from the western half of the Sahara (Dutour 1989), something that points to the Maghreb as one of the regions from which people recolonised the desert (MacDonald 1998).


Turning to what can be learned about cultural practices and disease, the individuals from Taforalt, the largest sample by far, display little evidence of trauma, though they do suggest a high incidence of infant mortality, with evidence for dental caries, arthritis, and rheumatism among other degenerative conditions. Interestingly, Taforalt also provides one of the oldest known instances of the practice of trepanation, the surgical removal of a portion of the cranium; the patient evidently survived for some time, as there are signs of bone regrowth in the affected area. Another form of body modification was much more widespread and, indeed, a distinctive feature of the Iberomaurusian skeletal sample as a whole. This was the practice of removing two or more of the upper incisors, usually around puberty and from both males and females, something that probably served as both a rite of passage and an ethnic marker (Close and Wendorf 1990), just as it does in parts of sub-Saharan Africa today (e.g., van Reenen 1987). Cranial and postcranial malformations are also apparent and may indicate pronounced endogamy at a much more localised level (Hadjouis 2002), perhaps supported by the degree of variability between different site samples noted by Irish (2000).


--Lawrence Barham

The First Africans: African Archaeology from the Earliest Toolmakers to Most Recent Foragers (Cambridge World Archaeology)


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