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Stone Age tools and animal bones in Tunisia are ‘clues to an early human corridor’

Researchers have found animal bones and stone tools on the margins of a dried-up giant lake in Tunisia, which they suggest are evidence of early human activity. They believe the shores of Chotts megalake may have formed an early corridor across the Sahara for the dispersal of Homo sapiens and other animals from Sub-Saharan Africa between 200,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Stone Age tools and animal bones in Tunisia are ‘clues to an early human corridor’
Researchers have discovered animal bones and stone tools in the land that once formed a giant lake in Tunisia
[Credit: Oxford Institute of Archaeology]
Tunisia is a key region for understanding the nature and dispersal of anatomically modern humans as it lies at the ‘crossroads’ for north-south movements between the Sahara and the Mediterranean, as well as east-west migration along the North African coast into the Maghreb. A research team from Oxford University, Kings College London, with researchers from Tunisia, found scattered stone tools and animal bones around a major lake basin, which is now dried up but was once full of water during the winter months.

Stone Age tools and animal bones in Tunisia are ‘clues to an early human corridor’
Researchers from Oxford University and Kings College London discovered the bones and tool on the margins 
of the dried up Chotts megalake [Credit: Oxford Institute of Archaeology]
The researchers say the animal bones are particularly interesting, revealing a mixture of large fauna including rhinoceros, zebra, bovids (Oryx, hartebeest, gazelles, aurochs, and buffalo), carnivores and ostrich. According to Tunisian co-director of the project Nabiha Aouadi, ‘the faunal assemblage represents a sub-Saharan and savanna biotope very different from the one that exists there today’. The team believes that once the landscape was wet and green, which would have made it an ideal habitat for animals and human settlements.

Stone Age tools and animal bones in Tunisia are ‘clues to an early human corridor’
The bones reveal that a mixture of large animals including rhinoceros, zebra, bovids, carnivores and ostrich, 
lived in the area [Credit: Oxford Institute of Archaeology]
The researchers found evidence of substantial hunting activity in the form of scattered stone projectile points and animal bones with breakages consistent with marrow fracture. According to Professor Nick Barton, the stone tools are ‘classic examples of a (Middle Stone Age) hunting technology with many small stemmed points (Aterian points) for tipping throwing spears.’ One further intriguing discovery is that some of the stone tools are made from a raw material known as Silcrete, which was sourced at a distance of 150 km from the site.

Stone Age tools and animal bones in Tunisia are ‘clues to an early human corridor’
The Chotts region is characterised by several large exposures of mud sediments and small salt lakes 
[Credit: Oxford Institute of Archaeology]
Using sophisticated new dating techniques, Head of Luminescence Dating Laboratory at Oxford University, Dr Jean-Luc Schwenninger, has dated shoreline deposits to between 72,000 to 98,000 years ago, showing when the saline mudflats were once a lake. The Chotts region today is characterised by numerous very large exposures of saline mudflat sediments and small salt lakes. The former extensive lake system was fed by several small rivers emanating from the Atlas Mountains and two much larger river systems that have their sources in the Tassili n-Ajjer and Hoggar Mountains of the central Sahara.

Project co-leader Professor Nick Barton, from the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: ‘…this is the first well-dated Aterian site in the northern Sahara. It shows that Homo sapiens had populated this area by at least 72,000 years ago, using the lakes as a staging posts in their dispersal across Africa”

Source: University of Oxford [March 15, 2017]

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