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The origins of pastoralism in Eastern Africa: new human dental evidence from mid-Holocene Pillar Sites in the Turkana Basin

Author(s): Elizabeth Sawchuk

Year: 2017

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Summary

Herding spread into Eastern Africa ~5000 BP, but mechanisms of spread are still debated (migration, diffusion, or a mix). If herders migrated from desiccating areas of the Sahara, Sahel, or Ethiopian Rift, they would have passed through the Turkana Basin, where the earliest livestock coincides chronologically with the construction of megalithic "pillar sites." Recent excavations at 3 pillar sites revealed extensive human burials, plus caprine remains and zoomorphic artifacts suggesting these people were pastoralists. Their dental remains can therefore shed light on the biological affinity of Eastern Africa’s earliest herders and the likelihood of different mechanisms of spread. To test the migration hypothesis, 37 non-metric permanent tooth dental traits from this new sample (n=25 dentitions) were compared with Holocene LSA (n=40), early herder (n=53), and Pastoral Neolithic (PN) (n=91) skeletons from Kenya and Tanzania. Mean measure of divergence analyses reveal no significant phenetic differences between any of the sample groups, although greater distance is observed between the pillar sites and LSA. Therefore, if early herding involved in-migration, there was substantial gene flow between indigenous foragers and incoming herders. Continuity between the pillar sites and PN suggest these interactions strongly influenced subsequent development of herding-intensive cultures in the south-central Rift Valley.


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The origins of pastoralism in Eastern Africa: new human dental evidence from mid-Holocene Pillar Sites in the Turkana Basin. Elizabeth Sawchuk. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429164)


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Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15466

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America