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Proof of 70,000 year-old human activity found near giant lake in Tunisia

Animal bones and stone tools were found by researchers on the margins of a dried-up giant lake in Tunisia. These could be evidence of early human activity, more precisely the dispersal of Homo sapiens and other animals from Sub-Saharan Africa between 200,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Researchers 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. According to a press release, 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.

The researchers believe that the landscape was wet and green in the past, which would have made it an ideal habitat for animals and human settlements. Tunisian co-director of the project Nabiha Aouadi says ‘the faunal assemblage represents a sub-Saharan and savanna biotope very different from the one that exists there today.’

Evidence of hunting activity in the area was found in the form of scattered stone projectile points and animal bones with breakages consistent with marrow fracture. Professor Nick Barton says the stone tools are ‘classic examples of a (Middle Stone Age) hunting technology with many small stemmed points (Aterian points) for tipping throwing spears.’

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.

“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,” project co-leader Professor Nick Barton, from the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said.

Funding for the work has been provided by grants from Oxford University, Kings College London, National Geographic and the Society for Libyan Studies.

John Beckett