Saturday, August 24, 2013

Africa is Archaeologically Rich


Alice C. Linsley

The oldest human artifacts have been found in Africa. Two regions in particular have yielded archaeological riches: Sudan and southern Africa. Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt, in places like Nuri and Bijrawiyah, though they are smaller and not as old. In the town of Sedeinga in northern Sudan, 35 small pyramids have been excavated in the past few years. Twin pyramids and a sphinx have also been found in Niger, suggesting a pyramid building culture that extending from the Nile to the Niger River Basin at a time when the Saharan was wetter.

Other important artifacts of Sudan include the oldest known painted tomb (Tomb 100) with plaster walls. It dates to between 3500 and 3200 BC. Pillared chapels also have been discovered.

The ancient shrine city of Nekhen (4500 BC) has yielded numerous important artifacts, including evidence of sun veneration, circumcision, a caste of priests and animal sacrifice.

The oldest known menagerie that dates to ca. 3500 BC. The royal collection included leopards, hippos, hartebeest, elephants, baboons and crocodiles. As this is Noah's homeland, there appears to be historical basis to the story of his preserving a collection of animals.

Badarian flint knives (shown left) found in Sudan date to between 4000 and 3200 BC. They were for ritual use, including circumcision.


Older Artifacts

Much older artifacts have been found in sub-Sahara Africa and in southern Africa. In Central Africa barbed points, like the 90,000 - 80,000 years old harpoon point (shown right), were used to spear prehistoric catfish weighing as much as 150 lb (68 kg). Hundreds of bone harpoons have been found at the lake site of Ishango and are evidence of an aquatic civilization across eastern and northern Africa during the wetter climate of the early to mid-Holocene.

In KwaZulu-Natal, at the southern tip of Africa, 77,000 year old mattresses were made from reeds and rushes. The bedding mats found at the Sibudu Cave site range over a period of 39,000 years. Researchers believe the inhabitants of the cave added a "top sheet" to the bedding made of insect-repelling greenery.


Land of the Python?

The carving of a huge python out of a stone wall in Botswana dates to about 70,000 year ago and is the earliest evidence of the veneration of the python. It is suggestive of a very ancient context for the serpent of Genesis 3. In Nigerian (Igbo) tradition the cosmic serpent is associated with Christ, and in speaking of his death, Jesus referred to the story of the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness (Num. 21:4-9).

The Mofu holy man (Cameroon) mixes python fat with the blood of a sacrificed animal when offering prayers for rain. Rounded rain stones are placed in a stone basin. Then dry grasses are added, followed by a handfull of brilliant green python fat and then the red blood. The holy man mixes all together with his hands while he prays for rain. When the holy man has finished praying, he instructs his assistant to wash the stones carefully before they are returned to their hiding place. (For more on python rituals in Africa go here.)

Jose Bulang of the Philippines has been tracing his ancestors back to Africa using DNA studies, linguistics and oral tradition. He has written: "My father told me that according to story as told him by his father, his first ancestor who arrived at Dauis, Panglao, Bohol was a big man and long haired who had a big python pet who he used to play with in the sea when he is taking a bath. My father would say that such python is useful in sea travel because the python when placed in the forward side of the boat will always direct his nostril towards the winds and can detect approaching typhon or water turbulence, being restless. And also the snake eats only once and only during full moon that it is useful when navigating for a long period and no star can be seen as guide. This made me realize that the travelers that time were using this Nahash (Ahas in Philippine dialect) as a travel instrument in the river or on the seas."


Eggs, Stones and Pigments

Ostrich eggs were used to carry water and were decorated. A large cache of ostrich eggshells engraved with geometric designs demonstrates symbolic communication among African hunter-gatherers. The decorated ostrich eggs date to ca. 65,000 years. Later such eggshells were placed in the graves of children in Sudan.

Stone tools (shown below) have been recovered from Blombos Cave, South Africa. These bifacial points were made about 75,000 years ago. 

Scale bar: 0.4 inches or 1cm
Credit: Christopher Henshilwood
University of the Witwatersrand
Using bones found at Pinnacle Point Cave in South Africa, archaeologist Corey O’Driscoll identified projectile impact marks which are between 91,000 and 98,000 years old, the oldest direct evidence for the use of projectile weapons. 

Pinnacle Point cave
Human occupation of Pinnacle Point began about 162,000 years ago. The oldest level reveals a fairly sophisticated stone technology in which silcrete stone was heat-treated. Silcrete is a fine-grained stone brought from the South African coast. This is the oldest known example of such technology.

Large pieces of red ochre have been found at Pinnacle Point and at other sites in southern Africa. The pieces were either ground or scraped to produce a pigment for painting the body and for use in burials. The burial of rulers in red ochre was a universal practice among Late Stone Age peoples.

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