Prehistoric Kiffian and Tenerean Cultures

One of the most famous parts of the Tuareg homelands is the Ténéré desert.  But the Ténéré wasn’t always desert.  An abundance of fossil evidence points to a time in which the Sahara was not a desert, but green and full of various plant and animal life including aquatic life. But this is not news to anyone who has visited the area and made a trip to the Niamey zoo and museum.  Did you know that paleontologists have identified what they deem to be two distinct human prehistoric cultures that lived in the the “green Sahara.”

You may have seen or heard of the ancient rock art known to exist at various sites such as Dabous throughout the Sahara.  But between 2000 and 2006, beginning with Paul Sereno of University of Chicago, paleontologists initially looking for dinosaur fossils in the Ténéré desert uncovered several sites of prehistoric human remains around the place called, in Tamajaq, Gobero.  The remains and the artifacts found at the sites have since been analyzed by paleontologists, bio-archaeologists, and anthropologists, and now the chief interpretation is that the remains come from two distinct periods and people of two distinct cultures labelled the Kiffian culture, and the Tenerean culture.

To Hausa and Tamajaq speakers the word Kiffian will immediate conjure thoughts of fish, and rightly so because the earlier culture to which the term is being applied was evidently a lakeside hunting and fishing based culture.  Whereas the Tenerean culture came after a period of desertification and was a hunting and herding based culture.

If you are interested in prehistoric Niger, just search for Kiffian and Tenerean and you’ll find plenty of interesting resources.  PBS, National Geographic, NY Times, and others have all done stories on these remarkable discoveries.  Below is a list of links you may find helpful:

The Gobero Story by Paul Sereno, Paleontologist.  In addition to an article on the Gobero story, this site includes an excellent bibliography with books for children and adults, as well as multiple galleries of photos.

Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change by Paul Sereno.  Research paper with a much greater degree of detail and precision than the Gobero Story.