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1 October 2005
Prehistoric skeletons found in Moroccan Cave

A team of Moroccan archaeologists working in the well-known Grotte des Pigeons Cave at Tafoghalt, near Oujda, Morocco, have recently brought to light human remains dating to around 11,000 to 12,000 BCE, MAP news agency announced Monday.
     The National Institute directs the research program for Archaeological Sciences and Heritage Archives. The cave was first excavated in 1950 and indicated an occupation starting about 21,000 years ago by a population physically different from Morocco's earlier inhabitants. Luckily for the archaeologists, these people buried their dead inside the cave. More than 200 individuals have been recovered during the long-standing excavations, including nearly 100 children.
     New research, taken up in 2003, has pushed back the dates of the early occupation of the cave to more than 100,000 years. But the fresh discovery adds an unusual dimension to the burials: one of the skeletons had been buried with the horns of a Barbary sheep. This animal was very plentiful in the mountainous regions surrounding the cave and was certainly hunted by these early peoples. The fact that its horns were buried with a skeleton will allow a better understanding of the funeral rites practiced by the early Moroccans. Stone and bone tools were also found beside the buried bodies.  
     An earlier study had shown that these people cared for their handicapped: after a serious accident, resulting in the total loss of one arm and almost total loss the other, one woman nevertheless managed to live to an advanced age. This showed that these cave dwellers did not throw out a useless mouth but they looked after the old woman for many years.
     The discovery is part of a research program directed by the National Institute for Archaeological Sciences and Heritage (INSAP) in cooperation with Oxford University. The new series of excavations started on Sept. 5th and will continue until the end of the month.
     The new research in this cave will be part of a vast program of prospect and recording of archaeological sites in the lower Moulouya Valley. For instance, a series of sites, which are much younger than the skeleton-holding cave, have been discovered containing stone tools, pottery and ostrich eggshells. The Laboratory of Technical & Scientific Analyses of the Royal Gendarmerie in Temara, using the Radiocarbon method, has dated the ostrich eggshells and pottery to around 5,500 BCE.
     MAP news agency added that investigations would continue in Ghafas, another Oujda cave, with a view to producing a precise chronology of the prehistoric human groups living in eastern Morocco several thousands of years ago.

Source: Morocco Times (27 September 2005)

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