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21 July 2014
13,000-year-old Saharan remains - evidence of first race war?

French scientists working in collaboration with the British Museum have been examining the skeletons of dozens of persons, the majority of whom appear to have been killed by archers using flint-tipped arrows. Discovered at Jebel Sahaba, on the east bank of the Nile in northern Sudan, the remains represent the contents of an entire cemetery found in 1964, during excavations carried out prior to construction of the Aswan High Dam - the oldest burial ground discovered in the Nile Valley.
     Over the past two years, anthropologists from Bordeaux University have found dozens of previously undetected arrow impact marks and flint arrowhead fragments on and around the bones of the victims, adding to the many arrow heads and impact marks found in the 1960s. This suggests that the majority - men, women and children - were killed by enemy archers, then buried by their own people. The research demonstrates that the attacks - in effect a prolonged low-level war - took place over many months or years.
     British Museum scientists are planning to learn more about the victims - gender, disease, diet, and age at death. Research over recent years indicates they were part of the general sub-Saharan originating population - the ancestors of modern Black Africans - and it is conceivable that their attackers were from a totally different racial and ethnic group, part of a North African/Levantine/European people who lived around much of the Mediterranean Basin.
     The two groups would have looked quite different from each other, and were also almost certainly different culturally and linguistically. The sub-Saharan group had long limbs, relatively short torsos and projecting upper and lower jaws along with rounded foreheads and broad noses, while the North African/Levantine/European group had shorter limbs, longer torsos and flatter faces. Both groups were very muscular and strongly built.
     Certainly the northern Sudan area was a major ethnic interface between these two different groups around this period. The remains of the North African/Levantine/European group has even been found 300 kilometres south of Jebel Sahaba, suggesting that the conflict took place in an area where both populations operated. The time was one of huge competition for resources - a severe drought.
     The period had been preceded by much lusher, wetter, and warmer conditions which had allowed populations to expand. When conditions worsened during the Younger Dryas period, water holes dried up, vegetation wilted, and animals died or moved to the only major year-round source of water still available - the Nile. Humans of all ethnic groups in the area were forced to follow suit, migrating to the banks - especially the eastern bank - of the great river. Competing for finite resources, groups would have inevitably clashed.

Edited from The Independent (14 July 2014)

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