13 July 2012

Namibia: New Discovery May Rewrite Nation's Archeology Timeline

TWO sheep/goat molars from around 2 300 years ago that were discovered during an archaeological dig in a cave on the farm Omandumba West (adjacent to the popular Ai-Aiba Lodge) in the Erongo Mountains in 2009, went public on Wednesday.

A scientific report describing the discovery and its evidence was published in PLoS ONE and is now available on the internet.

"This discovery will force archeologists to go back to the drawing board regarding the domestication timeline, as well as potential movement patterns, for early herders in the region. New theories will have to be thought up to fit the new time. These teeth have changed the whole story," Dr Eugene Marais of the National Museum of Namibia told The Namibian yesterday.

He explained that since the discovery in 2009, a process of identification, dating and compiling the report on the discovery had to be completed before it could be made public.

The two teeth - one dating back 2 200 years and the other 2 300 years - were discovered in an area that is rich in rock art. The dig was a joint project by the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, and the National Museum of Namibia.

The researchers, led by David Pleurdeau of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and Dr Marais, investigated the remains from the 'Leopard Cave' on the farm. These remains were found with hundreds of other archaeological findings, including stone and bone tools as well as beads and few potsherds.

Marais said it is difficult to determine whether the teeth came from a sheep or goat, but there is "no doubt" that the teeth came from domesticated animals. It is also believed that these animals were eaten by their owners, who believed to have been Khoisan hunters and gatherers, the forefathers of the Nama and San people of Namibia, according to Marais. The teeth are still on loan to Paris and are scheduled to return to Namibia in September, Marais said.

They will be kept in the National Museum's archeological collection, but will not be on public display.

"There's nothing really interesting about two animal molars visually. It's what they are worth to the ongoing debate about the origins of domestication and herding practices in this region that is important. It's too valuable to risk losing in case someone gets the wrong intentions," he said.

What is certain though, according to Marais, is that the teeth provide conclusive evidence of the earliest known occurrence of domestic livestock in southern Africa.

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