Forthcoming presentations

posted 2nd May 2018

The team will be presenting preliminary results of the project at a number of forthcoming conferences. Katie will be presenting a paper titled 'A multi-proxy approach to reconstructing ecological change in the Green Sahara' at the UISPP in Paris at 11am on Thursday 7th June. Julie and Nick will be representing the team at SAfA between the 18-21st June, with Julie presenting on an ethnographic study of Turkana potters and Nick presenting on land use reconstructions of the Holocene Sahara. Julie will also be present at the The 15th Congress of PanAfrican Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies (PanAf), which is being held in Rabat between 10-14th September, where she will be presenting the results of our Moroccan collaboration with INSAP.

Society for Libyan Studies Large Research Grant

posted 22nd November 2017

Katie has just been awarded a Large Research Grant from the Society for Libyan Studies. The project titled 'The origins and spread of the Neolithic in North Africa' will undertake a broad scale and systematic analysis of pottery from Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic sites in Tunisia and Algeria to assess the chronological spread and utilisation patterns of early pottery producers and Neolithic economies in northern Africa. This is a collaborative project between our team, Professor Nabiha Aouadi and Professor Lotfi Belhouchet from the Tunisian National Institute of Heritage (INP), and Dr Giulio Lucarini from the University of Cambridge. The proposal recieved the maximum that the society awards, and is eligible for renewal for a second year. Fiekdowrk will begin in Tunisia in early 2019!

Progress update on pottery sampling

posted 22nd November 2017

We are well on our way to getting the spatial and temporal coverage we had hoped for, with well over 3000 samples currently being processed in Bristol. These have come from all over, including collections housed at IFAN in Senegal, INSAP in Morocco, LAMPEA in Aix-en-Provence and the University of Cologne, as well as from recent and on-going excavations in Sudan, Chad, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia.  Many thanks to all of our collaborators and project partners!

With the addition of a new technician, Toby Gillard, to the team, organic residue analyses of these samples  is now well underway.  Much of the pottery we have sampled comes from some of the earliest known Holocene sites, such as the 'Mesolithic' site of Al Khiday in Sudan and three Early Neolithic sites from Northeastern Morocco.  We are beginning to collect some interesting data from this very early pottery, so watch this space!

Institut für Ur- und FrühgeschichteForschungsstelle Afrika, Universität zu Köln

posted 26th April 2017

Friederike Jesse with material from Wadi Howar 

On Monday 24th April Katie visited the Forschungsstelle Afrika in Cologne where she met with Friederike Jesse and Heiko Riemer to discuss sampling from the B.O.S and Acacia projects. The Forschungsstelle Africa is the leading institute for prehistoric research in the desert regions of Sudan and Egypt and over the last 40 years, their work has uncovered a detailed occupational history covering the eastern desert and the Nile Valley that spans the last 8000 years. After some really interesting discussion (and some great cake!), we got round to the sampling. Friederike and Heiko had kindly organised all of the 200+ samples, covering numerous Handessi, Leiterband and Dotted wavy Line/Laqiya sites. We are really looking forward to getting some results on this material, and will keep the updates coming here...

Many thanks to Heiko for the Portuguese cakes!

Laboratoire méditerranéen de préhistoire Europe Afrique (LAMPEA), Aix-en-Provence

posted 10th April 2017

At the end of February, Katie visited LAMPEA at the Universite Aix-Marseille. Thanks to Dominique Commelin and Annabelle Gallin, we managed to sample over 250 pottery sherds from Mali, including 29 sherds from Annabelle's excavation at Kobadi. The remaining samples came from the surface collections and excavations undertaken by Petit-Maire and Michelle Raimbault in northern Mali. Whilst there Katie also met with Vincent Moure who has been recently excavating near Ounianga in northern Chad. We are really excited to get working on the 20 or so sherds that Vincent brought back, as this is a major gap in our undertanding of human occupation in this part of the Sahara. Katie also gave a lecture whilst there to the Ceramopole workshop group, and would like to thank Laetitia Cavassa abd Delphine Dixneuf for organising this.

Pottery from northern Mali, LAMPEA

L'Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, Université Cheikh Anta Diop

posted 8th February 2017

At the end of January, Katie and Julie visited IFAN at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, to sample pottery. IFAN hosts more than 50,000 archaeological specimens, including pottery, lithics, animal bone, and metal tools, spanning the Palaeolithic through to historical times, and covering a vast region of northwest Africa. Thanks to Ibrahima Thiaw,  we were given full access to the collections and with the help of two students, Ibrahim and Aithe, we managed to sample nearly 1000 pottery sherds from Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. We have now hauled our treasure back to Bristol, and look forward to seeing what results we may find. Much of the material sampled comes from surface collections, undertaken by the likes of Mauny in the 1950's and 1960's. Using the new techniques developed in Bristol for lipid extraction, we are hoping not only to shed light on the dietary and environmental conditions at these sites, but also to date some of them. Whilst there, Katie gave 2 student seminars on ceramic attribute analysis and palaeodemographic modelling, and Julie gave a seminar on organic residue analysis. Katie also gave a lecture on the project. We would like to thank Ibrahima Thiaw and everybody at IFAN for all their help and hospitality.

Julie sampling at IFAN in Dakar

BBC report on plant processing in the Libyan sahara
posted 21st December 2016

BBC Science and Environment have picked up on Julie's recent Nature Plants paper on plant processing in early Holocene pottery from the Libyan Sahara - Prehistoric Porridge? First pots for plant cooking found. Check the link here

New paper - First direct evidence of plant processing in the Central Sahara

posted 21st Decemeber 2016

Archaeobotanical remains from Takarkori rock shelter (SW Libya), dating from c. 9500-6200 BP

A new paper out in Nature Plants this week, by Julie, Richard and colleagues, documents the earliest directs evidence of humans processing plants for food found anywhere in the world. In collaboration with colleagues at Sapienza, University of Rome and the Universities of Modena and Milan, the team studied unglazed pottery dating back more than 10,000 years ago from the key sites of Takakori and Uan Afuda in the Libyan Sahara. Over half of the vessels studied were found to have been used for processing plants based on the identification of diagnostic plant oil and wax compounds. Detailed investigations of the molecular and stable isotope compositions showed a broad range of plants were processed, including grains, the leafy parts of terrestrial plants, and most unusually, aquatic plants.

Excavations at Al Khiday, Sudan, November 2016

posted 16 December 2016

In November, Julie visited the archaeological site of Al Khiday, near Omdurman, Sudan, to sample pottery for the project. The site is currently being excavated by Donatella Usai and Sandro Salvatori (Green Sahara project partners). Al Khiday is a fascinating site with well-preserved stratified Mesolithic deposits containing mud architectural remains, mud floors, fireplaces, fish and mammal bones, lithic and bone tools, and lots of pottery! This makes it very unusual, as most, if not all, excavated sites of the ‘Khartoum Mesolithic’ are badly affected by post-depositional disturbances (e.g. Salvatori 2012). The well-dated stratigraphy means that we will be able to look at diet and subsistence of these hunter-gatherer-fishers across the early ‘Green Sahara’ Mesolithic. The extremely high abundances of fish remains in the deposits suggest a strong reliance on food resources from the Nile during the Early Holocene so we’ll be extremely interested to see if this is mirrored in the results from the lipid residues.

The site also has Neolithic deposits, including pottery, which will enable us to compare diet and subsistence across a period of several thousand years, as well as examining the prevailing environmental conditions. We’ll also examine any differences in lipids recovered from pottery decoration types and temper recipes to determine possible relationships between form and function of vessels. 

Bone harpoon, Al Khiday

Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP), Rabat, Morocco, October 2016

posted 11 November 2016

In October, Richard, Paul and Julie went to the Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP) in Rabat, Morocco to attend a workshop and sample Moroccan Neolithic pottery. This was in conjunction with our project partners Jörg Linstädter and Abdeslam Mikdad, Director of the Institut. We sampled around 300 potsherds from three sites, Ifri Oudaden, Ifri n’Etsedda and Hassi Ouenzga. Of these one is a coastal site and two are inland, allowing us the opportunity to examine possible differences in diet and subsistence strategy in contrasting environments.


The workshop comprised talks from Julie, Richard and Paul, who spoke about the ‘Green Sahara Project’. Other interesting talks included ‘Recent research at the Iberomaurusian site of Ifri el Baroud, Eastern Rif’ by Alessandro Potí; ‘Recent research at the Epipalaeolithic / Neolithic site of Ifri n'Etsedda, Eastern Rif’ by Jörg Linstädter; ‘Technological choices in pottery production on Gran Canaria island in aboriginal times (7th -15th cent AD)’ by Miguel del Pino and ‘The dispersion of farming across Mediterranean Africa: Use-wear and residue analysis on ground tools’ by Giulio Lucarini.


It was really lovely to visit the Institut, the students were so friendly, and, in the future, we hope to welcome a Masters student from the INSAP to the Organic Geochemistry Unit at The University of Bristol to carry out an organic residues project on other Moroccan prehistoric pottery.  


Of course, we couldn’t visit Morocco without both visiting the local bazaar and also sampling the very tasty local Tagine!

Paul and Richard outside the Medina in Rabat

Workshop dinner in Rabat

Last week, Julie attended the 7th International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology (ISBA7) held at the University of Oxford. ISBA exists to encourage and promote interdisciplinary research - ideally in combination with archaeology - by means of DNA, RNA, proteins, lipids or stable isotopes. The conference was very busy with over 280 delegates and a wide variety of fascinating talks. Many focused on the exploitation of plants in prehistory. This is probably long overdue – there needs to be a recognition that plants would have been a staple of prehistoric diets – and would likely be available during times when other foodstuffs were scarce. Julie presented a paper ‘Gone to seed? Earliest direct evidence of plant processing in prehistoric Saharan pottery’, discussing her identification of plant lipids in 9000 year old pottery from the Libyan Sahara. She has demonstrated the exploitation of a broad range of plant types, including grasses, sedges and aquatic plants, by the early semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers living in the area and then by the pastoralists living off the products of their domesticated livestock.

The Environmental History of Africa since the last Ice Age, Lausanne, Switzerland 14-16th September

posted 19th September

Katie attended a workshop on the Environmental History of Africa since the last Ice Age, organised by Jed Kaplan, Eric Verrecchia and colleagues at the University of Lausanne. This was a fantastic couple of days with a diverse and fascinating range of papers ranging from Holocene hydrological change in central-west Africa (Yannick Garcin), modern impacts on human land use across Africa (Leigh Winowieki) and palaeoclimate records in rock hyrax midden (Brian Chase). Katie presented on the project and got some great feedback. She also met with Matthieu Honneger to collect the first lot of samples from the 9th Millennium BP site of Wadi el Barga in Sudan, and thanks to Pierre Deschamps, we may have a new collaboration with Vincent Mourre, who is currently excavating in northern Chad. 

Fondue in Lausanne, 16th Septmeber 2016

Society of Africanist Archaeologists, Toulouse 26th June - 2nd July
posted 12th July 2016
Julie, Katie and Nick all attended the SAfA conference in Toulouse this summer. It was one of the largest SAfA conferences on record, with a good representation of Holocene and north African papers. Katie gave a presentation on the new project, appealing to anybody with ceramic samples to get in touch. Julie presented on "Milk and molecules. The beginnings of dairying across Holocene north Africa". Meanwhile Nick presented on his recent work from the Chott el Djerid in southern Tunisia. The team were also busy meeting with project partners and colleagues to secure ceramic samples and foster new collaborations.

© greensahara 2016

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