Tooth Enamel Shows Spread Of Herding In Ancient Africa

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This means that for nearly 7 million years our ancestors survived by hunting, scavenging and fishing for sustenance. The advent of food production led to wholesale changes in the structure of human society and made the species very successful, resulting in rapid population growth, writes Kendra Chritz for

Development of food production in Africa

Food production differed on each continent in terms of its origin and diffusion. In the case of Africa, food production through the keeping of livestock began before crop harvesting, with the first food producers living in north Africa around 10,000-8,000 years ago before moving south.

The herders arrived in the area now known as Kenya about 4,500 years ago, continuing their southward journey into Tanzania over the next 1,500 years. From here archaeologists are struggling to fill a hole in their knowledge, until domestic sheep and goats are known to have been present in South Africa approximately 2,000 years ago.

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Archaeologists are puzzled by the gap and are trying to work out what happened in that time, but have found some new information by studying the tooth enamel of animals that passed away thousands of years ago.

Some experts believe that worsening weather and climate forced herders across Africa over the past 10,000 years, with our ancestors forced to domesticate animals because they could no longer rely on naturally occurring food resources. But one site calls this theory into question.

Tsetse fly: a natural barrier to early herders

Gogo Falls in southwest Kenya was home to a human community between 1,900 and 1,600 years ago, and the study of animal remains at the site has revealed that although they did raise livestock, they also hunted and fished for almost 50% of their resources. Archaeologists studied the number of wild animal remains versus domesticated animal remains at the site.

They now believe that the presence of the tsetse fly meant that it was difficult to keep animals at the site, given that the tsetse carries sleeping sickness, which can be fatal to animals and humans. The tsetse fly lives in wet areas with dense foliage, which describes large parts of southeast Africa, and this could also explain the gap in archaeological records as the tsetse created a natural barrier to herders.