13,000-year-old Saharan remains

13,000-year-old Saharan Remains Tell Of First Known Homo Sapiens War In Africa


In 2014, a fresh analysis on a set of human remains dating back 13,000 years, which were found on the east bank of the Nile in northern Sudan, suggested the individuals were victims of an intergroup war, according to a report in The Independent . The finding provided evidence for what was the oldest known, relatively large-scale human armed conflict .

The ancient remains were originally unearthed in 1964 by the prominent American archaeologist Fred Wendorf from a prehistoric cemetery located in what is now Jebel Sahaba , Sudan. The UNESCO-funded excavations took place to investigate archaeological sites that were about to be inundated by the Aswan High Dam. The discovery of the cemetery was of immense significance as it was the oldest burial ground ever found in the Nile Valley .

However, when a similar scene of massacre was found at Nataruk near Lake Turkana , Kenya, (also the area where the oldest tools in the world were found) where 27 skeletons were found with ‘blades embedded in bones, fractured skulls and other injuries’ according to a Conversation article , this claim was challenged, on the grounds of uncertain dating. It is also claimed that, as the remains at Jebel Sahaba were found in a cemetery, this would indicate some kind of settled society, at least giving the Nataruk site the legitimate claim to being the earliest known warring hunter-gatherers. The archaeological conclusions were inconclusive, but if the age of 13,000 years is accepted, Jebel Sahaba cemetery is the oldest evidence of warring Homo sapiens .

The Jebel Sahaba Find

The 61 men, women, and children were recovered from Jebel Sahabaand sent to the British Museum for safekeeping. A team of French scientists from Bordeaux University worked in collaboration with the British Museum to examine dozens of the skeletons. Their analysis revealed numerous arrow impact marks and flint arrow head fragments on the bones of the victims, suggesting that the majority of the victims were killed by enemy archers. According to The British Museum , 45% of the people in the cemetery died through violence. Furthermore, the research demonstrated that the attacks took place over many months or years – hence indicating a war.

Skeletal remains of two adult men were buried together in a shallow grave and the remains of the actual weapons that killed them are displayed in their original location. Over 20 weapon fragments and cut marks were found, with two flakes still lodged in the pelvis of bone of the burials.

Two Jebel Sahaba victims found on the east bank of the Nile in northern Sudan. Pencils point to weapon fragments.  Wendorf Archive, British Museum, ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Parallel research conducted by John Moore’s University, the University of Alaska and New Orleans’ Tulane University, suggested that the victims were part of the general sub-Saharan populations, the ancestors of modern black Africans, while remains of another group exhibiting a differnt phenotype, the North African/ Levantine/European population group, have been found close to Jebel Sahaba.

The different groups could be distinguished by their unique characteristics. For example, the sub-Saharan originating 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 originating group had shorter limbs, longer torsos and flatter faces.

During the period in which the sub-Saharans violently perished, northern Sudan was a major ethnic interface between the two groups. At the same time, there was a huge competition for resources due to a severe climatic downturn in which many water sources dried up, and people of all ethnic groups were forced to migrate to the banks of the Nile. Researchers suggest that the different groups would have inevitably clashed under these circumstances, resulting in the violent ending of a group of sub-Saharans more than 13,000 years ago.

Top image: Saharan remains indicate early race war 13,000 years ago. Source: Wendorf Archive, The British Museum

By Joanna Gillan


look how many posts there are on this subject and the underlying emotion. Racism, like greed and envy is part of the human condition. We are stuck with this battle. Should we ever win then we are no longer human but have moved on a notch. To deny that races exist and that there are real differences is propaganda and I would even adopt that as personal policy if it did any good. But denial of facts always blows up in your face eventually.

The use of the term, race war, implies a motive. It is a loaded term and shouldn't have been used. A war between two races, would have been more correct. But is it really significant or correct? Groups of humans have always fought against other groups of humans.

Perhaps it was a little lazy of April to copy/paste the headline but without a doubt the Independent chose that headline intentionally as clickbait.

Why clickbait? Well, for one reason, the attackers are not identified at all. It is pure speculation on the part of the newspaper. "The identity of their killers is however less easy to determine. But it is conceivable that they were people 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 sensationalization of the find is not necessary. It is an interesting story on its own without dropping in baseless words like race war.

As AngieB says above, the actual reasons people fight is usually for land and resources; but... If "That lot over there" looked different, so much the better for whipping up the bloodlust! I think Mr Thorpe is making the common mistake of applying a modern world view regarding the concept of race, that simply didn't even begin to take hold until the Abolitionist movement. The fact is, what we would call racism, in one form or another, was often an integrated part of most cultures. In a conflict driven bunch of societies in ancient times, one could even suggest "racism" would serve the purpose of keeping the enemy as far removed from "us goodies" as possible. (In fact it doesn't need to be that ancient: think of the ugly, buck toothed caricatures of Japanese soldiers on US WWII propaganda posters?). When you take a quick look at world history it does send a chill down the spine to see how easy it seems to be for leaders (goodies AND baddies) to use "difference" of any sort to consolidate their control and influence.

angieblackmon's picture

does it have to be a race war? can't it just be war? or war over dwindling resources?

love, light and blessings


Hello all. While I am sensitive to the the politically incorrect notion of the word "race" (particularly when used in conjunction with the word "war"); the negative, connotative meaning behind this word is, alas, a modern one. I can't help but feel that projecting our modern day sensibilities onto our ancient ancestors may be a mistake. The fact is that human beings have fought wars based on land, resources, and ethnic relations since the beginning of our evolution as a species. Unfortunately, we still do...


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