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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Sep 4;115(36):8942-8947. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1721975115. Epub 2018 Aug 20.

A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa's first herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya.

Author information

1
Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4364; elisabeth.hildebrand@stonybrook.edu.
2
Turkana Basin Institute, 00502 Nairobi, Kenya.
3
Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.
4
Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4364.
5
Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, 07745 Jena, Germany.
6
Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 2S2, Canada.
7
Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, 7701 Rondebosch, South Africa.
8
Department of Anthropology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052.
9
Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052.
10
Department of Anthropology, University of Denver, Denver, CO 80208.
11
Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth University, Hanover, NH 03755.
12
Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309.
13
Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712.
14
National Museums of Kenya, 00100 Nairobi, Kenya.
15
Illinois State Geological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL 61820.

Abstract

Monumental architecture is a prime indicator of social complexity, because it requires many people to build a conspicuous structure commemorating shared beliefs. Examining monumentality in different environmental and economic settings can reveal diverse reasons for people to form larger social units and express unity through architectural display. In multiple areas of Africa, monumentality developed as mobile herders created large cemeteries and practiced other forms of commemoration. The motives for such behavior in sparsely populated, unpredictable landscapes may differ from well-studied cases of monumentality in predictable environments with sedentary populations. Here we report excavations and ground-penetrating radar surveys at the earliest and most massive monumental site in eastern Africa. Lothagam North Pillar Site was a communal cemetery near Lake Turkana (northwest Kenya) constructed 5,000 years ago by eastern Africa's earliest pastoralists. Inside a platform ringed by boulders, a 119.5-m2 mortuary cavity accommodated an estimated minimum of 580 individuals. People of diverse ages and both sexes were buried, and ornaments accompanied most individuals. There is no evidence for social stratification. The uncertainties of living on a "moving frontier" of early herding-exacerbated by dramatic environmental shifts-may have spurred people to strengthen social networks that could provide information and assistance. Lothagam North Pillar Site would have served as both an arena for interaction and a tangible reminder of shared identity.

KEYWORDS:

Africa; Holocene; early food production; monumentality; pastoralism

PMID:
30127016
PMCID:
PMC6130363
[Available on 2019-03-04]
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1721975115

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