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

Hildebrand, E. A., Grillo, K. M., Sawchuk, E. A., Pfeiffer, S. K., Conyers, L. B., Goldstein, S. T., et al. (2018). A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa’s first herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(36), 8942-8947. doi:10.1073/pnas.1721975115.

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Hildebrand, Elisabeth A., Author
Grillo, Katherine M., Author
Sawchuk, Elizabeth A.1, Author           
Pfeiffer, Susan K., Author
Conyers, Lawrence B., Author
Goldstein, Steven T., Author
Hill, Austin Chad, Author
Janzen, Anneke1, Author           
Klehm, Carla E., Author
Helper, Mark, Author
Kiura, Purity, Author
Ndiema, Emmanuel, Author
Ngugi, Cecilia, Author
Shea, John J., Author
Wang, Hong, Author
1Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society, ou_2074312              


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 Abstract: Archaeologists have long sought monumental architecture’}s origins among societies that were becoming populous, sedentary, and territorial. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, dispersed pastoralists pioneered monumental construction. Eastern Africa{’}s earliest monumental site was built by the region{’}s first herders ˜5,000{–}4,300 y ago as the African Humid Period ended and Lake Turkana{’}s shoreline receded. Lothagam North Pillar Site was a massive communal cemetery with megalithic pillars, stone circles, cairns, and a mounded platform accommodating an estimated several hundred burials. Its mortuary cavity held individuals of mixed ages/sexes, with diverse adornments. Burial placement and ornamentation do not suggest social hierarchy. Amidst profound landscape changes and the socioeconomic uncertainties of a moving pastoral frontier, monumentality was an important unifying force for eastern Africa{’}s first herders.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.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2018-08-202018-08-15
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: 6
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: Peer
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1721975115
Other: shh1058
 Degree: -



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Title: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
  Other : Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA
  Other : Proc. Acad. Sci. USA
  Other : Proc. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
  Abbreviation : PNAS
Source Genre: Journal
Publ. Info: Washington, D.C. : National Academy of Sciences
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 115 (36) Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 8942 - 8947 Identifier: ISSN: 0027-8424
CoNE: https://pure.mpg.de/cone/journals/resource/954925427230