The ‘Leverhulme Trust’ is funding a major project in Oxford on ‘Cemeteries and sedentism in the epipalaeolithic of North Africa’, directed by Professor Nick Barton with Dr Louise Humphrey of the Natural History Museum and Professor Martin Bell of Reading University. The project will begin in March 2009 and will run for three years, employing one Research Assistant and two doctoral students.

The Project

In this project we examine the idea that key changes in society usually linked to the emergence of farming may already have been embedded in earlier forager societies. The multidisciplinary “Cemeteries and Sedentism in the Epipalaeolithic of North Africa” Project will focus on two of these major changes: the adoption of a broader spectrum diet and shifts to a more sedentary form of existence. We will consider the root causes of such changes in hunter-gatherer societies in North Africa and examine the immediate effects of this transition and whether such experiments provided a prototype for developments several thousands of years later that led to the widespread uptake of farming in this region.

Our work focuses on a significant sediment transition noted in a number of caves in Morocco around 13,000 years ago. The boundary marks the abrupt appearance of thick domestic midden deposits and the earliest cases of large communal cemeteries. The middens are defined by massive quantities of ash, charcoal and burnt rock plus burnt shells of edible snails together with cut-marked and modified bone of Barbary sheep, ostrich eggshell and major concentrations of lithic artefacts. It is speculated that such changes reflect a broadening of the diet, an intensification in the use of specific foods and a greater localisation of activities around individual sites. The causes of such changes will be explored, while the effects on the health and nutritional behaviour of human populations will be compared to those in later foraging and farming examples in adjacent regions of the Mediterranean.

Iberomaurusian microlithic tools from the ‘Grey Series’ sequence in Taforalt Cave


Cutmarked and modified ungulate bone from Taforalt Cave


University of Oxford