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Aerial view of Gobero archaeological site

About the Site[edit]

The Gobero archaeological site is the oldest known graveyard in the Sahara Desert, dating back to 8000 BCE. Located in the Ténéré desert of Niger, it is named after the Tuareg name for the region. The area was once the location of a paleolake named Gobero, filled with around 3m or so of freshwater and 3 km in depth.[1] There are 8 sites that make up Gobero: G1, G2, G3, G4, G5, G6, G7, and G8, five of which (G1, G2, G3, G5, and G8) have funerary and habitation remains.[2] The time frame of the site has been divided into four phases: Phase I dates from around 14,000-7700 BCE and is characterized by weakening monsoons and the aridification of the area creating the earliest paleodunes at the site, Phase II dates from 7700-6200 BCE and is characterized by a wet climate and the first evidence of occupation by a fisher-gatherer group known as the Kiffians.[1] The next phase is an interruption in the occupation of the site from 6200 BCE – 5200 BCE due to the return of dry and aired conditions making the site uninhabitable.[1] Phase III dates from 5200 BCE to 2200 BCE, and is characterized by the second main occupation of the site at Gobero by a group known as the Tenerians.[1] The final Phase, Phase IV dates from 2500 BCE to 300 BCE and is the period in which the Sahara dries out once more, ending any occupation.[1]


The site was discovered in 2000 by a team led by University of Chicago paleontologist and geologist Paul Sereno, whose previous expeditions to the region had uncovered numerous fossils, including those of the formerly unknown dinosaur Nigersaurus and the crocodylomorph Sarcosuchus. This is not to assert that archaeology is the study of dinosaurs.

Discovered by team photographer Mike Hettwer on October 13, 2000, the sheer size and scope of the find, including traces of pottery, human remains and quantities of aquatic-environment animal bones, suggested the site dated to the early- to mid-Holocene, or "Green Sahara" period (7500–3500 BCE).

In 2005 Sereno organized an international team of archaeologists to explore the site, which discovered that Gobero had been almost continually inhabited for 5000 years, beginning roughly from 8000 BCE onwards, when the area fronted a large lake.Though the 2007 and 2008 expeditions had to be canceled due to hostilities between Nigerien government forces and Tuareg tribesmen, the first comprehensive report on Gobero was published by Sereno in August, 2008, and he returned again to the region in 2011.

Human Occupation[edit]

Evidence of human occupation at Gobero started during the Early Holocene dating around 9500 to 8200 cal BP and then again during the Middle Holocene from 6500 to 4500 cal BP.[3] The Early Holocene occupation is associated with the Kiffian culture: they were tall (as much as 6-foot 8-inches), heavily muscled hunter-fishers, they left a distinctive pottery with wavey lines and probably remained in the region until around 6000 BCE.

The Middle Holocene occupation is associated with the Ténérians, who settled the area 1000 or more years after the Kiffians, belonged to a nomadic herding culture that occupied the site roughly from 6,500 to 4,500 years ago, and left bones of a smaller body size and equally distinctive pottery style.


At least one hundred eighty two burial sites were found at the Gobero site. Of these, sixty seven have been excavated, and some were found to have pottery and other artifacts located around them. Some of the remains uncovered at the area were decorated with jewelry, including a young girl wearing a bracelet made from the tusk of a hippo, and a man buried with the carapace of a turtle. A likely family grave was also found, with a woman and two children buried on their sides, facing each other and with hands entwined. Pollen evidence found at the probable family burial suggests that flowers decorated the grave, with a significant likelihood that they were put there as part of a ceremonial burial ritual.


  1. ^ a b c d e Sereno, Paul C; Garcea, Elena A.A; Jousse, Helene; Stojanowski, Christopher M.; Saliege, Jean-Francois; Maga, Abdoulaye; Ide, Oumarou A.; Knudson, Kelly J.; Mercuri, Anna Maria; Stafford Jr., Thomas W.; Kaye, Thomas G.; Giraudi, Carlo; N'siala, Isabella Massamba; Cocca, Enzo; Moots, Hannah M.; Dutheil, Didier B; Stivers, Jeffrey P (2008). "Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change". PLoS ONE 3 (8): 1–22. 
  2. ^ Garcea, Elena A.A., ed. (2013). Gobero: The No-Return Frontier. Archaeology and Landscape at the Saharo-Sahelian Borderland. Frankfurt: Africa Magna Verlag. 
  3. ^ Stojanowski, Christopher M.; Carver, Charisse L; Miller, Katherine A. (2014). "Incisor avulsion, social identity and Saharan Population history: New data from the Early Holocene southern Sahara". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 35: 79–91. 

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 17°00′N 9°00′E / 17.000°N 9.000°E / 17.000; 9.000