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.
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.
The earlier settlers at Gobero appear to have been of the Kiffian culture: 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 Ténérians, who settled the area 1000 or more years later, 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.
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.
- New York Times. 2008-08-15.
- Anthropology (publication). 2008-08-15
- National Geographic, September 2008: Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara. Includes photos.
- Sereno P.C., Garcea E.A.A., Jousse H., Stojanowski C.M., Saliège J-F., et al. 2008. Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change. PLoS ONE 3(8): e2995. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002995
- Garcea, E.A.A. (ed.) 2013. Gobero: The No-Return Frontier. Archaeology and Landscape at the Saharo-Sahelian Borderland. Frankfurt, Africa Magna Verlag.