A new look at the Ice Age War that raged on the edge of the Sahara 13,000 years ago

A new look at the Ice Age War that raged on the edge of the Sahara 13,000 years ago

21st century technology has revealed dozens of previously undetected arrow impact injuries on the bones of victims of the world’s oldest known organised conflict.

For much of the Sudan’s history it has been plagued by conflict, and it seems that the region was a prehistoric war zone too.

In 1964 the UNESCO High Dam Salvage Project, which aimed to rescue archaeological sites in the path of the Aswan Dam, uncovered an ancient cemetary at Jebel Sahaba on the banks of the River Nile in northern Sudan.  They uncovered 59 bodies and numerous other fragmented remains which were determined to be around 13,000 to 14,000 years old.

There were 24 females and 19 males over nineteen years of age, as well as 13 children ranging in age from infancy to fifteen years old.  The age and sex of 3 additional bodies could not be determined due to damage.  Around 40% of them had died of violent wounds caused by pointed stone projectiles found in their remains, suggesting attacks by spears or arrows.

The skull of one of the victims
The skull of one of the victims

Over the past two years anthropologists from Bordeaux University have re-examined the skeletons with modern technology and discovered dozens of previously undetected arrow impact marks and flint arrow head fragments on and around the bones of the victims.  The wounds are mainly located around the sternum, abdomen, back, and skull (through the lower jaw or neck).  The lack of signs of natural healing in the bones indicate that the attacks were usually fatal, except in the case of one male with a healed forearm fracture most likely sustained by raising his arm to defend himself during a particular battle. The attacks took place over many months or years.

They died at the start of a 1,300 year period of cold climatic conditions known as the Younger Dryas, thought to have been caused by the collapse of the North American ice sheets.  The Younger Dryas interrupted the general Ice Age thaw and saw a rapid return to glacial conditions in the Northern Hemisphere and drought across the globe.  In North Africa, human populations migrated to the only major year-round source of water still available – the River Nile – setting the battleground for finite resources.

Parallel research by scientists at Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Alaska and New Orleans’ Tulane University has indicated that the victims were part of the original population of sub-Saharan Africa and the ancestors of modern Black Africans.  They were characterised by their long limbs, relatively short torsos, projecting upper and lower jaws, rounded foreheads and broad noses.

It has been speculated that they met their demise at the hands of a North African/ Levantine/European population originating from around the Mediterranean Basin.  The remains of these people, characterised by their shorter limbs, longer torsos and flatter faces, have been found 200 miles south of Jebel Sahaba, so they were also ‘operating in the area’.

The difference in their physical appearance, as well as probable cultural and linguistic differences, has led to even wilder media speculation that the conflict could represent the ‘world’s first race war’.


Jebel Sahaba

Source: British Museum

Earth's History in 1 Minute

Earth's History in 1 Minute - 4½ billion years in a 1 minute video

Posted by Abroad in the Yard on Friday, 14 August 2015