/ 15 August 2008

Largest known Stone Age burial ground found in Niger

United States archaeologists have discovered the largest known burial ground of the Stone Age in the Sahara desert, in Niger, that besides human remains has also yielded fossils of huge crocodiles and dinosaurs, National Geographic magazine said.

Named Gobero, the archaeological site is an estimated 10 000 years old and located in Niger’s part of the Sahara desert called Tenere, or ”deserts of deserts” in the Tuareg nomads’ language.

It was stumbled upon by University of Chicago palaeontologist Paul Sereno as he searched the area for dinosaur fossils with his team.

So far, the desert sands have given up several fossil treasures including the complete skeleton of Sarcosuchus imperator, one of the biggest crocodiles that ever roamed the Earth about 110-million years ago.

Sereno also unearthed the Nigersaurus, a plant-eating dinosaur with a huge jaw studded with 500 teeth that lived in the same geologic period, the Cretaceous.

Gobero holds evidence of two different human populations that lived in the area more than 1 000 years apart. Exposed by the hot winds of the Sahara, human bones were found strewn about a wide area, the researchers said.

Of special interest were a human jaw with a nearly complete set of teeth and the bones of a small hand jutting out of the sand with all its digits intact.

Alongside the human remains, the archaeologists also found harpoon points, stone implements and small, pierced decorations for making collars.

The archaeologists said in the September issue of National Geographic they felt sure the burial ground had remained undiscovered until they came along. — Sapa-AFP