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Nikita, E. (2010) The Garamantes of Fazzān: Bioarchaeological evaluation of desert-induced stress and Late Holocene human migrations through the Sahara. Ph.D. Thesis, LCHES, Faculty of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Cambridge


The current dissertation focuses on the Garamantes, a population that flourished in the Sahara Desert (South-West Libya) between 900 BC and 500 AD and is associated to particularly important innovations, such as the development of urbanism, trans-Saharan trade, irrigated agriculture and metallurgy, the formation of a hierarchical and probably slave-using society and a substantial population increase. Therefore, the material evidence of this civilization seems to indicate that the hyper-arid environment of the Sahara Desert did not impose any particular stresses on the population; neither did it restrict population movements.

However, the archaeological record may be biased, and it is the aim of the present dissertation to assess biologically the stress levels imposed on the Garamantes by the desertic environment they occupied as well as to explore the extent of contacts among North African groups in the Late Holocene with an emphasis on the role of the Garamantes, as the population located at the centre of the various networks. Several methods were employed for the above purpose. In specific, palaeopathological analyses, musculoskeletal stress markers examination and biomechanical reconstructions were used in order to explore how strenuous the daily activities necessary for survival in the desert were, while three-dimensional morphometric and non-metric trait analyses were performed in order to examine the biological affinities of the various Late Holocene North African groups, offering an insight to population movements across the Sahara.

All methods appear to point to the fact that either the stress levels imposed on the Garamantes were not particularly high and/or the Garamantes were particularly successful at coping with their environment. On the other hand, North African populations were in contact with each other during the Late Holocene exchanging goods but also exhibiting some degree of gene flow. However, the Garamantes, being located in the centre of the Sahara, demonstrate greater biological distance in relation to their neighbors. These conclusions have important anthropological evolutionary implications relating to human adaptation to extreme, hyper-arid, environments.

Efthymia Nikita
Cambridge, September 2010

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