Biogeochemical inferences of mobility of early Holocene fisher-foragers from the Southern Sahara Desert

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Sep;146(1):49-61. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21542.


North Africa is increasingly seen as an important context for understanding modern human evolution and reconstructing biocultural adaptations. The Sahara, in particular, witnessed a fluorescence of hunter-gatherer settlement at the onset of the Holocene after an extended occupational hiatus. Subsequent subsistence changes through the Holocene are contrary to those documented in other areas where mobile foraging gave way to settled agricultural village life. In North Africa, extractive fishing and hunting was supplanted by cattle and caprine pastoralism under deteriorating climatic conditions. Therefore, the initial stage of food production in North Africa witnessed a likely increase in mobility. However, there are few studies of paleomobility in Early Holocene hunter-gatherer Saharan populations and the degree of mobility is generally assumed. Here, we present radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from Early Holocene fisher-forager peoples from the site of Gobero, central Niger, southern Sahara Desert. Data indicate a relatively homogeneous radiogenic strontium isotope signature for this hunter-gather population with limited variability exhibited throughout the life course or among different individuals. Although the overall signature was local, some variation in the radiogenic strontium isotope data likely reflects transhumance into the nearby Aïr Massif. Data from Gobero were significantly less variable than in other worldwide hunter-gatherer populations, including those thought to be fairly sedentary. Strontium data from Gobero were also significantly different from contemporaneous sites in southwestern Libya. These patterns are discussed with respect to archaeological models of community organization and technological evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Agriculture
  • Anthropology, Physical*
  • Bone and Bones / chemistry
  • Cemeteries
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dental Enamel / chemistry
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Female
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Libya
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molar / chemistry
  • Niger
  • Strontium Isotopes / analysis*


  • Strontium Isotopes