Publications by authors named "Elizabeth A Sawchuk"

6 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

Human burials at the Kisese II rockshelter, Tanzania.

Am J Phys Anthropol 2021 Feb 21. Epub 2021 Feb 21.

Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA.

Objectives: The Late Pleistocene and early Holocene in eastern Africa are associated with complex evolutionary and demographic processes that contributed to the population variability observed in the region today. However, there are relatively few human skeletal remains from this time period. Here we describe six individuals from the Kisese II rockshelter in Tanzania that were excavated in 1956, present a radiocarbon date for one of the individuals, and compare craniodental morphological diversity among eastern African populations.

Materials And Methods: This study used standard biometric analyses to assess the age, sex, and stature of the Kisese II individuals. Eastern African craniodental morphological variation was assessed using measures of dental size and a subset of Howells' cranial measurements for the Kisese II individuals as well as early Holocene, early pastoralist, Pastoral Neolithic, and modern African individuals.

Results: Our results suggest a minimum of six individuals from the Kisese II collections with two adults and four juveniles. While the dating for most of the burials is uncertain, one individual is directly radiocarbon dated to ~7.1 ka indicating that at least one burial is early Holocene in age. Craniodental metric comparisons indicate that the Kisese II individuals extend the amount of human morphological diversity among Holocene eastern Africans.

Conclusions: Our findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that Late Pleistocene and early Holocene eastern Africans exhibited relatively high amounts of morphological diversity. However, the Kisese II individuals suggest morphological similarity at localized sites potentially supporting increased regionalization during the early Holocene.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.24253DOI Listing
February 2021

The bioarchaeology of mid-Holocene pastoralist cemeteries west of Lake Turkana, Kenya.

Archaeol Anthropol Sci 2019 1;11(11):6221-6241. Epub 2019 Nov 1.

1Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4364 USA.

Early herders in eastern Africa built elaborate megalithic cemeteries ~ 5000 BP overlooking what is now Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya. At least six 'pillar sites' were constructed during a time of rapid change: cattle, sheep, and goats were introduced to the basin as the lake was shrinking at the end of the African Humid Period. Cultural changes at this time include new lithic and ceramic technologies and the earliest monumentality in eastern Africa. Isolated human remains previously excavated from pillar sites east of Lake Turkana seemed to indicate that pillar site platforms were ossuaries for secondary burials. Recent bioarchaeological excavations at four pillar sites west of the lake have now yielded ≥49 individuals, most from primary and some from secondary interments, challenging earlier interpretations. Here we describe the mortuary cavities, and burial contexts, and included items such as adornments from Lothagam North, Lothagam West, Manemanya, and Kalokol pillar sites. In doing so, we reassess previous hypotheses regarding pillar site construction, use, and inter-site variability. We also present the first osteological analyses of skeletons buried at these sites. Although the human remains are fragmentary, they are nevertheless informative about the sex, age, and body size of the deceased and give evidence for health and disease processes. Periosteal moulds of long bone midshafts ( = 34 elements) suggest patterns of terrestrial mobility. Pillar site deposits provide important new insights into early herder lifeways in eastern Africa and the impact of the transition to pastoralism on past human populations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00914-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6941650PMC
November 2019

Ostrich eggshell bead diameter in the Holocene: Regional variation with the spread of herding in eastern and southern Africa.

PLoS One 2019 27;14(11):e0225143. Epub 2019 Nov 27.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Despite their ubiquity in Holocene African archaeological assemblages, ostrich eggshell (OES) beads are rarely studied in detail. An exception is in southern Africa, where there is a proposed relationship between OES bead diameter and the arrival of herding ~2000 years before present. In 1987, Leon Jacobson first observed that beads from forager sites in Namibia tended to be smaller than those associated with herder sites. Studies examining bead size around the Western Cape have generally confirmed Jacobson's findings, though the driving forces of the diameter change remain unknown. Since this time, diameter has become an informal way of distinguishing forager and herder assemblages in southern Africa, but no large-scale studies of OES bead variation have been undertaken. Here we present an expanded analysis of Holocene OES bead diameters from southern, and for the first time, eastern Africa. Results reveal distinct patterns in OES bead size over time, reflecting different local dynamics associated with the spread of herding. In southern Africa, OES diameters display low variability and smaller absolute size through time. While larger beads begin to appear <2000 years ago, most beads in our study remained smaller. In contrast, eastern African OES bead diameters are consistently larger over the last 10,000 years and show no appreciable size change with the introduction of herding. Notably, larger beads thought to be associated with herders in southern Africa fall within the range of eastern African beads, indicating a potential connection between these regions in the Late Holocene consistent with genetic findings. Regional differences in bead size are subtle, on the order of millimeters, yet offer a potentially important line of evidence for investigating the spread of herding in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to understand the meaning of these changes, we encourage additional studies of OES bead assemblages and urge researchers to report individual bead diameters, rather than averages by level.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0225143PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6880992PMC
March 2020

Ancient DNA reveals a multistep spread of the first herders into sub-Saharan Africa.

Science 2019 07 30;365(6448). Epub 2019 May 30.

Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

How food production first entered eastern Africa ~5000 years ago and the extent to which people moved with livestock is unclear. We present genome-wide data from 41 individuals associated with Later Stone Age, Pastoral Neolithic (PN), and Iron Age contexts in what are now Kenya and Tanzania to examine the genetic impacts of the spreads of herding and farming. Our results support a multiphase model in which admixture between northeastern African-related peoples and eastern African foragers formed multiple pastoralist groups, including a genetically homogeneous PN cluster. Additional admixture with northeastern and western African-related groups occurred by the Iron Age. These findings support several movements of food producers while rejecting models of minimal admixture with foragers and of genetic differentiation between makers of distinct PN artifacts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw6275DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6827346PMC
July 2019

A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa's first herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2018 09 20;115(36):8942-8947. Epub 2018 Aug 20.

Illinois State Geological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL 61820.

Monumental architecture is a prime indicator of social complexity, because it requires many people to build a conspicuous structure commemorating shared beliefs. Examining monumentality in different environmental and economic settings can reveal diverse reasons for people to form larger social units and express unity through architectural display. In multiple areas of Africa, monumentality developed as mobile herders created large cemeteries and practiced other forms of commemoration. The motives for such behavior in sparsely populated, unpredictable landscapes may differ from well-studied cases of monumentality in predictable environments with sedentary populations. Here we report excavations and ground-penetrating radar surveys at the earliest and most massive monumental site in eastern Africa. Lothagam North Pillar Site was a communal cemetery near Lake Turkana (northwest Kenya) constructed 5,000 years ago by eastern Africa's earliest pastoralists. Inside a platform ringed by boulders, a 119.5-m mortuary cavity accommodated an estimated minimum of 580 individuals. People of diverse ages and both sexes were buried, and ornaments accompanied most individuals. There is no evidence for social stratification. The uncertainties of living on a "moving frontier" of early herding-exacerbated by dramatic environmental shifts-may have spurred people to strengthen social networks that could provide information and assistance. Lothagam North Pillar Site would have served as both an arena for interaction and a tangible reminder of shared identity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721975115DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6130363PMC
September 2018

Land Snail Shell Beads in the Sub-Saharan Archaeological Record: When, Where, and Why?

Afr Archaeol Rev 2018 30;35(3):347-378. Epub 2018 Jul 30.

1Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta Canada.

Shell beads are well established in the archaeological record of sub-Saharan Africa and appear as early as 75,000 BP; however, most research has focused on ostrich eggshell (OES) and various marine mollusc species. Beads made from various land snails shells (LSS), frequently described as , also appear to be widespread. Yet tracking their appearance and distribution is difficult because LSS beads are often intentionally or unintentionally lumped with OES beads, there are no directly dated examples, and bead reporting in general is highly variable in the archaeological literature. Nevertheless, and other potential cases of LSS beads are present at over 80 archaeological sites in at least eight countries, spanning the early Holocene to recent past. Here, we collate published cases and report on several more. We also present a new case from Magubike Rockshelter in southern Tanzania with the first directly dated LSS beads, which we use to illustrate methods for identifying LSS as a raw material. Despite the long history of OES bead production on the continent and the abundance of land snails available throughout the Pleistocene, LSS beads appear only in the late Holocene and are almost exclusively found in Iron Age contexts. We consider possible explanations for the late adoption of land snails as a raw material for beadmaking within the larger context of environmental, economic, and social processes in Holocene Africa. By highlighting the existence of these artifacts, we hope to facilitate more in-depth research on the timing, production, and distribution of LSS beads in African prehistory.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10437-018-9305-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6413891PMC
July 2018