for National Geographic News
Archaeologists have excavated a trove of Stone Age human skeletons and artifacts on the shores of an ancient lake in the Sahara.
The seven nearby sites include an extensive cemetery and represent one of the largest and best preserved concentrations of ancient skeletons and artifacts ever found in the region, researchers say.
Harpoons, fishhooks, pottery, jewelry, stone tools, and other artifacts pepper the ancient lakeside settlement. The objects were left by early communities that once thrived on the former lake's abundant fish and shellfish.
"They were living on a diet rich in catfish [and] mollusks," said Paul Sereno, a University of Chicago paleontologist and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence.
"It was a place you could walk out the door of your hut amid the sand dunes and perhaps see hippos, elephants, giraffes, and crocodiles," he added.
Sereno led a team of dinosaur fossil hunters that first discovered the archaeological site in 2000.
The paleontologist returned to the site this September with an expedition co-led by Italian archaeologist Elena Garcea.
The researchers found shells scattered on the dry lakebed and thousands of fossilized bones from catfish that likely grew six feet (two meters) in length.
The remains "indicate that here were perennial waters in the area, and that certainly must have been one of the reasons so many people were attracted to it," said Garcea, speaking by telephone from her office at Cassino University in Italy.
"I think that the area was a paradise on Earth for the people who were living there," she added.
But just who were those people? Garcea says there is no single answer.
From Hunting to Herds
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