A new study states that tooth enamel from ancient cattle could help explain how the practice of herding spread through Africa long ago.
Researchers from the Washington University in St. Louis state that herders migrated from eastern to southern Africa about 2,000 years ago, but only in small numbers.
Dr. Fiona Marshall, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and the lead author of the study, said, “Archaeologists have argued that the presence of tsetse flies around Lake Victoria, Kenya, created a barrier that prevented migration and forced subsistence diversification. This study, using stable isotope analysis of animal teeth, reveals the existence of ancient grassy environments east of Lake Victoria, rather than tsetse-rich bushy environments.”
For their study, the researchers analyzed animal remains from a nearly 2,000-year-old settlement located near Gogo Falls in the modern woodlands of southern Kenya, the Marshall and they discovered evidence that contradicts previous assumptions about the conditions of the era.
The researchers state that the Sahara Desert experienced a period of growth 5,500 years ago, which forced residents of the area to migrate south in search of water. That movement of ancient people ceased 2,000 years ago; an event which many researchers believe was brought about, in part, by infections caused by the tsetse fly.
They discovered that the vegetation found east of Lake Victoria was far different 20 centuries ago than it is today. This plant life could have played an important role in the migration from the northern coast of Africa, down into central and southern regions of the continent.
After analyzing the tooth enamel from the animals they concluded that the vegetation was plentiful in the region, and people there likely consumed food from both wild sources and domestic production. Since people stayed in the area for a significant amount of time, it is unlikely that tsetse flies were as dangerous in the region as previously believed.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.