Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Ancient African herders used ‘no fly zones’ to migrate south

March 10, 2015

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

Experts have long believed that it was one little but dangerous insect, the tsetse fly, that halted the southward migration of ancient herders thousands of years ago. But new research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science now suggests otherwise.

As Dr. Fiona Marshall, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and her colleagues explain in the new study, herders migrated from eastern to southern Africa about 2,000 years ago, but only in small numbers. The tsetse fly, a disease-carrying insect known for spreading sleeping sickness, was long believed to have impeded their migration.

“Archaeologists have argued that the presence of tsetse flies around Lake Victoria, Kenya, created a barrier that prevented migration and forced subsistence diversification,” the authors wrote. “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.”

Overturning previous assumptions
By analyzing animal remains from a nearly 2,000-year-old settlement located near Gogo Falls in the modern woodlands of southern Kenya, the Marshall and her colleagues report that they have discovered evidence that contradicts previous assumptions about the conditions of the era.

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