Cemeteries and sedentism in the Epipalaeolithic of North Africa

Researchers at the Museum have been involved in archaeological projects in Morocco since 2002 the most recent focus is at Grotte des Pigeons, a cave at Taforalt,  north-east Morocco.

The Cemeteries and sedentism project is aiming to  

  • document apparent changes in patterns of
    • subsistence
    • occupation

observed during the Iberomaurusian period at approximately 13,000 years ago at the Grotte des Pigeons site.

  • explore whether the changes in human behaviour coincide with changing climate and aridity.

Background

Grotte des Pigeons

Grotte des Pigeons, a cave at Taforalt, north-east Morocco is a key archaeological site, with a long sequence of deposits spanning the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic

The most recent occupants of this site were the Iberomaurusians. Iberomaurusian populations inhabited the Maghreb between 20,000 and 8000BP and are known from a series of archaeological sites close to Atlantic and Mediterranean coast. 

Iberomaurusian skulls often reveal evidence for the deliberate removal of the two upper central incisors during adolescence or early adulthood.

Transitions

At Grotte des Pigeons there is a cultural transition during the Iberomaurusian period, marked by a major sedimentary boundary.

The thick “grey series” midden deposits forming above this boundary are defined by massive quantities of 

  • ash and charcoal 
  • burnt rock  
  • burnt shells of edible snails 
  • cut-marked and modified bone of Barbary sheep
  • ostrich eggshell 
  • extensive concentrations of lithic artefacts
  • human burials

The transition suggests a major shift in the use of the site and may be associated with 

  • changes in seasonal occupation
  • a greater localisation of activities around individual sites 
  • a broadening of the diet 
  • intensification in the use of specific foods

Burial sites

Grotte des Pigeons is one of the largest repositories of Iberomaurusian human burials known in Northwest Africa. During the last century partial human skeletons representing up to 180 individuals were recovered from the upper sequence of archaeological deposits during excavations by Abbé J. Roche.  

The new excavations have revealed undisturbed burial area at the base of the grey series deposits in at alcove at the back of the cave. These burials comprise both single and grouped inhumations, including those of several adults and infants. Many of the adult burials are surrounded by horn cores of Barbary sheep and some of the infant burials are marked with a distinctive type of ochre stained stone.  The bodies were placed in pits, often in a seated position and facing towards the cave entrance.

Project staff
Project collaborators 
  • Professor Nick Barton 
    University of Oxford
  • Dr Abdeljalil Bouzouggar 
    Institut National des Sciences, de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine, Morocco
  • Professor Martin Bell
    University of Reading
  • Dr Elaine Turner
    RGZM, Germany

Funding

Funding for this project is provided by