Monday 4 December 2023


Four African settlements predate the Sumerians: (1) Gobero, Niger (2) Qadan culture, Egypt and Sudan (3) Trade networks of Kenya and Southern Africa, and (4) The obsidian trade network between Nubia and Arabia 


The discovery of Gobero in Niger in 2000 by Prof. Paul Sereno's team unearthed a window into the lives of people during the "Green Sahara" era, spanning from 14,000 to 5,500 years ago. Through numerous expeditions[1] between 2003 and 2019, over 100 burials and 1,000 artifacts were discovered, showcasing the site's extraordinary longevity, spanning 5,000 years, and the unique mysteries it holds.

The site's persistence amidst the Sahara Desert stemmed from the continuous water supply from Paleolake Gobero, fed by groundwater rather than rainfall. The flooding of gravesites contributed to their preservation, revealing spectacular burials like Accordion Man and Bracelet Girl. The discoveries also included tool types like Tenerean disks and bone-made harpoons, jewelry pieces, and diverse fauna like elephants, hippos, and crocodiles.

Gobero's archaeological significance, highlighted in documentaries, articles, and media coverage, provided profound insights into ancient cultures, practices, and environmental conditions, significantly enriching our understanding of prehistoric Africa. They had long distance trade, language, jewellery, settlements, and lived in the area for close to 9,000 years from 12,000 BCE until 3,500 BCE.

Qadan Culture:

The Qadan culture, an ancient society originating in Nubia (covering southern Egypt and northern Sudan) around 15,000 years ago[2], endured for approximately 4,000 years, leaving an impressive mark on history. Their lifestyle primarily revolved around hunting and a unique approach to gathering food, which involved preparing and consuming wild grasses and grains. Despite not planting grains in organized rows, the Qadan people systematically tended to local plant life, showcasing their intentional care for the environment. This demonstrated early signs of experimentation prior to Nubia’s Neolithic revolution.

The cultural sites of the Qadan period extended from the Second Cataract of the Nile to Tushka, about 250 kilometers upriver from Aswan. This era, viewed archaeologically as a cluster of Mesolithic Stage communities, demonstrated an evolving stone tool industry, indicating increased specialization and distinct regional groupings. The discovery of tools with silica films on them suggests the cutting of grass stems, revealing an innovative approach to resource utilization. It is highly probable that they also used wood and bone tools.

However, this period also hinted at conflicts among groups, as evident from signs of intense inter-group warfare or invasion. The Jebel Sahaba cemetery, near the Sudanese border on the Nile, holds remains with fatal wounds from projectiles, indicating combat using weapons like spears or arrows. Yet, despite these indications of strife, evidence from cemeteries suggests the practice of ritual burials, signifying a significant cultural aspect amidst the tumultuous times.

The Qadan economy thrived on fishing, hunting, and the substantial utilization of wild grains. This unique blend of resource gathering and reliance on the natural environment characterized their way of life, leaving a rich archaeological legacy that spans over millennia and offers insights into their societal structures, conflicts, rituals, and means of sustenance.

Kenya’s trade networks:

The establishment of early trade networks fostered cultural exchange and resource sharing across regions, laying the foundation for future economic systems. Populations at Olorgesailie in Southern Kenya underwent technological improvements in tool making and engaged in long-distance trade 305,000 - 320,000 years ago. [3] Over time, these networks spread to Southern Africa. During periods when coins were not yet invented or a part of middle Paleolithic Africa's economy, beads may have represented a form of currency as this was found in trade networks in southwestern Africa.

Obsidian Trade with Arabia:

There is evidence to suggest that prehistoric Nubians had trade connections with the Arabian Peninsula, and obsidian was among the commodities exchanged. Obsidian, a volcanic glass highly valued for its sharpness and use in toolmaking, has been found in archaeological excavations at both Nubian and Arabian sites, indicating a trade network between the two regions[3][4].

The main source of obsidian in northeastern Africa is found in the Ethiopian Highlands, particularly in the region known as the Mille-Logya volcanic field (Michels, 2015). While the exact dates and extent of this trade are still subjects of ongoing research, evidence suggests that obsidian from northeastern Africa reached the Arabian Peninsula during prehistoric times during the middle Stone Age c150,000 BC (Sterry, 2016). The trade routes and exchanges likely occurred in different periods, potentially dating back to the Neolithic and continuing into the Bronze Age.

Researchers have studied the distribution of obsidian artifacts and the geochemical analysis of the obsidian sources to trace the trade patterns and determine the origins of the obsidian found in Arabian Peninsula sites (Sterry, 2016). These studies provide valuable insights into the ancient trade networks between Nubia and the Arabian Peninsula.

Conclusions you can draw:

The evidence suggests that civilizations like Sumerians or Egyptians did not develop their entire culture in isolation. Middle Paleolithic Africa's ingenuity and technological advancements laid the foundation for various aspects of their culture, including art, trade, and spirituality. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that the cultural development of ancient Sumerians and the Egypt was a result of complex interactions with various regions and civilizations, which enriched and shaped their civilization. The interconnectedness of human civilizations and the exchange of ideas across regions were integral to the dynamic tapestry of human history.

The information provided highlights several African settlements and trade networks that significantly predate the Sumerians. Gobero in Niger, the Qadan culture in Egypt and Sudan, trade networks in Kenya and Southern Africa, and the obsidian trade between Nubia and Arabia all demonstrate complex societies with rich cultural practices, trade systems, and technological advancements.

These settlements and networks showcase early signs of organized communities, long-distance trade, economic systems, resource utilization, technological innovations, and social structures. They contributed to the foundations of human civilization in their respective regions and played a pivotal role in shaping cultural, economic, and technological advancements.


[1] 2008 The Kiffian & Tenerean occupation of Gobero, Niger. Beyond bones and stones.

[2] Phillipson, DW: African Archaeology page 149. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

[3] Brooks AS, Yellen JE, Potts R, Behrensmeyer AK, Deino AL, Leslie DE, Ambrose SH, Ferguson JR, d'Errico F, Zipkin AM, Whittaker S, Post J, Veatch EG, Foecke K, Clark JB (2018). "Long-distance stone transport and pigment use in the earliest Middle Stone Age". Science.

[4] Michels, J. W. (2015). Obsidian trade in the Arabian Peninsula: New data and implications. In B. Finlayson & K. Mithen (Eds.), The Early Prehistory of Wadi Faynan, Southern Jordan: Archaeological Survey of Wadis Faynan, Ghuwayr and Al Bustan and Evaluation of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Site of WF16 (Vol. 1, pp. 457-464). Council for British Research in the Levant.

[5] Sterry, M. (2016). Contacts between Neolithic communities in Arabia and the Levant: New obsidian evidence from the southern Levant. Levant, 48(1), 31-46.

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