Thursday 4 July 2024


The cultures of the Kiffian and Tenerian people at Gobero, Niger Republic, spanning from approximately 9,700 to 4,000 years ago, reflect sophisticated societies rather than civilizations by traditional Southwest Asian standards. Evidence from linguistics and cultural practices enhances this understanding. Using the Yoruba language, as an example of indicative Pre-Islamised Proto-Niger-Congo-Proto-Afrasan culture, reveals profound insights into their natural world understanding and societal complexity. Specific terms like "òkè" for mountain and "odò" for river illustrate their intimate relationship with the environment. Their cultural framework encompassed governance ("ìjọba"), legal systems ("ẹ̀sìn òfin"), craftsmanship ("ìṣẹ́ ọ̀wọ́"), and metallurgical artistry (àdàkọ àkùn). These societies, though lacking formal writing systems but displaying urbanization, exhibited advanced social organization, technological prowess, and cultural richness, challenging simplistic categorizations based solely on Mesopotamian model of civilization.

The cultures of the Kiffian and Tenerian people at Gobero, spanning from approximately 9,700 to 4,000 years ago, represent complex societies rather than civilizations in the traditional Mesopotamian sense. Here’s why:

Cultural Complexity: These societies demonstrated significant social organization, technological advancement, and adaptation to their environment, evident from their tools, burial practices, and artistic expressions like rock art. These facets indicate a structured society with symbolic culture.

Sedentary Lifestyle: The evidence suggests that while not fully sedentary, the people of Gobero lived in semi-permanent settlements, moving seasonally but establishing roots in specific areas. This settlement pattern suggests a more complex social structure than purely nomadic groups.

Technological Advancements: Tools and weapons found at Gobero indicate a level of technological sophistication beyond mere survival needs, reflecting a society capable of crafting and using complex tools effectively.

Social Organization: Although specifics about governance or political structures are limited, the presence of elaborate burial customs and community-wide activities suggests some form of social hierarchy or communal organization.

Urbanisation and Trade Networks: The Kiffians, from 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, left evidence suggesting a level of urbanization and trade networks. Archaeological finds in the Sahara Desert indicate structured settlements with communal structures and evidence of specialized activities. Additionally, artifacts such as pottery and tools discovered in diverse locations point to extensive trade networks that connected distant regions. These findings challenge previous assumptions and underscore the sophisticated social and economic systems of the Kiffian culture during this prehistoric period.

Writing: Archaeological discoveries in Niger have revealed evidence of ancient proto-Saharan scripts. These scripts are associated with the Tifinagh script used by Berber peoples in North Africa. The discovery of inscriptions and rock art in various locations across the Sahara, including Niger, provides insights into the early forms of writing systems that were developed by ancient Saharan populations. These scripts are important for understanding the cultural and linguistic history of the region, dating back thousands of years.

Early Pastoralism: Mitochondrial studies of genetic history of cattle suggests it is plausible that the people of Gobero relied on early pastoralism. Evidence suggests that African cattle were domesticated independently, particularly in Northeast Africa, around 10,000 to 8,000 years ago. This timeframe coincides with the period when semi-sedentary African hunter-gatherers-fishers in the Western Desert, including areas near Nabta Playa, began managing North African cattle. These early pastoralists likely utilized cattle as a reliable food source during the dry periods of the Green Sahara. The presence of cattle fossils at archaeological sites such as Bir Kiseiba and El Barga further supports the notion of early pastoral practices in the region. Therefore, the ancestors of the people of Gobero may have engaged in the domestication and management of cattle as part of their livelihood strategies during this early period.

The term "civilization" typically connotes features like urbanization, extensive trade networks, monumental architecture, and formal writing systems. Architecture built between 9,700 and 4,000 years ago in Gobero probably only had a useful life of 60 years or less, so we are unable to confirm if Kiffian culture met the typical standards for “monumental architecture” used for other locations like Goebekli Teppe, Egypt, Uruk or Mohenjo-Daro. Yet, Gobero had signs of urbanisation, social structure, early written communication, early agriculture, and trade networks. The inhabitants of Gobero left 5,700 years of continuous culture, more than two times the time span of “Dynastic Egypt”.

In summary, the Kiffian and Tenerian cultures at Gobero were highly advanced for their time and exhibited traits of social complexity and technological prowess. They should be recognized as sophisticated societies, emphasizing their achievements and cultural richness without imposing Southwest Asian criteria of civilization that often overlooks the diverse forms of societal development worldwide.



*  Blench, Roger (January 2020). "The evolution of foraging and the transition to pastoralism in the Sahara". Landscapes and Landforms of the Central Sahara. University of Cambridge.

* Blench, Roger (2019). "The Linguistic Prehistory of The Sahara". Published in a Volume of Selected Papers. D. Mattingley ed. Cambridge University Press & Libyan Studies Association. University Press & Libyan Studies Association: 431.

* Kamrani, Kambiz. "The Kiffian & Tenerean Occupation Of Gobero, Niger: Perhaps The Largest Collection Of Early-Mid Holocene People In Africa." N.p., 14 Thursday August 2008. Web. 01 Jan. 2015.

* Sereno PC, Garcea EAA, Jousse H, Stojanowski CM, Saliège J-F, Maga A, et al. (2008). "Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change" (PDF). PLOS ONE. 3(8). e2995.

* Holl, A. (1998). "The Dawn of African Pastoralisms: An Introductory Note". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 17 (2): 81–83.

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