Savanna Pastoral Neolithic

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The Savanna Pastoral Neolithic (formerly known as the Stone Bowl Culture) is a collection of ancient societies that appeared in the Great Lakes region in East Africa during a time period known as the "Pastoral Neolithic". Through archaeology and historical linguistics, they conventionally have been identified with the area's first Cushitic settlers. Archaeological dating of livestock bones and burial cairns has also established the cultural complex as the earliest center of pastoralism (cattle, goats and sheep) and stone construction in the region.


The makers of the Savanna Pastoral Neolithic culture are believed to have arrived from the Horn of Africa sometime during the Neolithic period. According to archaeological dating of associated artefacts and skeletal material, they first settled in the lowlands of Kenya between 5,200 and 3,300 ybp, a phase referred to as the Lowland Savanna Pastoral Neolithic. They subsequently spread to the highlands of Kenya and Tanzania around 3,300 ybp, which is consequently known as the Highland Savanna Pastoral Neolithic phase.[1][2]

Excavations in the area indicate that the Savanna Pastoral Neolithic peoples were primarily cattle pastoralists.[1] They milked this livestock, and also possessed ovicaprids (goats and sheep). They typically buried their deceased in cairns. Their toolkit was characterized by stone bowls and pestles, grindstones and earthenware pots.[3] The Savanna Pastoral Neolithic peoples also hunted medium and large game on the plains,[1] which they managed with a blade and bladelet-based lithic industry.[4] During the culture's lowland phase, they likewise fished in Lake Turkana.[1] Additionally, they may have introduced the age-set system of social organization to the area at this time.[3]

Based on the recovered materials, it has been hypothesized that the Stone Bowl peoples also practiced irrigation and cultivated grains such as millet, eleusine (savanna grass), and sorghum.[3] Sonia Mary Cole (1954) indicates that certain pestles and grindstones that she excavated from ochreous levels were stained with red ochre, while others from the carbonized layers were not. She consequently suggests that the latter were instead used for grinding grain.[5] Other scholars have argued that there is no direct archaeological evidence that the Savanna Pastoral Neolithic peoples cultivated grains or other plant domesticates.[6]

Although detailed information on this segment of African prehistory is not abundant, data so far available reveal a succession of cultural transformations within the Savanna Pastoral Neolithic. The transformations seem to have been fostered by both environmental change and population movements.[7] Among these changes was the apparent abandonment of the stone bowls at around 1,300 years before present.[1]

According to Daniel Stiles (2004), who excavated Savanna Pastoral Neolithic graves, the Stone Bowl makers were likely ancestral to the tall "Azanians" of the early Common Era. The latter peoples were described in the 1st century CE Greco-Roman travelogue the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy's Geographia as a high-statured population that inhabited the East Africa coast and traded commodities with populations in the Middle East and Southern Europe, among other areas. Credited with having erected the colossal stone monuments in the Horn and Great Lakes regions, they were also identified as "Hamites" by Charles Gabriel Seligman, as "Ancient Azanians" by G.W.B. Huntingford, and as "Megalithic Cushites" by George P. Murdock.[8]


Given the similarity of their material culture and funerary customs with those of Cushitic-speaking populations that inhabited Ethiopia to the north, the Stone Bowl peoples are believed to have spoken languages from the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.[3] According to Christopher Ehret, linguistic research suggests that these Savanna Pastoral Neolithic populations were the first Afro-Asiatic speakers to settle in the Great Lakes. The region was at the time of their arrival inhabited by Khoisan hunter-gatherers who spoke Khoisan languages and practiced an Eburran blade industry.[2]

The linguistic chronology of the historic population movements into the Great Lakes as well as the present and past distribution of Afro-Asiatic speakers further suggests that the Stone Bowl culture makers likely spoke South Cushitic languages.[1] Ehret (1998) proposes that among these idioms were the now extinct Tale and Bisha languages, which were identified on the basis of loanwords.[9]


The Savanna Pastoral Neolithic culture was initially distributed at elevations below 1,100 m in lowland northern Kenya (Lowland Savanna Pastoral Neolithic). Its range later extended to the highlands between central Kenya and northern Tanzania, at elevations above 1,500 m (Highland Savanna Pastoral Neolithic). The preferred settlement location of the Stone Bowl makers was open wooded grassland on well-drained, gentle slopes of between 1,500 m to 2,050 m.[1]

Material culture

The Savanna Pastoral Neolithic makers' characteristic stone bowls have been recovered from both their occupation sites and burial cairns.[1]

Their material culture was typified by several pottery styles, up to three of which may be found at a single site. These include Nderit (Gumban A), Narosura, Akira (TIP), Maringishu (trellis motif), and herringbone-motif wares.[1]

In terms of funerary tradition, the Savanna Pastoral Neolithic peoples erected stone cairns in open spaces, rock shelters, crevices or against walls. The deceased were buried with a number of items, including stone bowls, pestle rubbers and ochre palettes. Large obsidian blades and other tools were also occasionally among the mortuary objects. Incisor removal was not a common feature of this population.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Ambrose, Stanley H. (1984). From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa - "The Introduction of Pastoral Adaptations to the Highlands of East Africa". University of California Press. p. 220. ISBN 0520045742. Retrieved 4 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Ambrose220" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.0 2.1 Christopher Ehret, Merrick Posnansky (ed.) (1982). The Archaeological and Linguistic Reconstruction of African History. University of California Press. p. 140. ISBN 0520045939. Retrieved 4 December 2014.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Carolyn P. Edwards, Beatrice Blyth Whiting (ed.) (2004). Ngecha: A Kenyan Village in a Time of Rapid Social Change. University of Nebraska. p. 54. ISBN 0803248091. Retrieved 4 December 2014.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Goldstein, Steven (2014). "Quantifying endscraper reduction in the context of obsidian exchange among early pastoralists of southwestern Kenya". Lithic Technology. 39 (1): 3–19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Cole, Sonia Mary (1964). The Prehistory of East Africa. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 237. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Gifford-Gonzalez, Diane (2005). "Pastoralism and Its Consequences". In Stahl, Ann (ed.). African Archaeology: A Critical Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 187–224. ISBN 1-4051-0156-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Bower, John. The Pastoral Neolithic of East Africa, Journal of World Prehistory, Vol, 5, No.1, 1991 p. 49 online
  8. Stiles, Daniel. "The Azanian Civilisation Revisited" (PDF). Msafiri. Retrieved 4 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Roland Kießling, Maarten Mous & Derek Nurse. "The Tanzanian Rift Valley area". Maarten Mous. Retrieved 5 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links