I graduated from the University of Bristol in June 2010 with an MSci (hons) in Archaeological Science, having joined as a mature student in October 2006 after many years working as an Accountant in the Construction Industry. In October 2010 I returned to Bristol to begin my PhD under the supervision of Professor Richard Evershed FRS (Chemistry) and Dr. Savino di Lernia (La Sapienza, University of Rome). I am funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
Previous research here in the OGU at Bristol has identified the origin and chronological spread of dairying as emerging in the Neolithic Near East and dispersing across Europe and into Britain. However, in Africa, unlike the Neolithic of Europe and the Near East, a reliance on cattle, sheep and goats emerged as a widespread way of life long before the first evidence for domesticated plants or settled village farming communities.
In the Libyan Sahara, excavations at the Takarkori rock shelter have yielded archaeological deposits of exceptional preservation, including morphological plant and animal remains together with appreciable numbers of potsherds, which demonstrate evidence of human occupation over the interval 8300-4000 years BP. This was a period of dramatic climate and environmental change from a long wet, humid phase in the early to middle Holocene to the establishment of arid conditions at 5.9 to 5.6 kyr cal BP. During this period, archaeological evidence suggests a transformation in subsistence strategies from a mostly sedentary, hunter-gatherer-fisher lifestyle in the early, wet Holocene to a pastoral way of life, firstly with cattle, and then, as aridification begins to take hold, with sheep and goats.
In this project I hope to use an integrated molecular, isotopic and archaeological approach to assess the effects of climate and environmental change on subsistence strategies throughout the Holocene in the Takarkori rock shelter, Libya. During my PhD I will undertake an investigation of the organic residues preserved in the fabric of the archaeological pottery from Takarkori and other sites in the area. Gas chromatography (GC) and GC–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) will be used to determine the identities and distributions of plant and animal lipids extracted from the ceramics which will be compared with modern and archaeological reference materials collected from the region in order to ascertain their composition.
Furthermore, GC-combustion-isotope ratio MS (GC-C-IRMS) will be applied to determine stable carbon isotope compositions (δ13C values) of fatty acids to identify animal fats, including milk fat. Previous studies have confirmed an independent cattle domestication event in Africa (Hanotte et al., 2002) and it is hoped this project will provide the first evidence for the autonomous uptake of dairying practices as a subsistence strategy in the Libyan Sahara in the fifth and sixth millennium BP.
1. Dunne, J., Evershed, R.P., Salque, M., Cramp, L., Bruni, S., Ryan, K., Biagetti, S., and di Lernia, S. 2012. First dairying in green Saharan Africa in the fifth millennium BC. Nature, 486, 390-394