There are limited data on the health effects of the transition to food production in North Africa where Middle Holocene peoples adopted pastoralism to mitigate a deteriorating climate. Unlike other areas of domestication the advent of food production throughout the Sahara, and much of Africa, was decoupled from increasing sedentism and population aggregation. Here, we consider the effects of this dietary transition on early childhood health by examining localized hypoplasia of the primary canine (LHPC). We focus on the Gobero region of Niger which preserves cemeteries containing skeletal remains from two occupation phases: (1) an Early Holocene/Kiffian fisher-forager phase, and (2) a Middle Holocene/Tenerian cattle pastoralism phase. The fisher-foragers exhibited one of the highest recorded frequencies of LHPC which we interpret as reflecting a diet of aquatic and terrestrial taxa of low fat content. The Middle Holocene population had a significantly lower frequency of LHPC, consistent with cattle providing much needed dietary fat. Because cattle remains were uncommon at Gobero, the most parsimonious interpretation suggests these peoples were incipient cattle pastoralists who had yet to develop into ideological pastoralists. The health benefits of cattle pastoralism demonstrate the importance of pastoral products for peoples coping with a deteriorating desert climate.
- Enamel hypoplasia
- North Africa
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine