Archaeoentomology in the Central Sahara
: Research into the Takarkori Archaeological Site

  • Jennifer Pradelli

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The transition from hunting-gathering to food production shows distinct and different pathways worldwide. Evidence from the Central Sahara suggests original trajectories to the onset of early herding, largely related to fluctuating climate and environmental conditions. Thanks to the outstanding well-preserved stratigraphy which covers from Late Acacus to Late Pastoral period (approximately 10,200 to 4,600 cal years BP), Takarkori archaeological site, located in southwest Libya, excavated by the Libyan Department of Antiquities and by Sapienza University of Rome, is an enormous pool of early to middle Holocene information. This study intends to present the first archaeoentomological analysis performed in North Africa becoming a reference for future works. Methodological issues, such as the collection and recovery methods, cleaning techniques, and identification process, experienced during the analysis of ancient insect samples are discussed. Solutions and innovative approaches, such as the new application of the synchrotron radiation to a dry insect sample, have been explored and presented highlighting the great potential in the field. Insects, such as migratory locusts, tiger moth, and termites, allowed the reconstruction of Holocene paleoclimate confirming the progressive desertification. The recovery of the human head louse, Pediculus humanus, and the sheep nasal botfly, Oestrus ovis, not only confirms the re-colonisation of the area by hunters and gatherers but also gives information about their hygiene level and the health state of their animals. In addition, the discovery of these obligate parasites brings the opportunity to better
understand their co-evolution with their host. Takarkori is also the most ancient settlement with traces of the housefly, Musca domestica, placing 3,000 years earlier its appearance in close relationship with humans. Besides, flies help in interpreting the past population habits suggesting a tendency to process meat and consume meals without properly dispose of food waste. Several stored product pests, such as Sitophilus granarius and Dermestes maculatus, indicate other human activities, such as the presence of seed storages and human crafted by-products like desiccated meat or fur/wool production at the site.

The work presented identifies Archaeoentomology as a powerful and effective tool to be used in archaeological context for the interpretation of the past
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMartin Richards (Main Supervisor) & Gareth Parkes (Co-Supervisor)

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