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Massive 5,000-year-old burial monument unearthed

By Segun Akande, for CNN

Published August 24, 2018

Courtesy of Katherine Grillo

Kenya's arid, gullied Lothagam Valley is a throwback to a very distant past.

Courtesy of Katherine Grillo

Now, the region is the site of a discovery that has the potential to change how the world views ancient societies.

CNN

The Lothagam site is in Turkana County close to Lake Turkana, a vast body of water that sustained groups of hunter-gatherers and fishers living around the lake, and eventually, herders.

CNN

A team of researchers from Stony Brook University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History have discovered a massive, elaborate cemetery in the region that is the largest and oldest in Eastern Africa.

The herders built a platform approximately 30 meters in diameter, with a deep cavity where about 580 men, women and children were buried side by side, each wearing nearly the same amount of ornaments, and no sign of special treatment.

To this day, the people who live nearby honor the gravesite.

The Turkana do not consider themselves descendants of these people, but they watch over the sites and make sure that they are protected

Elizabeth Sawchuk

Department of Anthropology, Social & Behavioral Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York

Stone palette with zoomorphic bovine carving from the communal cemetery of Lothagam North, Kenya

Courtesy of Katherine Grillo

The ornaments uncovered at the site, elaborate and resplendent pendants and earrings made of ostrich eggshells and stone, reflect the herders' expertise.

Courtesy of Carla Klehm

Courtesy of Carla Klehm

The region's early inhabitants found conditions there variable, often depending on rainfall and the health of Lake Turkana.

CNN

In a certain sense, these early herders formed the first civilization of eastern Africa with elaborate individual and community practices. In today's time of climate change and economic instability, we can all take a very important lesson from eastern Africa's first herders: Facing an equally challenging situation, they responded by coming together and strengthening their community

Elisabeth Hildebrand

Associate professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University

Courtesy of Katherine Grillo