Bioarchaeologists link climate instability to human mobility in ancient Sahara

April 14, 2014

Over millennia, the Sahara has gone through cycles of greening and aridity. During times when this region was lush and covered with bodies of water, it supported a wide variety of life, including human.

Arizona State University bioarchaeologists Christopher Stojanowski and Kelly Knudson are studying the remains of some of these ancient humans to understand how their changing climate affected their ability and need to move across the landscape. ASU associate professor Christopher Stojanowski at the Gobero site in the Sahara Download Full Image

Stojanowski and Knudson’s research site is located in central Niger. Known as Gobero, it was home to a large lake during the middle Holocene, roughly five- to seven-thousand years ago. The humans who made their homes around the lake at this time depended on hunting, gathering and fishing, and some kept cattle.

Along with collaborators at the University of Chicago, Stojanowski directed excavations at the Gobero site, which offers a rich mortuary record.

Back at ASU, in the Archaeological Chemistry Laboratory, Knudson sampled bone and teeth enamel, and used their chemical signatures to determine individuals’ origins, as well as where they resided during the course of their lives.

The results suggest that individuals chose different mobility strategies but that near the end of the lake area’s occupation, as their environment dried out, Saharan peoples became more mobile.

“To me, what is exciting about this research is that we are able to use information from science – including anthropology, chemistry and geology – to understand how people in the past responded to a drier environment,” Knudson says.

Adds Stojanowski, “The data seem to indicate this shift to greater mobility occurred only at the very end of the archaeological sequence, which may suggest that responses to increasingly arid conditions may have occurred only under the direst of circumstances.”

Stojanowski and Knudson, who are associate professors in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recently published their findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Though the research subjects lived and died thousands of years ago, Knudson believes they have much to teach us. Understanding how they adapted to drier conditions can help human populations today and in the future to solve their own climatic challenges.

Stojanowski points out that one lesson to be learned might be that it is human nature to ignore a problem like a degrading environment until forced to face it.

“In this case, the Sahara was always going to win. The result was that a bustling center of human life and experience, one that existed for over 5,000 years, was completely abandoned and ceded to the sands,” he illustrates. “I might also note that the offset of habitability may have been very quick in the sense of a human lifespan. As the Sahara dried and ecosystems adjusted, imagine the abundance of fish left in the lake, the animals drawn to the surface waters that were dwindling across northern Africa. It may have seemed like the best of times to the people that lived there – easy and plentiful food until the Rubicon was crossed and life became unsustainable.”

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU's Sun Devil Fitness now enrolling for summer camp programs

April 14, 2014

Parents can enroll their children in ASU's Sun Devil Kids’ Camp to ensure they stay healthy, active and engaged this summer. This fun-filled, action-packed sports and activity camp has expanded and will be offered at three ASU locations – Polytechnic, Tempe and West campuses – with sessions from May 27 to Aug. 1 at the Tempe and Polytechnic locations.

The camp has been a tradition at ASU's Tempe campus for more than 20 years, and expanded to the Polytechnic campus last year. This year, for the first time, West Valley residents will also have an opportunity to participate in this fitness summer camp at ASU's West campus from June 2 to Aug. 1. Sun Devil Kids' Camp Download Full Image

Families can register their children ages 5-11 for Sun Devil Kids' Camp at each of the ASU Sun Devil Fitness Complex locations listed here:

“Sun Devil Kids’ Camp offers young people the opportunity to learn about the importance of physical fitness in a comfortable, supportive and safe environment. Our goal is to provide children an enjoyable and rewarding experience, where they can make new friends and memories that will last a lifetime. Your child’s fun is our mission,” said Tara Yesenski, Sun Devil Kids’ Camp senior program coordinator at the Tempe Sun Devil Fitness Complex.

The fitness camp offers one-week sessions with different activity themes each week, which include swimming and sports-related games focusing on fitness. Full-day sessions run from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Half-day options will be available at the Polytechnic and Tempe locations.

Participants may also register for additional activities through the Quest Programs, which is offered at select locations for an added fee. Quest Program activities are designed to offer additional outings, such as laser tag, trips to water parks, children’s museums, baseball games and more.

The weekly costs start at $125 for Sun Devil Fitness Complex members, and $145 for non-members.

To register for Sun Devil Kids’ Camp, visit the administration desk at your campus’s Sun Devil Fitness Complex. Spots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited.

For more information, visit the Sun Devil Fitness Complex website at


Katy Reno,
Sun Devil Fitness Complex Tempe

Chad Morgan,
Sun Devil Fitness Complex West