TUKUL 4: Melka Kunture Archaeology

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Garba IV


Discovered in 1972 by J. Chavaillon, this is one of the most important sites of Melka Kunture for the Oldowan. Extensive excavations have been carried out over a surface of about 100 m2, in the two upper levels C and D. A limited excavation of 4 m2, carried out in 1982 in order to explore the lower level E, led to the discovery of a mandible of a child of Homo erectus, dated to about 1.5 Myr. In 2005, a new series of excavations explored E on a surface of about 8 m2. Two limited excavations made 20 m from the extensive excavations indicate that the main levels extend over several thousand square meters.

Garba IV. Excavation of level D in 1975

Stratigraphy and chronology

The site of Garba IV is composed of 5 archaeological levels indicated (from top to bottom) with the letters C, D, E, F and G. The two upper levels C and D are included within a layer of fine sands, while the lowest levels E-G alternate within a clayey deposit. The whole sequence is covered by a Tuff (Tuff C) whose absolute K/Ar date is around 1.4 Myr. The base of the sequence is stratigraphically close to the Oldowan levels of the site of Gombore I, dated to about 1.7 Myr and less than 100 m away.

Garba IV, 1975. View of level D

Level C

Level C was initially considered, in particular during the first years of excavation (1973-1975), to be the most recent level in the Garba IV sequence. On the basis of the stratigraphic revision carried out in 2000 and 2003, this level is now considered to be a complex of lithic and paleontological materials affected by vertical dispersal within the sandy formation containing them.

Level D

Fauna -  Over 3000 bone remains have been recovered in this level. The most frequent animals are Bovids (Pelorovis sp., Connochaetes taurinus, Damaliscus sp.), Antelopes (Gazella sp.), Equids (including Stilohipparion sp.), Suids (Kolpochoerus sp.), Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), Elephant (Elephas recki), Giraffe and a Primate similar to the modern gelada baboon [Theropithecus (Simopithecus)]. Horns of antelopes are particularly frequent (over a hundred) as they were probably used by Hominids. 

Garba IV, detail of level D

Lithic industry - The lithic industry is characterized by many artifacts on pebble (choppers of different kinds, polyhedrons, cores, one spheroid) associated with frequent flakes and tools on flakes (side-scrapers, denticulated and notched flakes). Some rare handaxes and two cleavers are also present. The raw materials utilized are of volcanic origin (basalt, lava, trachyte and obsidian). The pebble tools are mostly made of basalt, while for those on flake mainly obsidian was utilized. 

Spatial distribution of the remains - The level D is characterized by a high concentration of artifacts and fauna, in some area reaching a frequency of over 400 pieces per square meter. The taphonomic study indicates the existence of areas where obsidian flakes and tools were especially represented, zones with strong accumulation of bones and horns, and particular areas characterized by one or more basalt blocks, weighing more than 20/30 kg, around which there is a concentration of numerous large bones of pachyderms (elephant and hippopotamus) as well as horns of Bovids and antelopes. This spatial organization seems to reflect a long frequentation of the site.

Garba IV, detail of level D

Level E

Archaeostratigraphic Unit E was explored in 1982 on a surface of 4 m2. At this locality 78 finds were discovered, of which 50 were faunal remains, 27 were lithic artifacts and one was a fragmentary mandible of a 2/3 years Homo erectus child. In 2005, a new series of excavations explored E on a surface of about 8 m2, where 429 pieces were brought to light. Of these 194 were faunal elements.

Garba IV, 2005. Excavation of level E

Fauna - The palaeontological material is extremely fragmentary and only 30% of the assemblage could be identified to families. Hippopotamus is the best represented genus with 55 finds, mostly dental fragments, followed by Bovids, among which Connochaetes sp. and Kobus sp. were identifiable. Two metatarsal fragments of Kobus, discovered in the same square meter, could be refitted. Equids are represented by Equus sp.

Garba IV, 2005. View of level E

Lithic industry - Besides an angular block and nine natural fragments of welded ignimbrites, most of the lithic objects from the 2005 excavation are unmodified cobbles: 96 are of welded ignimbrites, 23 of various basalts, four of obsidian, two of trachybasalt, one of trachyte and 10 of a still undetermined lava. Apart from the unmodified material, 11 broken pebbles, 18 modified pebbles and 7 modified blocks are present and more than half are of welded ignimbrites (62%). Even if the welded ignimbrite is abundantly available in the alluvium at a close range to the site, it has not been used for knapping activities, except for four cortical flakes and the production of a bola stone, a unique testimony of shaping activity in this unit.
Garba IVE. Examples of flaking strategies

The core analysis allowed us to identify exploitation modalities, the management of volumes and the presence or absence of a hierarchical organization of the surfaces. Several different flaking strategies have been identified for the two most commonly used raw material groups, namely obsidian and other volcanic rocks.


Hominids - A fragmentary mandible was recovered in 1982 during excavation of level E. The mandible belongs to a 2/3 year old child. Its anthropological features suggest an attribution to Homo erectus.

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