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Over the next three weeks, Sereno and Garcea—along with five American excavators, five Tuareg guides, and five soldiers from Niger's army, sent to protect the camp from bandits—made a detailed map of the site, which they dubbed Gobero, after the Tuareg name for the area. They exhumed eight burials and collected scores of artifacts from both cultures. In a dry lake bed adjacent to the dunes, they found dozens of fishhooks and harpoons carved from animal bone. Apparently the Kiffian fishermen weren't just going after small fry: Scattered near the dunes were the remains of Nile perch, a beast of a fish that can weigh nearly 300 pounds, as well as crocodile and hippo bones.

Garcea suspected that the Tenerian had made most of the stone tools. Nearly three-fourths of them were hewed from a strange green volcanic rock that bore a glasslike sheen and yielded razor-sharp edges when fractured. The abundance of green flakes on the dunes indicated that the Tenerian spent long periods of time at Gobero making and sharpening their tools. "But it's possible they lived part of the time at the place where they quarried the green rock," said Garcea. One of the Tuareg said he had seen big boulders of it in the Aïr mountains, some hundred miles to the northwest.

At dusk the heat gave way to the cool evening air, and the camp divided into three groups. The soldiers, dressed in threadbare fatigues and combat boots with no socks, gathered around their fire, speaking Hausa, Niger's dominant language. At the Tuareg fire, the guides removed their linen chèches, which they kept neatly wound around their faces during the day. They reclined on foam mattresses, served each other strong, sugary tea, and quietly discussed Niger's restive politics in their native Tamashek. Meanwhile, the dig team cooked couscous and freeze-dried vegetables on a propane stove, eating by the light of their headlamps. Their conversations focused on the stark differences in the burials. Some appeared to be little more than a tight bundle of bones, as if the body had been bound or squeezed into a basket or a leather bag, which had long since decomposed. These compact burials belied the fact that some of these individuals were surprisingly large—as much as six feet eight inches tall, with thick bones suggesting they had been well muscled.

By contrast, other skeletons belonged to much smaller people, about five-and-a-half feet tall. They were buried on their sides in relaxed positions, as if they had fallen asleep and drifted into death. Some of their graves contained beads, arrowheads, or animal bones. But since no potsherds were found in the burials, it wasn't clear which were Kiffian and which were Tenerian. Until the age of the bones could be determined, no one could say for sure. And what had led the Tenerian to bury their dead in the exact same spot as the Kiffian had laid theirs to rest, thousands of years earlier?

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