Capsian culture

gigatos | February 10, 2022


The Capsian is an archaeological culture of the Maghreb, which appears during the Holocene in southwestern Tunisia, and which then extends to western Algeria, from the middle of the eighth millennium BC to the end of the fifth millennium BC.

The Capsian was named and defined in 1909 by Jacques de Morgan and Louis Capitan, after the prehistoric site of El Mekta, located in Tunisia, near Gafsa. The name is derived from Capsa, the ancient name of this city.

The Capsian culture was mainly located in Tunisia and Algeria. However, cultures with Capsian influences have also been discovered in Morocco, in the High Atlas (Telouet) and in the Middle Atlas (Sidi Ali). The Capsian is a continental culture of the High Plains.

Capsian stations under shelter are an exception. Capesian sites are, in most cases, open-air camps. Around waterholes, at the top of capes dominating the plains, on mountain passes, the gray hue of the naked ashes reveals their presence.

The Capsian extends from about 7500 to 4000 B.C. It is traditionally divided into two horizons, the typical Capsian and the Upper Capsian, which are sometimes found in chronostratigraphic sequence. They represent variants of a tradition, the differences between them being typological, technological and economic.

Excavations of the prehistoric site of El Mekta, Tunisia, conducted in 2012, have proposed a sequence of distinct occupations of the site, around 7500 BC for the typical Capsian, and from 6200 BC for the Upper Capsian.

The diet of the Capsian people included a wide variety of species, ranging from ruminants such as mouflon and dorcas gazelle, to carnivores such as lions, jackals and spotted hyenas, as well as various species of rodents, birds and reptiles.

The bones of hartebeest antelope (Alcelaphus boselaphus) are found consistently and extensively in Capsian deposits. According to the analyses of E. Higgs, it is possible that Capsian man domesticated this species, given the constant and deliberate choice for young animals.

Ancient excavations have not uncovered any remains that can tell us what plants were consumed, but more recent data reveal the importance of plants in the diet and in the manufacture of domestic tools. David Lubell believes that hunting provided only a portion of their food needs, which were supplemented by plant resources.

The majority of Capsian burials are composed of individuals buried individually.

Remains of ochre, coloring tools and bodies, have been found at Capsian sites. Ostrich eggshells were used to make beads and containers. Shells were used to make necklaces, but also as weights for fishing nets near coastal sites, as at SHM-1 (Hergla).

On the basis of cranial morphology, the Capsian populations are of proto-Mediterranean type, a different type from that of the Mechta-Afalou Man, associated with the Iberomaurusian culture (Upper Paleolithic of the Maghreb). The latter seems morphologically closer to the European cromagnoid populations of the Upper Paleolithic, whereas the men of the Capesian culture would show similarities with the men of the Terminal Natoufian of Palestine.

Analysis of the dental features of Capsian human fossils has shown that they are closely related to present-day North African populations inhabiting the Maghreb, the Nile Valley, and the Canary Islands. The Capsians seem morphologically close to the present-day Kabyles, followed by the Chaouis of Algeria, the Guanches and the Saharan populations of Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.

The Capsian fossils, on the other hand, appear to be completely different from present-day sub-Saharan populations speaking Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan or Khoisan languages, as well as from the inhabitants of the Mesolithic period in Jebel Sahaba, Nubia.

Given the time horizon and geographic extent of the Capsian, some linguists have associated this culture with the first speakers of Afro-Asian languages present in North Africa.


  1. Capsien
  2. Capsian culture
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