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2018-06-18 13:42:22   •   ID: 1751

MSA from Murzuq in Southwest Libya

Fig. 1
Figure 1: These are several sophisticated flint implements found in the Sahara desert more than 40 yrs. ago at the margins of the Murzuq sandsea. They are representative for a certain surface scatter (“Nr. 37”) and pose many questions.

Nr. 1 is a thin asymmetrical, 9 cm long, leaf-point, followed (Nr. 2-6) by bifacial foliates, one (Nr.3) is pedunculated / Aterian like). Nr 6 is formally an unifacial Mousterian Point. Nr. 7 is very interesting: a 5,6 long, partially backed crescent, very different from what is known from the Saharan Epipaleolithic. The last artifact is a slightly curved broad flat blade with continuous retouches on the ventral margins and a flat basal retouch on the dorsal base.

Murzuk, also spelled Marzūq is the name of an oasis in southwestern Libya. It lies on the northern edge of the Murzuk Sand Sea (Idhān Murzuk).

As early as in 1857, Heinrich Barth, one of the first systematic European "explorers" of Africa noted petroglyphs in the Erg Murzuk and discussed them in the context of past climate change, oscillating between dry and humid phases. It became subsequently clear that the Sahara saw several significant Humid Phases during the Pleistocene and the Holocene.

Reconstructions showed that perennial lakes, interconnected with water bearing paleo-rivers were abundant in the Sahara during these African Humid Periods (AHP). They are contested from the early Holocene and from the Middle an early late Pleistocene. This is evidenced for MIS5e at 130-120 k.a. One event is dated around 170 k.a. and another at 330 k.a. Even during drier times there were certainly many econiches where animals and Homo sp. could survive. One example is the MIS4 (TL and OSL) occupation at Uan Afuda and Uan Tabu (Lybia, MSA / Aterian).

Fieldwork at Murzuq during the last years has identified a dubious “Oldowan” and large clusters of Acheulian (Cancellieri and di Lernia 2013). The Acheulean shows a hypothetical early phase followed by a phase characterized by Large Cutting Tools (LCTs) made by the Tabelbala-Tachengit technique, and a “final Acheulean” with flat symmetrical handaxes and Levallois products. The regional MSA begins roughly 250 k.a and ends during MIS3. We know from other areas that MSA-like pieces may persist or reappear even during the Holocene. In the South-West at Ounjougou in the Dogon country (Mali) there is a rich MSA-succession without Aterian characteristics. The oldest MSA occupations are dated to roughly 150 k.a. ago. They are more common between 80 and 25 k.a. and find their end as late as MIS2 (25 k.a.). Scerri et al. (2017) described a late MSA site in Northern Senegal near the Senegal River dated to the Pleistocene/Holocene transition at Ndiayène Pendao quarry. Moving east Borago in Ethiopia and Affad 23 in Sudan are other exaples of a very late MSA.

Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Our artifacts from Murzuq a certainly neither Neolithic nor Upper Paleolithic. In contrast they have affinities to the African MSA / Aterian and the leaf-points from the so called, non-dated S'baikien, first described by M. Reygasse from the Tébessa region and recently reintroduced into the discussion by Van Peer. The crescent rather resembles the East African MSA at Mumba cave (Bed V) dated between 57 and 49 k.a. than Epipaleolithic pieces.

The ensemble from point 43 remains thrilling and may contest another late MSA in N-Africa. It can be hoped that someday further ensembles of this kind are dated and evaluated by scientific methods. It can be speculated that such ensembles may be linked to isolated populations with archaic ancestry or may represent a reinvention of an "outdated" technique.

Suggested Reading:

Far the Best about the theme: Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology) | Sacha C. Jones, Brian A. Stewart, 2016

Foley et al. The Middle Stone Age of the Central Sahara: Biogeographical opportunities and technological strategies in later human evolution. Quaternary International 2013

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