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2019-03-19 09:17:15   •   ID: 2085

Filling the Gaps of the North-East African ESA and MSA

Figure 1
These are two handaxes (the larger one, made from degraded sandstone is 12,3 cm long), a gift from one of my postgraduates from Eritrea.

The artifacts were found on the surface near the upper course of the Barka river, which flows from the Eritrean Highlands to the plains of Sudan.

Eritrea is located on the coast on the Red Sea. It is north of the Bab-el-Mandeb and the Horn of Africa. Eritrea has borders with the countries of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.

Until recently the Paleolithic (ESA and MSA) of Eritrea and adjacent regions of the Sudan were only poorly known.

The story started with the description of the prehistoric cultural sequence of the Khartoum Province by A. J. Arkell (1949) in Khor Abu Anga in Omdurman.

In 1964-45 R.L. Carson started renewed excavations at Khor Abu Anga and Magendohli- published as late as 2015 after his retirement as a researcher and embedded within the current research results

Due to erosion and mining activities, many artifacts were found on the surface of the site. The excavations, showed that no real "living floors" have survived, and unfortunately the sequence could not been dated by OSL / ESR at the time of their excavation-anyhow both excavations (Arkell and Carson) revealed a consistent picture:

Figure 2
The stratigraphic sequence begins with a late, carefully retouched Acheulian followed by a Sangoan and Lupemban.

While the local Sangoan differs in some aspects from other African sites, the Lupemban is clearly attested by a multitude of bifacial foliates, bifacial points and some stemmed artifacts, indicating the presence of hafting.

Interestingly stemmed MSA lithics were the primary finding at an ancient workshop site at Magendohli. Stemmed points and scrapers found within assemblages of predominantly Levallois technology fit perfectly into an "Aterian" context.

In Sudanese Nubia, Acheulian artifacts have been found concentrated on inselbergs which provided good raw material for the manufacture of tools in the form of ferruginous limestone (Arkin 8, Sai Island, Khor Abu Anga and Sites at Wadi Halfa).

Some typological studies on the Wadi Halfa material (by the Guichards in the 1960ies ) suggest that there is an early, middle and late Acheulian represented at some of these sites, but assumptions based solely on typology are as ambiguous as elsewhere.

Figure 3
At the best an early phase without Levallois technique can be differentiated from a later one with Levallois technique. At the Wadi Halfa sites some unusual handaxe-types were present like “Hyper-Micoquoid-like“ and “Shark tooth” forms, which are partially explicable by the raw material at these sites.

The surface scatters of Acheulian artifacts at Sai Island were first described by A. J. Arkell in 1949. At site 8-B-11 a stratified Acheulian has recently described .

Here the lowest stratified layer is a late Acheulian which features large lanceolate handaxes, which are very fresh, and have a maximum age of 223 k.a.+/-19k.a. BP (OSL dating).

At Site 8-B-11, Acheulian and MSA (Sangoan with core axes) assemblages were actually contemporary, the differences being more behavioral than chronological.

About the rich Nubian MSA see here: 1135 and 1363

The El-Ga’ab depression is one of the largest Paleo-lake in the western desert and was subject of multiple surveys during the last years. Lanceolate Handaxes and Bifacial / Lanceolate Foliates together with several stemmed points were found without stratigraphic context and hopefully stratified sites may be detected to better classify these interesting ensembles.

Figure 4
It was the work of Amanuel Beyin who widened the horizons to the ESA and MSA of Eritrea near the read sea cost during the last years.

A very interesting MSA including, Nubian cores, Levallois cores, uni- and bifacial points and perforators was detected at Asfet located on the southwestern edge of the Gulf of Zula (ca 800 m from the present coastline). Putatively dated to MIS5, this ensemble fits into human movements over the Bab-el-Mandeb.

Further North, the western periphery of the Red Sea (WPRS) was recently surveyed by a multidisciplinary team. This survey detected multiple handaxe localities, pointing that hominins exploited diverse landscapes and habitats. Anyhow, the material was not datable.

At site HY01 site for example a homogeneous set of handaxes, and (trihedral )picks made from diverse raw materials (rhyolite, trachyte, massive igneous rock, banded gneiss) was detected.

A considerable time depth may well be possible. Beyin et al. compared their new surface findings with the very similar Acheulian at Buia, located in the Danakil Depression, ca. 35 km from the Red Sea coast. One important finding there were human remains attributed to Homo erectus, dated to ca. 1,0 Ma.