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2019-03-22 13:14:12   •   ID: 2087

The Early Stone Age at Fayum

Figure 1
This is a 13 cm long and 3 cm thick Acheulian Flint Handaxe from the Fayum (Faiyum) Depression, a rare early 20th century finding, made by a Viennese Archeologist.

There are smaller bifacial and flat butted tools (called "flaked axes" by Caton-Thompson) from the Fayum Neolithic-but they have a complete different appearance and can not be confused with ESA Bifaces.

The inland delta of the Fayum Depression is a semi-oasis located 60 km southwest of Cairo, feeded with Nile water by the Bahr Youssef Canal.

The depression is similar to other depressions in the Western Desert, yet it differs from them by its connection with the Nile River.

Through this connection with the Nile, Fayum is always looked upon as a part of the Nile valley and not as an genuine oasis.

The depression covers an area of 12,000 km2, with a general slope to the northwest where Lake Qarun (see below) is situated. The depression is carved in Upper Eocene and Oligocene beds.

Figure 2
Before the Pleistocene it had a huge salt-water lake at its centre, but this eventually became linked to the river Nile by the Bahr Yusef canal, thus transforming it into the fresh-water Lake Moeris.

Lake Moeris had an estimated area between 1270 and 1700 km². It persists today as a smaller saltwater lake called Birket Qarun. This lake's surface is 43 m below sea-level, and covers about 202 km².

Basalt, probably of Oligocene age, caps the northern scarp, while Oligocene, Lower Miocene, and Pliocene gravel terraces are found on different scarps and partly in the depression.

Quaternary deposits are present within the depression floor at different elevations, ranging from 40 m above sea level to 2 m below sea level (Caton-Thompson and Gardner 1929).

As in most of the Western Desert depressions, the north wall is a steep, nearly vertical cliff, while the southern and western escarpments are relatively low. The northern scarp rises 300 m above the floor of the depression, whereas the southern scarp rises only 80 m.

The eastern part of the depression, facing the Nile, is a flat area where the Fayum Depression opens into the floodplain of the river. Through this wide gap the Bahr Youssef Canal enters the depression.

The canal joins the Nile at Dairut, 60 km north of Assiut, and flows for about 200 km more or less in parallel to the Nile.

Figure 2
In the depression, Bahr Youssef feeds many blind ended canals - none of them reach Lake Qarun.

Early inhabitants of Faiyum preferred to settle on freshwater lake shore. During the Epipaleolithic, site clusters are also found in the Wadis, indicating short stays.

ESA / MSA at Fayum: K. S. Sandford and W. J. Arkell described some isolated Handaxes like the one shown here. They recorded ESA material in a secondary position in the high terraces of the Nil Valley.

At Fayum there are also some MSA scatters attesting a Levallois system combined with bifacial foliates and thick scrapers- similar to the MSA in Nubia.

The Epipaleolithic at Faiyum "Fayum B or Qarunian" is well attested at a number of sites. It is dated to ca 7,5-6 k.a. BC. The stone industry is characterized by backed microlithic tools. Geometric forms are rare. A number of classic Ounanian Points and Ounanian-Harifian Point may refer to a possible link to the Levant and N-Africa.

However there are some types common to the following "Neolithic Faiyum A"( the hollow based arrowheads), suggestive of connections between them. Alternatively they may be a later contamination of Epipaleolithic ensembles.

Figure 4
Denticulates and scrapers are common. There is no pottery. People must have lived from fishing, hunting and food gathering. The sites are small and were most likely only seasonal and perhaps short-lived

About "Faiyum A" ("Neolithic") Ensembles see here: 1225 and here: 1427 . Caton-Thompson, Gertrude and Gardener, Elinor 1934. The desert Fayum. London: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Although the Faiyum gained a degree of importance in the Middle Kingdom (c.2040–1640 BC), the surviving remains are dominated by Greco-Roman towns such as Bacchias (Kom el-Atl), Karanis (Kom Aushim) and Tebtunis (Tell Umm el-Breigat).

Suggested Reading:

Caton-Thompson, G. & Gardner, E.W.. 1934. The Desert Fayum. London: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

F. Wendorf and R. Schild: Prehistory of the Nile Valley. New York and London: Academic Press, 1976.

Shirai, N. 2010. The archaeology of the first farmer-herders in Egypt: new insights into the Fayum Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic. Leiden: Leiden University Press.