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2022-09-08 12:47:05   •   ID: 2346

Figure 1
These are two remarkable symmetric Handaxes (22 and 16 cm long), found during the 1960ies by S. Wiegand (AUT) near Kartum.

Since ancient times the Sudan region has been an arena for interaction between East Africa, Egypt and the Mediterranean world.

The Nile is Sudan’s most prominent topographical feature and was at all historical and prehistorical times the country’s primary source of water. It has two major tributaries: the White Nile, which originates in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, and the Blue Nile, which begins in the Ethiopian Highlands. The two tributaries meet at Khartoum, from where the river is called the Nile as it continues northwards into Egypt.

The White Nile gets its name from whitish clay that is suspended in its waters. When the Nile floods, deposits of silt act as a rich fertilizer for the soil.

The Paleolithic of the region is only poorly known. After the hopeful first investigations by AJ. Arkell in 1949, the Paleolithic in Sudan was again forgotten for a long time.

Only since the beginning of the 1960s, in the run-up to the construction of the Aswan Dam, intensive surveys and investigations were carried out in Lower Nubia on both sides of the Nile, from the Egyptian-Sudanese border to the 2nd cataract (Wendorf 1968).

The cultural and chronological framework of the Palaeolithic in the Nile Valley has been fundamentally built upon this work, put forward by the UNESCO during the Nubian Campaign for salvaging the Nubian monuments and the cultural heritage of the area (Wendorf 1968)

This led to the discovery of numerous rich sites in the vicinity of Wadi Halfa, several of which are of ESA age (Chmielewski 1965 and 1968. J. & G. Guichard 1965 and 1968). The publications mentioned here belong to the classics of the Paleolithic literature and should not be missing in any library

Since the beginning of the 1980ies, a continuous project of the University of Cologne has carried out several expeditions to the western desert of northern Sudan. The main focus of this project is the investigation of sites of Holocene age. However, the surveys in several working areas also led to the discovery of numerous ESA and MSA artifact concentrations (Kuper 1981).

All scientific investigations were limited to the north of Sudan and to the Nile Valley, since the political situation in the south did not allow any field research there.

The dating of ESA / MSA finds in Sudan remains a challenge and there are only a few radiometric data from the north of the country and Egypt and some of them will be reported below. The region of Sudan appears to be a transit region rather than a source region in terms of ESA (Nassr 2014).

Oldowan sites are missing actually. Choppers and Chopping tools are always part of Acheulian scatters. Acheulian artifacts seem to be stylistically rather late compared to the neighbors countries ( Ethiopia, Kenya).

In this context, the Acheulian is estimated to date between 250 - 400 k.a., while the Sangoan / Lupeban is not attested before ca. 250 k.a. The early Nubian MSA begins according to van Peer during MIS6.

The late Acheulian combined with an advanced prepared core technique from the EDAR 135 site in the Eastern Desert, Sudan was dated by OSL very late between 220 ± 12 and 145 ± 20 ka (MIS 7a/6). These dates indicate a mosaic structure of the ESA/MSA transition-also known from elsewhere in Africa (Michalec et al. 2021).

Another site with absolute dates and overlapping ESA/MSA characteristics is present at San Island in the Northern Sudan. Surface scatters of Acheulian artifacts at at this site were first described by  AJ. Arkell  in 1949. 

At site 8-B-11 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) assemblages were actually contemporary, the differences being more behavioral than chronological.

Acheulian material has been known from the Western Desert in Egypt since it was first discovered and analyzed by Gertrude Caton-Thompson in the 1920s. Assemblages from Kharga, Dakhla, Bir Tarfawi and Bir Sahara in the Western Desert are here of importance.

Geochronometric dating of the Acheulean deposits in the oases of the western desert suggest a minimum age of 350-400 k.a. BP while recent work on the geochronology of the fossil-spring tufas of the Kharga Oasis have provided U-series minimum ages of 300 k.a. BP.

Suggested Reading:

AJ Arkell: The Old Stone Age in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan / by A.J. Arkell. (Sudan Antiquities Service occasional papers ; no. 1)

G. Caton-Thompson:The Kharga Oasis in Prehistory (London, 1952).

R. Schild and F. Wendorf: The Prehistory of Dakhla Oasis and Adjacent Desert. (Wroclaw, 1977).

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

F. Wendorf, Schild, A. Close, et al, Egypt during the Last Interglacial: The Middle Paleolithic of Bir Tafawi and Bir Sahara East . (New York, 1993).

Proveniance: Collection Weigand / Vienna (AUT)