The Early Holocene Lithic Tradition of the Northern Farafra Plateau (Tenth–Ninth Millennia cal BP): Its Significance in the Egyptian Western Desert

Abstract

The widespread utilization of laminar industries with backed retouch is the most characteristic feature of North African Later Stone Age contexts—from the Maghreb to the Nile Valley—between the end of the Pleistocene and the Early Holocene. These laminar microliths represent a true technological revolution triggered by the need for new tools to exploit a different range of resources available due to the changing environmental conditions. We propose that at Farafra the emergence of backed elements was tied to the re-occupation of the region at the beginning of the Holocene (twelfth–eleventh millennia cal BP), as demonstrated by the sites discovered in the southwestern area of the modern oasis at El Qasr. The paper focuses on the Farafra Northern Plateau and its slopes between the tenth and ninth millennia cal BP, a phase following the first re-occupation of the Farafra Oasis. We examine the techno-typological characteristics of the lithic assemblages and settlement strategies during the Early Holocene: how these were shaped by seasonality and changes in climatic regimes, considerations for access to raw materials for lithic tool production, and changing subsistence. The techno-typological characteristics of several lithic assemblages in Farafra depression are examined and compared with the assemblages in other areas of the Egyptian Western Desert during the Early Holocene.

Résumé

L’utilisation généralisée des industries laminaires avec retouche à dos représente la caractéristique la plus évidente des contextes nord-africains du Paléolitique Final - du Maghreb à la vallée du Nil - entre la fin du Pléistocèneet le début de l’Holocène. Ces industries représentent une véritable révolution technologique déclenchée par la nécessité de nouveaux outils pour mieux exploiter les ressources face à un environnement en mutation. Nous proposons qu’à Farafra l’émergence d’éléments à dos était liée à la réoccupation de la région au début de l’Holocène (douzième-onzième millénaires cal BP comme en témoignent les sites découverts dans la zone sud-ouest de l’oasis moderne à ElQasr. L’article se concentre sur le plateau nord de Farafra et ses pentes entre le dizième-neuvième BP, une phase suivant la première réoccupation de l’oasis de Farafra. Nous examinons les caractéristiques techno-typologiques des assemblages lithiques et les stratégies de peuplement au cours de l’Holocène ancien: comment celles-ci ont été façonnées par la saisonnalité et les changements des régimes climatiques; les considérations d’accès aux matières premières pour la production d’outils lithiques; et l’évolution de la subsistance. Les caractéristiques techno-typologiques de plusieurs assemblages lithiques dans la dépression de Farafra sont examinées et comparées avec les assemblages dans d’autres régions du Désert Occidental égyptien au cours de l’Holocène ancien.

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Acknowledgments

The archaeological investigation in the Northern Farafra Plateau was carried out under the auspices of the “Italian Archaeological Mission in the Farafra Oasis,” currently co-directed by Giulio Lucarini and Barbara E. Barich. Fieldwork was carried out in 2008, 2009, and 2011, under the aegis of the Sapienza University of Rome and with the official license granted by the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Antiquities and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. We gratefully acknowledge the contribution by the other members of the Farafra Project: in particular, Prof Mohamed A. Hamdan, Cairo University Giza, responsible for the geomorphological study; Dr. Emanuele Mariotti, University of Siena, for carrying out the DGPS topographic mapping; and Dr. Massimo Pennacchioni who took care of the graphic documentation and the drawings of the archaeological materials. Thanks are also owed to Mr. Ahmed Abdel Khahim, Inspector from the Asyut Inspectorate (Dec. 2008–Jan. 2009); to Mr. Salah Mohamed Abdelmose, Inspector from the Khaliobiya Inspectorate (Nov. 2009); and to Mr. Anwar Abdallah Bakr, Inspector from the Dakhla Inspectorate (2011), all of whom were the official representatives of the Supreme Council for the Egyptian Antiquities. We are also grateful to Mr. Ahmed el Serwy, Cairo, who supervised the fieldwork logistics, and to Mr. Ahmed Shimie, Bahariya Oasis, for his help and hospitality. Transportation for passengers and scientific equipment was provided by three Toyota Landcruiser, one of them kindly offered to the Mission by the IEOC, International Egyptian Oil Company, Cairo Office.

Funding

The research program was supported by grants awarded to Prof. Barbara E. Barich (PI) from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ministry of the University and Research (PRIN Programme) and the Sapienza University of Rome (Ateneo’s Projects) (years 2008–2011).

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The original version of this article was revised: The second author’s name should be Barbara E. Barich, instead of Barbara B. E. Barich.

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Mutri, G., Barich, B.E. & Lucarini, G. The Early Holocene Lithic Tradition of the Northern Farafra Plateau (Tenth–Ninth Millennia cal BP): Its Significance in the Egyptian Western Desert. Afr Archaeol Rev (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-020-09384-9

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Keywords

  • Farafra Oasis
  • Western Desert
  • Egypt
  • Microlithic technology
  • Settlement
  • Technological skills