The Nubian Complex


This is a Nubian Middle Paleolithic (MSA) core most probably from Upper Egypt

In 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 (Sudan), Khor Abu Anga and Wadi Halfa).  Some typological studies (e.g. by the Guichards in the 1960ies) suggest that there is an early, middle and late Acheulean represented at some of these sites, but assumptions based solely on typology are as ambiguous as elsewhere. Although some attempts have been made to place the sites into a chronological framework, most writers wisely do not attempt to do so.

Acheulean material has been known from the Western Desert 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 show distinctive characteristics (e.g. “Prodniks” at Dakhla). Many of these assemblages are associated with fossil springs in the floor of oasis depressions in the playa deposits.  It is generally assumed that these desert sites were established during periods of more humid weather conditions which would have been attractive to visitors.

The site of Sai 8-B-11 in northern Sudan contains a succession of occupation levels comprised within a sedimentological sequence that spans the end of the Middle and the early Upper Pleistocene. Located on the southeastern pediment of a Nubian Sandstone inselberg, the site reveals itself at the present surface by a large concentration of artifacts eroding out of Nilotic silt deposits.  Excavations have shown that this Upper Pleistocene floodplain covers a sequence of alternating gravels and sands filling up an ancient depression of Middle Pleistocene age in which early Middle Stone Age assemblages are stratified.
The two lowermost levels at AI 8-B-11 can be attributed to the Sangoan because of the presence of core-axes and distinctive flake reduction strategies. They are radiometrically dated to ca. 200 k.a. BP The Sangoan levels are interstratified with late Acheulean clusters. In contrast to the latter, the behaviors documented in the Sangoan including pigment exploitation, grinding activities, specialized lithic production and possibly symbolic uses of color, show a remarkable degree of complexity.  This strata are followed by a Lupemban similar to that of Arkin 5 / 6 and und 6 Taramsa 8 (with lanceolate foliates) and topped by a MSA with small foliates, dated to OIS6 and are already connected with the so called “Nubian Middle Paleolithic“, a particular form of the Levalloisian.

Nubian Complex industries are characterized by a highly standardized method of a preferential Levallois reduction method, a regional variant of the preferential Levallois method for producing Levallois-points from triangular cores. There are two sub-types of Nubian Levallois core preparation, referred to as Nubian Type 1 and Type 2. The Nubian type-1 core method enables the production of Levallois points and pointed blades by means of a central ridge created from the platform opposed to the one from which the future Levallois flake would be struck. The distal ridge, which lies approximately along the axis of the core is created by striking two unidirectional divergent removals undertaken from the distal part of the core. A series of smaller flakes is then removed from the sides of the other end of the core and a facetted platform is prepared for the removal of the Levallois point. Type 2 cores are marked by an elaborated centripetal preparation arranged perpendicularly to the central axis of the triangular silhouette of the Levallois surface from which a Levallois point, unlike the ‘‘classical’’ Levallois points is struck (Classical points are usually produced by a preferential Levallois point production with unidirectional convergent preparation; Guichard and Guichard  1964).

Nubian Levallois core preparation strategy is technologically dissimilar to the Levallois point-producing industries found at nearby Levantine Levallois-Mousterian sites, which are broadly characterized by preferential unidirectional-convergent and centripetal reduction systems. The early Nubian Complex is distinguished by a higher frequency of Nubian Type 2 cores in conjunction with bifacial foliates, thick scrapers and handaxes. It is suggested that the foliates are a heritage of the Lupemban and some researchers have even hypothezed that the Aterian is rooted in this early Nubian complex. The late Nubian Complex, on the other hand, shows a predominance of Nubian Type 1 cores and a complete absence of bifacial reduction. Retouched tool types are uncommon; they include rare sidescrapers, notches and denticulates, atypical burins, Nazlet Khater points, and truncated-faceted pieces.

Late Nubian Complex assemblages have been found in stratigraphic succession overlying early Nubian Complex horizons at SodmeinCave and Taramsa Hill 1 in Egypt; in both cases separated by a chronological hiatus. The early Nubian Complex roughly corresponds to early OIS 5 or even OIS 6, while numerical ages for the late Nubian Complex in northeast Africa fall in the latter half of OIS 5.

The geographic extent for the “Nubian Complex was initially confined to Egypt/Northern Sudan and the surrounding Eastern Sahara. Some ensembles in the oases of the western desert seem also to have affinities to the Nubian complex. Some isolated Nubian sites at the Horn of Africa (K’One, Hargeisa, and Gorgora Rockshelter) have been reported, too. Rose et al. report the discovery of a buried site and more than 100 new surface scatters in the Dhofar region of Oman belonging to the late Nubian Complex. Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates from the open-air site of Aybut Al Auwal in Oman place the Arabian Nubian Complex at  ca. 106,000 years ago, providing archaeological evidence for the presence of a distinct northeast African Middle Stone Age technocomplex in southern Arabia sometime in the first half of Marine Isotope Stage 5. Recently the discovery of Nubian technology at the Al-Kharj 22 site in central Arabia was reported. The discovery of this site  increases the complexity of the Arabian MSA record and suggests new dynamics of population movements between the southern and central  regions of the Peninsula.

Looking for other sites outside from the original “core area”, Nubian core technology has recently observed at Middle Paleolithic sites at Tirat Carmel and the central Sahara in Lybia.

The MIS 5c assemblages at Katoati represent in the  Thar Desert  is the earliest securely dated Middle Palaeolithic occupation of South Asia. Nubian cores and their artifactual products identified in both MIS 5 and MIS 4–3 boundary horizons match technological Paleolithic entities observed in South Asia, Arabia and Middle Stone Age sites in the Sahara. The evidence from Katoati is therefore consistent with arguments for the dispersal of Homo sapiens populations from Africa across southern Asia using Middle Palaeolithic technologies.

The Nubian Complex, which is thought to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa, is attributed by some researchers to populations of anatomically modern humans  spreading via the Nil valley to Northern Africa and South West Asia and via the Bab al-Mandab to other parts of Asia , which is in my view a reasonable working hypotheses. Unfortunately we lack any skeletal evidence for this hypothesis

Fig. 2:  A second Nubian core, different views of the same specimen.

dual nubia aggsbach

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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2 Responses to The Nubian Complex

  1. Pingback: The Early Nubian Complex | Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog

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