Handaxes of Upper Egypt and Nubia

msa1Some of the first descriptions  in the late nineteenth century of the Paleolithic in Egypt dealt with typical handaxes found in the Nile Valley. These tools have been detected within a lower Paleolithic or an early MSA (Sangoan, Nubian type MSA) context in Nubia and Upper Egypt. Principally the shape of handaxes in Nubia and upper Egypt has as little chronological value as elsewhere. For example Cordiformes  are not necessarily late and Micoquian forms can be found even in the MIS6-MSA. The handaxe shown here, may  therefore between 500- 100 k.a. old. Cleavers, so characteristic of other African sites, are entirely absent from Egyptian assemblages. Here I give a short account on the Acheulian of the area, while older posts are already were dealing with the Nubian MSA (http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/08/the-early-nubian-complex/)

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 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. Although some attempts have been made to place the sites into a chronological framework, most writers wisely do not attempt to do so. 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 in  his publication “the Old Stone Age in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan”.  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 223k.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 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; well executed lanceolated bifaces and large cordiforms at Kharga; small, thin and well-executed Handaxes at Bir Sahara East and Bir Tarfawi). 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.  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.

South of Bir Tarfawi, Acheulian artifacts were discovered near and in Wadi Arid, south of Wadi Arid, and around Bir Safsaf. Some of these sites have been dated, and some are possibly in primary context. Others are in lag position, such as Acheulian artifacts found on a deflated petrocalcic paleosol. Carbonate adhering to flakes was dated by uranium series to 212 k.a. BP, which provides a minimum age for the Acheulian at Site 84f21-7 Area A.

At Dagdag basin, southeast of Bir Safsaf, Acheulian artifacts occur on the surface and within the top of sands and gravels containing calcareous concretions and plates. There are two taxonomic components at Site E-85-2; most of the abraded artifacts are interpreted as “Middle Acheulian”, while less weathered and fresh artifacts are thought to be “Upper or Final” Acheulian. On the northern edge of the Dagdag basin, slope-wash deposits contain rather Late Acheulian artifacts.

Acheulian sites are also known from the Gilf Kebir region and the Great Sand Sea. Site 1000 is an extensive Late Acheulian scatter along the base of the Gilf Kebir plateau. It lies in the uppermost stratum of a gravelly alluvial fan. The site may be contemporaneous with a period of increased Wadi activity. In the Great Sand Sea region, Acheulian artifacts occur as surface lag and extend under sandy muds and derived sands reflecting playa conditions. Acheulian artifacts are also associated with the contact between the surface of a dune ridge and alluvium, or older playa deposits transitional to the alluvium.

The Early Nubian Complex

The Nubian Complex

I suggest Ursula’s pages are among  the best photo-assays about the Prehistory of the western desert, the Gilf Kebir region and the Great Sand Sea :



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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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