Survey of dating the Palaeolithic of the living sites of Middle and Upper Nile (Vermeersch)


The field research of the volume "Palaeolithic living Sites in Upper and Middle Egyp" of Pierre M Vermeersch represents more than 24 years of investigation. The research extends from Asyut to the border of my researches north of Luxor.




The investigations span in time from the oldest known human presence in the Egyptian Nile valley, estimated to be some 400 000 years old to the Epi-palaeolithic era, approximately 6000  years ago. Following the analysis of McPherron I think that some rather primitive handaxes belong to the Middle Acheulean - 1 million years ago.




       The vertical artifact scatter of old sites (older than Late Middle Palaeolithic) is very poor.  Only 30 - 100 cm thickness without any structure. The excavations of Vermeersch gave no more results than the superficial finds.





The geomorphology of the Acheulean site Nag - 50 km north of Luxor - is 10 m above the floodplain which is separated by low cliffs gently sloping towards the western valley border. The plain, composed of different fan accumulations originating from the western mountains, is in later periods dissected by wadis. The Dandara formation is the oldest known Nile deposit of Ethiopian origin. The Acheulian site post-dates the Dandara silts.




Figure 1 and 2 represent Acheulian handaxes. At the site of Nag there are many preforms of handaxes in all stages of trimming. The Acheulian humans took advantage of the local wadi gravels in order to produce an assemblage of handaxes, out of elongated cobbles. They were selective in choosing their raw material, testing a cobble before proceeding to the handaxe shaping. There is no analytical possibility of differentiating preforms of handaxes or tested pebbles from choppers, chopping tools. Figure 3 and 4 demonstrate alternating flaking. The scars are large and deep, suggesting a hard hammer flaking technique. The butt is thick, plain and often cortical but seldom dihedral or faceted.




The Shuwikhatian (1) knows a specific technical approach for blade production: from a nodule, two opposite platforms are created in such a way that they form sharp angles with the flaking table. A lateral flaking creating unilateral or bilateral crests further shapes the core preform. Through this technique the knapper was able to create a thick core with a fairly convex core table. The striking platform is then very carefully retouched creating a convex faceted butt. The blades are generally strong, mostly with two ridges and parallel or distally converging edges. Basal blunting is well represented




The most southern research area of Vermeersch is only some kilometer distant from my field research actions. The map shows the geological situation with which I was confronted: the Nile, the fertile floodplain, the low desert, dissected by wadis, the steep cliffs and the high desert, the beginning of the limestone plateau.




Abstracts: Chronology of Middle and Lower Nile by Vermeersch - my personal commentary

1. (Final) Acheulian
Misunderstandings of the desert geomorphology has led many researchers to believe that the Acheulean correlates with a Nile terrace chronology. This is not the case for the surveyed area. Sedimentation and fluviatile erosion have led to the dispersal of most of the handaxes and their related artifacts as in the important Final Archeulian site of Nag ( 360 - 300 000 BP). Its occupation occurred during a period when the climate was much wetter than  today. May be this declares, why we find so much sites of Acheulean and Middle Palaeolithic round Luxor. Where we have desert today  in former times  pastures existed with many animals which attracted hunters.

2. Middle Palaeolithic
Like those of the Acheulean all over the desert one can find scattered artifacts. In contrary to my finds of living trap places round Luxor Vermeersch found only one living place (El Abadiya) and some quarries.
21. The early Middle Palaeolithic
is characterized by the Nubian Levallois technique and by bifacial foliates and pedunculates.
22. The Mid-Middle Palaeolithic
has still der Nubian Levallois technique but its stratigraphical position suggests connections with earlier deposits of the Shuwikhat formation

23. The late Middle Palaeolithic is on one side characterised by the Levallois method on the other side by the presence of numerous blades together with  burins, end-scrapers and denticulated pieces. Dating the sites 70 - 80 000 BC the hunters and collectors can be the represent of early Modern Man. This may be the solution of my question why I did not find round Luxor industries of Modern Man we know in Europe 50 000 years later.

3. The Upper Palaeolithic  (25 000 BP)
is like in Europe characterized by blade production, burins end-scrapers, bifacial tools, foliates. The Shuwikhatian (1) knows a specific technical approach for blade production we have shown above. It is the tipical style of Upper Palaeolithic such as those from other regions in the Northern Hemisphere.

4. The Late Palaeolithic (Fishing sites 21 - 12 000 BP)
Contrary to the Upper Palaeolithic period a number of Late Palaeolithic sites from Upper Egypt are known. The climate remained hyperarid during this time, but because of the aridity  in the Nile headwaters and important erosion activity due to the late glacial cold affecting the highlands of Ethiopia, the river Nile had less water und much more clay. These clays were deposited in the valley filling it with thick alluvia in Upper Egypt and creating a floodplain that, in Nubia, was 25-30 m higher than the modern one. In Lower and Middle Egypt  no sites have been recorded probably because the Nile valley was deeply incised there due to the very low water level of the Mediterranean Sea, more than 100 m below the present level. This resulted in regressive erosion along the Nile, creating a surface that since that time has been covered by more recent alluvia hiding possible sites from archaeologists.
The distinctive features are debitage from single and opposed platform cores and tools comprising of backed and truncated bladlets. There is frequent use of the microburin technique. The fish would have been caught in shallow basins. The large amount of charcoal to the site points to the drying of the fish.

5. The Epipalaeolithic

was found only in the site of Elkab dated to around 8000 BP. The site yielded a microlithic assemblage, rich in extremely small points and truncated bladlets.

Predynastic and dynastic sites are not included in this investigation. With the exception of  pebbles (choppers) we can distinguish them from the  Palaeolithic assemblages (Andreas Tillmann: Die Steinartefakte des dynastischen Ägypten, Dissertation Tübingen 1992)




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