Two concentrations of ancient rock engravings and rich archaeological site dating back more than five hundred thousand years are the most important discoveries of the last season of the research expedition of Poznań Prehistory and Early African Civilizations Study Team of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS, operating in the mountains of the Red Sea in the north-eastern Sudan.
Polish team made new discoveries in the area of Bir Nurayet, set of sites that have been explored for three years, located next to the picturesque mountain Magardi, clearly distinctive among the surrounding hills. It is accompanied by one of the richest African rock art galleries, with thousands of images of cattle, camels, wild animals and humans. The presence of engravings was probably related to the fertility cult practiced here for several thousand years, and the cult of the mountain with a characteristic, according to the researchers, phallic shape.
"Mountains of the Red Sea and the vast areas of Eastern Desert in Sudan is a generally unexplored region in terms of archaeological significance. This covers a huge area, similar in size to the area of Poland. It extends from the area east of the Nile valley and north of Port Sudan, to the Egyptian border" - explained Dr. Przemysław Bobrowski, head of research.
In 2012, archaeologists conducted a reconnaissance along the many kilometers long valley known as Wadi Diib (Valley of the Wolves), a dry river bed, on the bank of which Bir Nurayet is located. The discovery of new sites indicate, according to the archaeologists, the great importance of the valley as a communication route leading through the mountains, from south to north. Thousands of years ago it was probably used by cattle breeders.
With the information from the local Beja tribe, archaeologists managed to discover two large, previously unknown concentration of rock art in the remote rock massifs Karaiweb and Erkabeb, located few miles from Bir Nurayet.
"Our priority is to reconstruct the full sequence of environmental and cultural changes that have occurred in this region in prehistory and historic times. Wits environmental studies, we are trying to estimate the age of the rock engravings and accompanying settlement. We already have the first results" - said expedition member Dr. Maciej Jórdeczka.
Currently, the climate in this region is very dry, sufficient only for grazing camels. In the past, periodically, it had been much more friendly, and the wide valleys and plateaus provided access to the rich pastures for cattle breeders. Most of the discovered scenes depicting these animals must therefore be associated with the settlement of the days when rain was not uncommon.
A good idea was to look at silt deposits covering the bottom of the dry riverbed. It turned out that in some places in Wadi Diib they covered rock engravings with representations of animals.
"The deposition of sediments should be associated with heavy rains in the region during dry periods, when the area was already devoid of extensive vegetation, and it is a testament to the adverse weather conditions. We have determined that lower silt layers that cover the rock art depicting longhorn cattle, had been deposited in the late third/second millennium BC, and therefore the engravings must be older. We believe that some of them can even be a few thousand years older" - believed Dr. Przemysław Bobrowski.
During this season, archaeologists have also conducted research at the newly discovered Lower Palaeolithic site. It is a large complex of stone workshops located near the material outcrop.
"On the desert surface we found numerous part-processed materials and finished, massive stone tools, among them hand axes, proto-hand axes and cleavers used by the species Homo erectus" - explained expedition member Prof. Michał Kobusiewicz. The timeline of these workshops will be determined of the basis of detailed thermoluminescence analysis of deposits, but scientists have already determined the age of the complex at a minimum of 500 thousand years.
It was the first season of work in this area, almost entirely financed by private funds. The sponsor of research and specialized tests, as well as the maker of a documentary about the work of the expedition is the Polish creative agency Just.
PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski