Skip to comments.Egypt's Earliest Agricultural Settlement Unearthed
Posted on 02/15/2008 2:27:15 PM PST by blam
Egypt's Earliest Agricultural Settlement Unearthed
A fragment of a bangle made of a shell found only at the Red Sea suggests possible trade links with the cradle of agriculture in the Near East. (Credit: Copyright UC Regents)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 15, 2008) Archaeologists from UCLA and the University of Groningen (RUG) in the Netherlands have found the earliest evidence ever discovered of an ancient Egyptian agricultural settlement, including farmed grains, remains of domesticated animals, pits for cooking and even floors for what appear to be dwellings.
The findings, which were unearthed in 2006 and are still being analyzed, also suggest possible trade links with the Red Sea, including a thoroughfare from Mesopotamia, which is known to have practiced agriculture 2,000 years before ancient Egypt.
"By the time of the Pharaohs, everything in ancient Egypt centered around agriculture," said Willeke Wendrich, the excavation's co-director and an associate professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures at UCLA. "What we've found here is a window into the development of agriculture some 2,000 years earlier. We hope this work will help us answer basic questions about how, why and when ancient Egypt adopted agriculture."
Just centimeters below the surface of a fertile oasis located about 50 miles southwest of Cairo, the UCLA-RUG team excavated domestic wheat and barley and found the remains of domesticated animals -- pigs, goats and sheep -- along with evidence of fishing and hunting. None of the varieties of domesticated animals or grains are indigenous to the area, so they would have to have been introduced.
The archaeological team also found a bracelet made of a type of shell only found along the Red Sea, suggesting a possible trade link with the cradle of agriculture in the Near East. In addition, they unearthed clay floors of what may have been simple structures -- possibly posts with some kind of matting overhead.
In the 1920s, British archaeologist Gertrude Caton Thompson found traces of the same domesticated grains in storage pits less than a mile from the current site. After the advent of carbon-dating technology, the grain was dated to 5,200 B.C., making the discovery the earliest evidence of agriculture in ancient Egypt. To this day, no earlier evidence of agriculture has been found in Egypt. But because no surrounding settlement was ever excavated, all kinds of questions remained about the context in which agriculture began to unfold in ancient Egypt.
"We had evidence that there was agriculture by 5,200 B.C. but not how it was used in a domestic context," said excavation co-leader René Cappers, a professor of paleobotany at the University of Groningen, the second-oldest university in the Netherlands. "Now, for the first time, we have domesticated plants and animals in a village context."
The latest findings date to the Neolithic period, a stage of human development that occurred at various times around world, beginning in 8,600 B.C. Sometimes called the New Stone Age, the period is characterized by the introduction of farming, animal husbandry and a movement away from hunting and gathering and toward a less nomadic way of life, with pots, tools and settlements.
Few clues have been found of Egypt's Neolithic past in the Nile Valley, possibly because they were either buried under silt from the Nile or wiped away when the river changed its course, the archaeologists said. The UCLA-RUG excavation site is located just outside the river valley in what is now a desert region.
With more than three feet of undisturbed strata at the site, the team expects to be able to piece together the evolution of domestication in the area between 5,200 B.C. and about 4,200 B.C.
"The arrival of the entire Neolithic package in ancient Egypt has always been treated as a moment in time, but we're finding stratified layers that will allow us to tease out the development of agriculture in this area as it developed over the course of hundreds of years," said Wendrich, who is one of the core faculty members at UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Called the Fayum, the oasis where the team is working was surrounded by prehistoric sites, most of which were excavated in the 1920s. Generations of archaeologists had written off the area, until the UCLA-RUG team decided to re-explore the site.
"We knew that the settlement existed, but the site had been under cultivation since the 1960s, so archaeologists assumed it had been destroyed," Wendrich said. "We got to this site in the nick of time."
Modern laser-leveling farming techniques were about to annihilate the site in 2006, but the archaeological team succeed in rescuing the six-acre plot for future research by renting it for a year while they conducted their initial fieldwork. In the meantime, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities has taken steps to permanently protect the site.
The research was funded by the National Geographic Society, UCLA, RUG and private donors on the Directors Council of Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Adapted from materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles.
I do like this kind of stuff but darn next season's digs will unearth an older and earlier settlement!
Cool! You do find the neatest stuff, blam! It continually amazes me that “modern” scientists can be so obtuse. They tell us our ancestors were nomadic hunter-gatherers. OK. I can buy that-they’d have followed the migratory herds, etc. Why are they alwasy so surprised that these people traded? They’d have to, and not just for survival. Trading is a basic human instinct. Ooh, I like that. I’ll give you 10 x for 1 y.
Saw a program a long time ago—wish I’d gotten the name. There were a bunch of tracks in solid rock, what had at one time been mud. The “scientists” couldn’t figure out waht they were. I took one quick glance at their unidentifiable tracks and burst out laughing. Anyone raised on a farm—a wet, muddy farm—would have picked up on it immediately. There were obvious human prints, but the ones the scientists had no clue about were the tracks of wheeled carts, etc, pulled by horses or some other beast of burden.
"What we've found here (in Egypt) is a window into the development of agriculture some 2,000 years earlier."
So the Neolithic period of any given area is deemed to have started when agriculture was introduced? Interesting. Do the above statements then suggest that both Egypt and Mesopotamia's entrance into the neolithic were coincident rather than separated by 2 millennium?
p.s. As a student (small s) of history, thanks for your wonderful posts.
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I posted it before but I can’t remember who to—I grew up on a farm in Ohio, til I was 11. We had a spectacular creek,one of many, but this one was layers of rock, like layer after layer of concrete poured on top of one another. each layer was from a different time period in what had obviously been swamp/dry/swamp time after time. Growing up on a farm, you notice tracks and footprints, whether it’s following escaped livestock or making sure none of your siblings found/raided your favorite berry patch.
I never gave it much thought, just accepting it in the way of children. I walked in the human footprints, which weren’t too much bigger than mine. These human prints were accompanied by horses and dogs. Again, no biggie. At least until I started school and found out there had never been humans and horses in the states at the same time. Ooookkkaaayyy.
A little farther down the creek, where the layers had broken off in successive drop offs, there were distinct—we called them tractor prints cause they looked like the one-two slightly offset treads on our old tractor—dinosaur prints. You could duck walk in them, and we did frequently.
I figured out early on that 1)It was best not to say anything to my teachers, and 2)That rock either formed a whole lot quicker than what I’d been told in school, or 3)People had been around a lot longer than what my teachers said.
Probably why I recognized the muddy, blurry prints in that show I saw as fast as i did.
Thanks for the pic, but the prints in our creek were much deeper, much more distinct. The human tracks were about what you’d expect from someone walking in mud. The dino tracks were deep—2-3 inches. Don’t know what it was, but it was big, and heavy.
Oh, yeah. There is none so blind as he who will not see. LOL
Part of the problem, besides being closeminded, is disassociation. How can you identify something if you have no idea what it is? Modern people, most that is, have no idea about ancient tools, etc.
Grew up close to Serpent Mound. Fascinating place, and it took a lot of effort for the peoples that built it. They didn’t move that much earth on a whim, esp when they had more important things to do—like finding food.
Something else I’ve always wondered about—completely unrelated. If Kentucky was known to the indians that lived there as the dark and bloody ground, how big was the battle that gave it that name? Where did all the bodies go? Assuming wild animals accounted for a great many, shouldn’t there have been a great many bones left lying around? How many generations had to pass before the specifics were lost and nothing but the memory of fear was left? Who was fighting whom, etc. INquiring minds want to know!! LOL
One thing anthropologists and archaeologists have learned is that there is almost always some truth to myths. So...
I know. Never let it be said that I have no imagination! LOL
Do you know if these prints have ever been studied scientifically? If not, is there someone you could interest in doing so—local scientist, educational institution, museum?
Glee—I know the ones I mentioned to blam have never been studied, except by me and my family. No one would believe us anyway! Like I would spend the time and effort it would take to carve these prints, then remember to smooth off the edges so it looked like water has been pouring over these rocks for ages... LOLOL The different layers were so cool, each with their own distinct prints.
On the same farm, sadly no longer ours, at the top of a hill way above the creek, was a single sandstone boulder. We called it the cheerio rock. The entire rock was made up of cheerio like sea creatures embedded in the sandstone. Glacier driven, or just there? If I was a cat, I’d have been dead along time ago!
Blam, do you think the hypothesis about the sunken continent in what is now Indonesia means that the Dravidian peoples of Southern India, the Harappan civilisation of the Indus valley, the ancient Chinese Song dynasty and the Sumerians and Elamites and ancient Nile Egyptians are all inter-related, descendents of this ice-age advanced culture?
Since the sea level was 300 to 400 feet lower at the end of the last ice age, it seems likely that there are drowned areas around Indonesia that could have given rise to peoples in south India and China, as well as Flores Island. However, I am inclined to think that drowned areas
in the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranian would be a more likely source of people in the Middle East, the Indus Valley, and the Nile Valley. Lets not forget the possible influence of a great commet crash in North America on relatively advanced peoples.
the Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean seem far fetched considering that the centers of civ were to the east of that. Perhaps the indian ocean