Epipalaeolithic Faiyum

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2.3 Origins of the Epipalaeolithic Qarunian

The Qarunian is an industry dating to the end of the Palaeolithic period, and is particularly interesting due to a) its relationship with other Epipalaeolithic industries in Egypt and b) its poorly understood relationship to the succeeding Faiyum Neolithic. 

To put the Qarunian into its cultural and/or industrial context, Late Palaeolithic industries are divided into two categories based on two categories of tool working technique (Hassan 1980):

  • A macrolithic industry represented by the following industries
    • Gemaian
    • Sebilian (15,000-11,000BP)
    • Isnan (13,000-12,500BP)
    • Menchian (14,000-11,000BP)
  • A mainly microlithic blade-tool industry represented by the other localised industries of this time belt including:
    • Halfan (20,000-17,000BP)
    • Idfuan (17,800-17,000BP)
    • Fakhurian (18,000-17,600BP)
    • Ballanan (16,000-14,800BP)
    • Affian (c.14,000BP)
    • Sebekian (overlies Sebilian)
    • Sebilian (16,000-13,611BP)

All industries have been identified in specific local areas, and that although common features may be shared by each category, sufficient differences exist to make it necessary to distinguish between them, by giving them different cultural names.  This gives a fragmented impression to Egypt’s later Palaeolithic, but also serves to illustrate how Egypt’s inhabitants, while learning and using new techniques, were beginning to form localised cultural traditions of their own, which cannot be explained away simply by functional variability.

These late industries are followed by another set of localised industries, all of which show affinities to a microlithic tool-making tradition and, for the purposes of this paper, are referred to as Epipalaeolithic:

  • Arkinian (c.9500BP)
  • Shamarkian (c.7700BP)
  • Elkabian (c.8000BP)
  • Qarunian (c.8100-7180BP)

The origins of the Qarunian are uncertain because there are no clear Upper Palaeolithic origins in the Faiyum itself.  It was probably either contemporary with, or slightly later than, a number of important sites in the eastern Sahara (Wenke et al 1988 p.37) and may have had connections with those sites.   Qarunian tools have similarities to those from Bir Kiseiba-Nabta.  A frequency analysis suggests that “the overall similarity of these industries is such that one must consider the probability that the differences in type frequencies . . . . between the Qarunian and eastern Saharan materials are mainly functional in origin, and perhaps are also related to local differences in raw materials and to variability in sampling and typological identification” (Wenke et al 1988 p.37).  However, this does not help to establish the nature of the probable relationship between the two: “Both, for example, may have derived from groups in the Nile Valley whose archaeological record is buried or eroded . . . . Either or both of the eastern Saharan groups and those of the Fayyum could ultimately have been derived from the ancient pastoralist cultures of central-eastern Africa and may have been established before groups moved into the Nile Valley proper” (Wenke et al 1988, p.37-38).

Although there are interesting similarities with other Egyptian and northeast African industries, which are well worth exploring further, there are significant differences which cannot be dismissed: “The inhabitants of the Fayyum did not parallel these other areas in the use of ceramics, in the domestication and intensive exploitation of cattle, or in the establishment of sedentary communities with permanent architecture” (Wenke et al 1988, p.48).   Wenke suggests that these variations could be explained by a number of factors including:

  • Environmental differences
  • Different resource base
  • Different type of Neolithic adaptation
  • Distance from the centre of the “Saharan Neolithic”

Wendorf et al (1984) also point to similarities and differences, but like Wenke are unable to draw any firm conclusions: “In the Fayyum . . . the Qarunian sites are approximately contemporary [with the Nabta occupations] . . . but they are small fishing-camps and lack pottery or any traces of complex organized settlements.  The technology of the Qarunian is very generally comparable to that of the Early Neolithic in the Eastern Sahara, but the tool structure is different” (Wendorf, Schild and Close 1984, p. 414).

Mussi et al see similarities between the Qarunian and all other Epipalaeolithic industries in Egypt and North East Africa, explaining differences, like Wenke above, in terms of local conditions: “Although the relations between the Arkinian and the Shamarkian, and between the Elkabian and the Qarunian are still poorly understood there are certainly connections between the industries of the Nile Valley and the Western Desert (Nabta Playa and Siwa Oasis:  Hassan, 1980) as well as those of the Sahara.  For instance, similarities exist between Elkab and site E-72-5 in the Western Desert (Hassan 1980).  While there appear to have been no direct contacts between the Nile Valley and the Western Desert industries on the one hand, and Iberomaurusian and Caspian on the other hand, they all are part of the same technocomplex.  Local characteristics, differences and similarities can be explained not only by differences in chronology but also by various ecological adaptations and economic exploitation patterns with changing emphasis on hunting, fishing or collecting” (Mussi, Caneva and Zarattini 1984, p.191).

In summary, although there is broad agreement that similarities between Epipalaeolithic industries exist, and between the Qarunian and the Saharan Neolithic, relationships between them are unclear and the origins of the Qarunian are still poorly understood.


2.4 Epipalaeolithic

2.4.1 Introduction

The Epipalaeolithic is represented by around 20 sites excavated from the 1920s onwards.  On the basis of differences in these sites there are three different Epipalaeolithic phases and will be described below. These phases are shown in the table below.








E29H1, E29G1, E29G3, FS2



S4, MOE2, MOE2b, MOE2C

On typological grounds Mussi et al suggest that there is an Epipalaeolithic phase preceding the Qarunian.  However, it may be accounted for by functional variability.

The date range for the Epipalaeolithic in the Faiyum is represented by the earliest and latest radiocarbon dates derived from a number of sites, and can be summarized as follows:

Earliest C14 Dates

Latest C14 Dates

8835890BP (Gd-709) QS I/79

8100130BP (I-4128) E29G1

8070115BP (I-4126) E29H1

774060BP (Bln-2336) QS II/79

7500125BP (I-4130) E29G3(A)

As a whole, the Epipalaeolithic lasts for around 900 years.


2.4.2 The Qarunian (formerly Faiyum B)

Excavation and Survey

The first Qarunian sites discovered by Caton-Thompson and Gardner to the north of Lake Qarun, were those of the Faiyum B, which they considered to be a degenerate industry, chronologically more recent than the more sophisticated Faiyum A.  This was based on the fact that the Faiyum B occupation was nearer to the water’s edge than the Faiyum A, and their assumption that the lake was shrinking constantly over time (meaning that the site further from the lake was the older one, even though more technologically advanced).  In fact, more recent studies indicate that the lake has fluctuated over time, and that the Faiyum B, now known as the Qarunian, predates the Faiyum A, now usually termed the Faiyum Neolithic or Faiyumian.

The definition of the Faiyum B as an Epipalaeolithic industry came with the discovery of new sites in the area to the north of Qasr el-Sagha during Wendorf’s survey of the area in the 1970s (Wendorf and Schild 1976).  As well as re-categorizing the Faiyum B they were able to provide some more radiocarbon dates.  These sites include E29H1 and E29G1. 

Between 1966 and 1968 the Institute of Palethnology of the University of Rome surveyed the Fayum Depression north-east of modern Lake Qarun (Puglisi 1967), identifying ten surface concentrations, discussed by Mussi et al (1984): MB2Sa (the “two sisters” site), S4, MOE 2, MOE 2b, MOE 2c, all located near those published by Wendorf and Schild 1976.  Their interpretation is difficult because of the sparsity of the sample, but is discussed below.

Wenke’s Faiyum Survey project identified a significant surface collection, named FS-2, which was located on high ground on an ancient beach and is the only Epipalaeolithic site to have been located to the south of the Lake. 

Dating and Geology

The Qarunian, which lasted from approximately 8100BP to 7180BP, is referred to by different authors as either an Epipalaeolithic or Terminal Palaeolithic industry. Although the Qarunian is the first clearly defined industry in the Faiyum, and clearly differs in some ways from other similar industries elsewhere in Egypt, it is part of a clearly identifiable tradition at the end of the Palaeolithic period.  In the 1980’s Wenke’s Faiyum Survey Project (1983, 1988) added to the picture with the discovery of a number of Epipalaeolithic sites to the east.  These sites and Wendorf’s site E29-G1 Area G provide a span of radiocarbon dates for the Qarunian from 8220+/-105BP and 7140+/-120BP.  Wendorf has additionally suggested that site E29G4, in the northern Faiyum, may be of a later date than Qarunian sites due to the superiority of the craftsmanship in the manufacture of lithics.

The Qarunian occupation corresponds to a period when a lacustrine marl-diatomite unit formed at the beginning of the Holocene, at a time when lake levels were fluctuating.  Its duration “corresponds to the transgressions of the Pre- and Proto-Moeris lake as determined by Wendorf and Schild (1976)” (Kozlowski and Ginter 1989, p.159).


Although the Faiyum B was originally identified by Caton-Thompson and Gardener in the 1920s, most of the up to date information about the Qarunian comes from the Wendorf and Schild survey during the 1970s in the northern Faiyum and Wenke’s site FS2 in the southwestern Faiyum.

E29G1 consists of more than six artefact concentrations over an area c.700x120m, located around two deflated basins, obviously having been occupied on a number of occasions, and with which the burial of a 40 year old woman is associated.   For clarity, because the site contains one concentration of Faiyum Neolithic and one of Epipalaeolithic, it was divided into different areas, from A to F. They carried out investigations identified a settlement dating to the Pre-Moeris lake (see Part 3 for a discussion of the lake’s levels) with an Epipalaeolithic toolkit, including a quern for grinding plant materials.  The site was obviously occupied a number of times.  Wendorf and Schild (1976) believe that occupation would have taken place in the late Spring judging by swamp vegetation and a swamp snail specie preserved in the occupation levels, and by the assumption that the low lake levels occurring at this time of year would have been the favoured time for fishing activities (1976).  In area F, a deeply stratified zone consisting of 13 identifiable levels, one trench (trench 9) revealed “rare chipped stone artifacts, animal and fish bones and fragments of human skull” (Wendorf and Schild 1976, p.171).  Charcoal associated with fish bones and chipped stone tools provided a radiocarbon date of 6150BC+/-130 (I-4128).

The burial close to site E29G1 is the only burial of prehistoric date found in the Faiyum.  It took the form of a simple flexed skeleton, without grave goods, and was buried in yellow sands which may represent an early former beach level 18m above seal level, southeast of a surface scatter of Qarunian lithics (E29G1, area C), 135m away from lacustrine deposits (E29G1, area F).  The 1969 season studied the lacustrine deposits within which the burial was deposited in order to determine which level of the lake it was associated with.  The excavation determined that the deposit of the skeleton was contemporary with the Premoeris lake and although no grave goods were found with the skeleton, its position in Premoeris levels and its close location to Qarunian lithics indicates that it is indeed Qarunian (Henneberg et al 1989).  The skeleton was buried on its left side and was flexed so that the knee and the elbow nearly touched.  The left hand was positioned under the head with the right hand covering the face.  This specific arrangement is said by Henneberg et al (1989) to be very similar to burials of the same age in northeast Africa. It is also, however, very similar to later burials in the Cairo Neolithic. 

None of the bones were intact, probably due to erosion, but they were used to estimate that the individual was probably female and that she has been around 160m tall.  Physically “it may be seen that the skull in question shows the closest affinity to Wadi Halfa, modern Negroes and Australian aborigines, being quite different from Epipalaeolithic materials of Northern Africa usually labeled as “Mechta” type.  Unlike the bones, the teeth were preserved and consisted of an almost complete set.  They show that they were used “with approximately the same intensity, so no pronounced and long lasting food specialisation was practised by the individual” (Henneberg et al 1989, p189-90).  On the basis of wear and molar eruption it was estimated that the individual was 35-40 years old.

E29H1 consists of “a vast scatter of artefacts on the gently sloping expanse of lacustrine sediments” (Wendorf and Schild 1976, p.182) in an oval area measuring around 300x100m that again overlook a basin.  Because the Epipalaeolithic site is situated within a larger Neolithic concentration of artifacts, it was divided into different areas.  The Epipalaeolithic areas are named A, B and C. Areas A and C were partially excavated and collections were carried out in a small part of Area B. The fauna from E29H1 suggests that it was a fishing economy using hunting and plant gathering as a back-up. These sites appear to be contemporary with Wenke’s FS-2. Artefacts include lithics and bone tools. The lithics include:

  • Cores backed flake
  • straight backed blade
  • pointed bladelets
  • various types of arched-backed pointed bladelets,
  • backed bladelets with blunt tips,
  • fragment of backed bladelet,
  • triangular backed bladelet
  • A “Krukowski’s” microburin
  • unfinished broken biface on a chert slab
  • a single celt

E29G3 (Caton-Thompson’s Site R) is located c.1.2km southwest of the Old Kingdom temple at Qasr el-Sagha.  It consists of both Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic concentrations, labeled Sites A and B respectively.  The Epipalaeolithic part of the site is separate from the Neolithic area and is located in an eroded area.  Artifacts were associated with a “powdered, loose, swampy sediment, unstratified, with numerous chipped stone Terminal Palaeolithic artifacts, bones and traces of burning in places” (Wendorf and Schild 1976, p.204).  Wendorf and Schild (1976) believed that the site was located so as to take advantage of an exposed outcrop of Eocene bedrock that “probably retained a small pool of water following the high water stage each year, and encouraged Terminal Palaeolithic people to settle along the swampy shore, where they could harvest the fish trapped in the pool (1976, p.209).  A date of 5555BC+/-125 (I-4130) was obtained from deposits containing Epipalaeolithic artefacts and bones.

FS2, so the southwest of the Lake consisted of hearths, pits, sand surface scatters, and consists of the remains of several temporary encampments.  The artefacts at FS-2 “appear to be those left by small groups of hunter-collectors.  Unlike the later Fayyum occupations and those of the Bir Kiseiba-Nabta area, the

Qarunian sites contain no ground stone or pottery.  Aside from debitage, the best represented artifact type at these Qarunian sites is a small backed bladelet (Wenke et al 1988, p.37). No grinding stones were found at these sites, and despite examination of hearth materials, and other botanical remains from Qarunian sites, almost no evidence of the use of cereals was found (Wenke et al 1988, p.39).  Wild plant remains were found, and these were mainly of a wide number wetland varieties.  The diet included:

  • a high proportion of fish, particularly Clarias and Lates (Nile Perch)
  • birds
  • hartebeest
  • turtle
  • gazelle
  • Bos
  • Canis

Calibrated carbon 14 dates give a date range of c.7100-5450BC (Hassan 1985).  It is apparently contemporary with E29G1 and E29H1.


The Faiyum Terminal Palaeolithic industry consists of a number of assemblages which “share a number of technological and typological attributes and clearly cluster into a single industry which has been named the Qarunian” (Wendorf and Schild 1976, p. 311).  The main feature of the Qarunian is a lithic industry, associated with a diet heavily based on fishing and hunting.

The lithics are manufactured mainly from Oligocene conglomerates (obtained from Gebel Qatrani) and share a number of features in common:

  • Cores
    • Usually single platform variety for flake and blade manufacture
      • No preparation
      • Small, less than 5cm long
    • Opposed platform cores are very rare
  • Debitage
    • 13% of the total assemblage
    • Almost entirely composed of bladelets
  • Toolkit
    • The greatest proportion of the industry is made up of bladelets (50% of all tools)
      • backed blades (3% of blades)
      • curved backed bladelets and truncated and retouched bases (18-30% of blades)
      • straight-backed bladelets often with retouched or truncated bases (14-18% of all tools)
    • The rest of the toolkit is made up of
      • Retouched notches and denticulates (9-17%)
      • Microburins (less than 4%)
      • Geometric microliths (less than 5%)
      • Basal and distal truncations (3-9%)
      • Endscrapers (rare)
      • A few perforators
      • A conspicuous lack of burins

There is a relatively small bone tool component restricted to:

  • catfish jaw harpoons made by “removing the ramus from a catfish jaw and producing an oblique truncation at the base for hafting” (Clark 1980, p559). 
  • A few cylindrical bone points (well represented at E29G1 and E29G3)
  • There is no ground stone or pottery, which are key differences from the later Neolithic period. 

In summary, Wendorf and Schild (1976) conclude: “The terminal Palaeolithic Qarunian assemblages from the Fayum, characterized by extremely high percentages of backed bladelets and very low geometric components, seem to form a distinct industry, but one that falls within the general Nilotic and North African lithic complex” (p. 317).  They highlight similarities between the Qarunian and the Shamarkian.

Qarunian Economy

Phillipson (1993) provides a short summary of the Qarunian:  “The Fayum depression between 7000 and 8000 years ago was the scene of lakeside camps of people who made microlithic artefacts, mounted fish jaws as points for arrows, and made their livelihood by a combination of hunting and fishing . . . This Qarunian occupation beside the extensive lake which formerly occupied the Fayum Depression provides examples of arrow manufacturing techniques which continued in use in Egypt into dynastic times” (p.105).  Qarunian settlements were generally on high-ground locations overlooking Lake Qarun in its Proto-Moeris phase (Wendorf and Schild 1976). 

The Qarunian is a consumption rather than a production-based economy, based entirely on the production of available resources.  The efficient exploitation of resources requires a sound knowledge of the environment on a regional scale in order to create a reliable year-round strategy for making the most of resources in the short-term with a view to surviving in the long-term: “as the environment reproduces itself on seasonal, annual and longer term cycle so too does the hunter-gatherer society that is dependent upon its products” (Gamble 1996, p.30).

All the evidence points to the fact that the Faiyum at this time was a damp, marshy and wetland environment.  Bird forms were all shallow-water varieties, several layers analysed by Wendorf and Schild (1976) were swamp sediments, and Wenke’s Survey produced shallow-water varieties of plant and fish from FS-2.  Most of the Qarunian sites appear to be located along the edges of previous lake levels, on old beaches (which is consistent with an economy heavily dependent on lacustrine resources).  However as Wenke warns: “The microlithic aceramic deposits characteristic of Fayum B seem to be concentrated close to the ancient beach lines on the eastern edge of the site, but they may be interspersed throughout the many Fayum A occupations and buried beneath these later deposits” (Wenke 1984, p.195-6).

The diet seems to have been mainly fish-based, supplemented by hunting, plant gathering, and plant-processing activities.  Hassan (1980, p.437) points out that: “Hartebeest bone fragments are more numerous than those of wild cattle. At one site red-fronted gazelle remains are reported.  The faunal remains also include hippopotamus.”  Wild cattle are also represented.  By far the most conspicuous dietary remains are those of fish.  There is no evidence in the Faiyum at this time for domesticated animals (Hassan 1988, p.143).  Finds of grinding stones suggest plant processing but there is no evidence of cereal cultivation (Wenke et al 1989, p.39).

Brewer (1989) analysed one of the Qarunian sites, FS2 (to the southwest of Lake Qarun), and found that there were no domesticates, but that there were large ungulates (indicating large game hunting) and a strong emphasis on shallow water and swamp fish, with some deeper water fish, and shallow water bird life.  The predomination in the fish remains of Clarias suggests a preference for shallow-water fishing – probably because it is easier to select the required fish, and perhaps because the technique is less effort that deep water fishing.  The presence of very few tilapia to Clarias amongst the shallow water varieties certainly suggests that selection was practised in shallow water fishing.  Deeper water varieties are collected en masse and the lack of ability to select is clear in the mixture of different varieties represented.

Epipal ShallowEpipal Deep

(Graphs based on data listed for FS2 in Brewer 1989)

This demonstrates two distinct exploitation strategies because the techniques required to acquire shallow and deep water fish are different.  Shallow netting techniques and spearing can be used in shallow water without the need of a boat – but in deeper waters angling and netting from a boat are more appropriate.  It appears that the occupants of the lake area in the Qarunian used both strategies, but that they had a distinct preference for shallow water varieties and Clarias in particular.  At FS2 Brewer’s investigations (1989) determined that there were 2905 shallow water species as opposed to only 117 deep water varieties.

The preference for shallow water exploitation is confirmed by water birds – out of the nine species identified only one is an open-water variety.

Epipal shallow fishEpipal Deep Birds

Brewer’s studies of skeletal growth rings on the Clarias fish (1989) indicate that it was collected at two different periods in the year in late spring/early summer and summer/autumn:  “Late summer-early fall would if Birket Qarun were connected to the Nile, coincide with a seasonally high Nile and also with Clarias spawning season.  During the spawning season Clarias could be highly aggregated, which would facilitate their capture” (Brewer 1989, p.136).  Similarly late spring-early summer collection would correspond to low lake levels which would leave fish stranded in shallow pools, again making them easy to catch.  Wetterstrom suggests that the seeds recovered at FS-2 would probably have been harvested in the winter” (Wetterstrom 1993, 1995, p.190).

Hoffman suggests that the Qarunian assemblage indicates different conditions than those of today:  “Chipped stone axes were common, suggesting a heavier tree cover than today and hoe-like bifaces were once thought to have been used in agricultural activities although they would have been equally valuable for digging roots or house or storage pits” (Hoffman 1979, p.185).

Gamble (1986) suggests that assemblages should be on a regional scale as the region as a whole is the environment to which groups adapt and with which they interact, and because “the continual process of social reproduction which specifies that the habitat shall be exploited according to the principles of a hunter-gatherer formation in order to sustain and reproduce social existence” (p.31).  This is an important point when it comes to comparing and contrasting different Epipalaeolithic industries and cultures in Egypt with a view to establishing a much better view of the regional character of, and possible connections between different areas and groups.

A small amount of information about subsistence has been suggested by analysis of the remains of the skeleton in the E29-G1 burial. Although the burial is an isolated example, Henneberg et al (1989) conclude that wear patterns on the teeth indicate a mixed diet without a preference showing for any one food type (although they do point out that a large component of fish in the diet will not make any impact on tooth wear).

Qarunian Society

In general, as shown by Palaeolithic societies all over the world, there is no reason why hunter-gathering societies should be less interested in symbolic expression or religious type activities than any other more modern group – but apart from the burial at E29G1 there is no evidence of any attempt at symbolic behaviour, and the grave itself provides only minimal information about the society that deposited it.  At the best it can be said that the burial is indicative of a concern with the dead, or with the relationship between the living and the dead.  There are no grave goods.  Similarities between contemporary northeast African sites and later Neolithic Lower Egypt ones are clear but not necessarily significant.  Similar forms of burial occur all over the world from different periods.  There are, after all, a limited number of ways of depositing an inhumation.

Studies of other hunter-gatherer societies (modern and ancient) suggest that many were organised with leaders to organize activities but that these leaderships were usually merit-based and transient rather than based on inherited social status.  There are certainly no indications in the Faiyum that the Qarunian was any more sophisticated than other Epipalaeolithic industries in Egypt, but it is clear from the lithics, the selective economy, the distribution of the settlements and the length of time over which the Qarunian survived, that the Qarunian represents a successful and organised adaptation to a very specific environment, cyclical in its nature and skilled in both its industrial output and its method of economic exploitation.

Settlements were found along beaches of the fossil lake, and consisted of campsites placed for exploitation of the waterside environment.  “The sites were usually formed by small artefact concentrations of a diameter ranging from 20 to 50m.  One of the sites comprises several separate concentrations of archaeological material” (Henneberg et al 1989, p.187).

In a comparison of settlement sizes dating to the final phases of the Palaeolithic, Hassan notes that the Qarunian sites are considerably larger than predecessors and contemporary sites elsewhere:  “The two Qarunian sites at Fayum measure about 65,000 and 3,000 m2 each with many small concentrations.  This increase in the number of site areas, as a result of a greater density of archaeological occurrences, is associated with the economic shift to grain utilization.  It is also interesting to note that there is a gradual increase in the number of sites between 22,000 and 14,000BP.  This gradual increase in the number of sites and the change in density of occupations fits well with the observed changes in faunal remains (more reliance on fish and waterfowl) and the shift to grain utilization.  A broad adaptive strategy would have provided a large food supply which would have permitted an increase in population” (Hassan 1980, p.437-8).

Qarunian in Context

The Qarunian has many elements in common with other Epipalaeolithic industries elsewhere in Egypt and Nubia (Hoffman 1979).  The closest, geographically speaking, was in the El-Omari area.  Others may be (after Hayes 1964, 65):

  • Abu Suwair (Wadi Tumilat)
  • Shibeem al Qanatir (nr the Ismailia canal)
  • Heliopolis
  • Abassiya

Hayes says that  features shared include two separate types:

  • Diminutive Levalloisian flake tradition characterized by small broad flakes
  • Bifacial core-tool tradition featuring axes and other pre-Neolithic elements

[Please note, however, that apart from the references in Hayes I have been unable to find any other mention of these sites].

Stylistically, the Faiyum’s Qarunian Epipalaeolithic is both similar to and distinct from other Egyptian Epipalaeolithic industries: “The Terminal Palaeolithic of the Nile Valley does not seem to be as homogenous as Wendorf and Schild suggest (1970; 1976).  From a technological point of view there are some affinities with Elkab (Vermeersch 1978) and the Qarunian sites (E29H1A, E29H1C: Wendorf and Schild 1976): for example, bladelets were obtained essentially from cores with unfaceted striking platforms.  However, from a typological point of view, the Qarunian is characterized by backed bladelets with are vary rare at Elkab. Moreover, the microburin technique which is highly noticeable at Elkab, is lacking in Qarunian sites” (Mussi, Caneva and Zarattini 1984, p.190).

In summary, the Qarunian is the principal Epipalaeolithic industry in the Faiyum with an economy adapted to the exploitation of the local ecology, a lake-side and seasonal freshwater basin, together with wild animals and an increasing reliance on grain.  There is no sign of domestication in the Qarunian and lithics are consistent with other Epipalaeolithic industries.  Sites, by their increased size may indicate greater socio-economic stability.


2.4.3 Another Epipalaeolithic Faiyum Industry

It is possible that the Qarunian was not the only Epipalaeolithic industry in the Faiyum, although the infrequency of alternative sites makes this difficult to confirm or deny. 

Mussi, Caneva and Zarattini (1984) compared the sites discovered in the 1966-68 University of Rome survey (MB2Sa  or the “two sisters” site, S4, MOE 2, MOE 2b, MOE 2c) with those discovered by the Wendorf 1970s Faiyum project, and identified differences which may argue that there was more than one type of Terminal Palaeolithic in the Faiyum:  “Our collections, while on the whole similar to those of the Qarunian, are different in a number of stylistic and possibly functional characteristics” (Mussi, Caneva and Zarattini p.185).  Using Tixier’s 1963 Maghreb typology as a base-line and comparing their sites with those discussed by Wendorf and Schild (1976) they conclude the following (paraphrased from Mussi, Caneva and Zarattini p.185-189):

  • Similar to the Qarunian:
    • The striking platforms of cores are usually single and unfaceted and no more than two thirds of the perimeter is used.
    • Burins are rare or absent
    • Backed blades are always present but are rare
    • Composite tools are absent
    • Backed bladelets of Tixier’s types 45 (pointed straight backed bladelets), 55 (bladelets with curved back end) and 56 (curved backed bladelets) are dominant in the backed bladelet toolkit.
    • Only a few geometric microliths are present
  • Different from the Qarunian
    • The toolkit is dominated by backed blades, but they are much less than in typical Qarunian levels. 
    • Pointed straight backed bladelets with truncated base are well represented, which they are not in the Qarunian.
    • A much higher than normal percentage of endscrapers is included, with a greater variety of forms
    • A much higher than normal percentage of perforators is included, including borers, groovers and core tools
    • Notches and denticulates account for a very much higher percentage of the tool kit than in the normal Qarunian.
    • Truncations occur more frequently
    • There are significant stylistic differences between backed bladelets

Mussi et al conclude:  “Between our backed bladelets and the Qarunian ones, stylistic differences exist.  These and the different elevation of the sites may pint to different chronological positions.  The greater number in our collections of end-scrapers, perforators, notches and denticulates and lower percentage of backed bladelets, as well as the considerable presence of retouched pieces (at MB2Sa – more than 700) suggest a different range of activities” (Mussi, Caneva and Zarattini, 1984, p.189). 

Realistically there are three different scenarios to explain these sites but without further analysis there is no way of selecting between them:

  • An earlier industry
  • Functional variability of sites within the Qarunian
  • A contemporary but different Epipalaeolithic industry

2.4.4 Helwan Industry

Just outside the mouth of the Faiyum is a set of Epipalaeolithic sites at Helwan.   These sites are famous for 1000s of lithic tools including a range of microlithic and blade tools, with a particularly distinctive blade often referred to as the “Helwan Point”.

Lithic tools include:

  • Blades
  • Bladelets
  • Geometric microliths (with a high number of lunates)
  • Helwan points (bladelet with retouched edges with notches and tangs)

Settlement components include hearths, animal bones, ostrich eggshells and detalium shells.

The Helwan points were named by Caton-Thompson and de Morgan “after the discovery of a few updateable artifacts at Helwan in Egypt” (Gopher 1989 p.99). The Helwan excavations by Debono have not yet been published in full.  However, on the basis of the stone tools alone, the Helwan sites represent a highly distinctive industry which appears to have nothing in common with those found within the Faiyum itself.  Similarities have been drawn with industries in Syria and Palestine. 

Gopher (1989) believes that the Helwan point spread from the Middle Euphrates to a number of different locations in the Levant.  At Negev the most recently dated examples date to c.7600 disappearing at c.6800BC at the site of Beidha. The nearest of the southern Levant sites to Sinai is Abu Salem, dating to around 7600BC. However, although there are Helwan points in the southern Levant none have been found in Sinai, so the mechanism by which they could have spread to Egypt is unclear.


2.4.5 Summary

In summary, there is one certain and two possible Epipalaeolithic industries in the Faiyum area.  The Qarunian is the principal Epipalaeolithic industry of the Faiyum, sharing components and practises with other Epipalaeolithic industries in Egypt, but distinct from them in a number of ways.  It is a hunter-gatherer-fisher society with a high emphasis on fishing in an environment that was probably very damp with plenty of shallow-water areas which could be exploited for dietary needs and/or preferences.  Occupation was on a temporary basis, probably taking advantage of three seasonal peaks for food-gathering.  An increase in settlement size together with the collection and processing of plants, including grain, may indicate increasing stability in both the economy and lifestyle.  A very distinct “Helwan” industry in the Western Faiyum area needs to be analysed in more depth before conclusions can be made about its relationship with other industries, either local or remote.