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2.2 The Palaeolithic

The following description of the Palaeolithic is based on the Sandford and Arkell survey of 1929, and is therefore almost certainly out of date. Caton-Thompson based a number of conclusions on Middle Palaeolithic sites on small samples of artefacts she found in the Faiyum, but these samples are generally considered to be too small to permit categorization (e.g. Hoffman 1979, p.61), so they are not included here.

A considerable amount of variation can be expected in the Palaeolithic record, both in time and in space.  The European system for dividing the Palaeolithic into three main chronological segments is usually applied to Egyptian material:  the Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic.  Gamble describes the framework of the Palaeolithic as “a myriad of industrial, assemblage and geographical variation within this tripartite division” (Gamble 1986, p.116).  The Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic are followed by the Epipalaeolithic.  The Egyptian Palaeolithic records show considerable local variation.  Unfortunately the Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic are poorly understood in the Faiyum and the Delta as a whole, but the later Epipalaeolithic industry in the Faiyum is both well represented and regionally distinctive which should allow for regional comparisons.  Matters are less clear in the rest of Lower Egypt.


2.2.1  Lower Palaeolithic

Occupation in the Faiyum dates to the earliest times, with beautifully made Lower Palaeolithic tools occurring in alluvial deposits.  Sandford and Arkell, whose survey of the Faiyum and the Faiyum Divide 1926-27 was an important piece of work about Faiyumian geology, were also accurate observers of the archaeological record and were competent in their identification of Palaeolithic tools. They found a number of Lower Palaeolithic tools, attributing them to the Chellean and the Acheulean.   The Chellean artefacts they identified are now often referred to Abbevillian in Europe, and are considered to be a part of the Acheulean.  They were older than the classic Acheulean items, were water-worn and were revealed only as a result of erosive forces that exposed them:  “the very fact that they are now available to us means that the gravel containing them is now in process of destruction and redeposition” (Sandford and Arkell 1929, p29).  More recent Acheulean implements, (“rare examples of beautiful Acheulean work are almost as fresh and as sharp as on the day of their manufacture” - Sandford and Arkell 1929, p29), came from Nile terrace gravels of the Palaeolithic channel of the Nile which ran just to the east of the Faiyum, just outside the Hawara Channel entrance to the Faiyum.

Within the Faiyum Basin, where a terrace at a level similar to that of the above gravels, Sandford and Arkell identified  further Acheulean artefacts “of an indeterminate type” (Sandford and Arkell 1929, p34).


2.2.2  Middle Palaeolithic

The Middle Palaeolithic was well represented in the Faiyum: “So far as the Faiyum is concerned, no period was more critical than this”  (Sandford and Arkell 1929, p34).  They identify Hawara as the sole connecting channel between the Nile and the Faiyum Depression at this time.  They identify a break-down in continuity between Lower and Middle Palaeolithic find locations, and they suggest that earlier examples may have been eradicated by riverine activity. 

The Mousterian artefacts identified by Sandford and Arkell appear in the Nile Valley just outside the Faiyum, (near Kom Tima, near Lahun, and a few miles south of Ibwit), in Nile gravels in the Hawara Channel (large numbers of finer examples than from Kom Tima) and in the Faiyum Depression itself at a time when the Faiyum becomes “an overflow reservoir into which the Nile discharged its surplus waters.” Large numbers of Middle Palaeolithic artefacts were found south of Philadelphia, at Gebel er-Rus, and at Qasr Basil, where they are found “unworn, unpatinated and are found in situ in silt and beach gravel”,  (Sandford and Arkell 1929 35-42).  Sandford and Arkell offered an analysis of the Mousterian artefacts but I am wary of using it here, given the date of publication. 

Caton-Thompson, in her review of the Levalloisian in Egypt (1945), also discusses the Faiyum, where she says that cores and flakes were associated with beech levels at 22 to 23 and 34 to 35ft asl respectively.  She adds that “Nile-Faiyum gravels contain types unknown in the 10 to 15ft terrace of Upper Egypt, whereas the forms fo the 25 to 30ft terrace of Upper Egypt are lacking” (p.69).  Locations she identifies are as follows:  two artefacts at the Faiyum-Nile 25ft gravels, one artefact at Faiyum-Hawara, a concentration of cores and flakes at the 28m beach near Philadelphia, another concentration of cores and flakes at the 22-24m lake near Philadelphia, some sites similar to Kharga sites at the 24m lake level, more at the 28m lake level, 4-5 artifacts from the 22-24m lake beach level, and three finds at the Faiyum 24m (112ft) lake level.  She comments that Faiyum types are characterized by skilful manufacture and delicate retouch.  Caton-Thompson describes the artefacts concerned both in terms of their morphology and, where she sees them, affinities with artefacts found in other areas.

I have so far not located any other interpretation of the Mousterian artefacts and will only update this section when I have either found a newer assessment or have had the chance to consider the Mousterian collections from the Faiyum by reference to other Middle Palaeolithic texts and interpretations.


2.2.3  Late Palaeolithic

Sandford and Arkell’s 1929 survey compares the finds interpreted as Late Palaeolithic, to Upper Egyptian contexts, specifically to the Sebilian and Tardenoisian.  While there are sites in the area which are clearly late industries, Sandford and Arkell’s interpretations seem somewhat dubious, especially given that the Sebilian was substantially revised after the date of their publication, when the geology of the Sebilian area was better understood.  I would suggest that a review of this material is required.  I have so far been unable to find any other sources that focus on this material in the Faiyum area.