University of Washington
1994 Fayum Project
summarizes research conducted in the Fayum region of
Egypt between April and July of 1994 as an ARCE Fellow.
The purpose of
this research was to study certain aspects of artifact variability during the
transition" in the Fayum region of Egypt (Figure
1). The Fayum Epipaleolithic
or 'Qarunian' (also known as 'Fayum
B' [Caton-Thompson and Gardner 1934]) has been dated
securely from 8220 +/- 105 BP (Site FS-2; Wenke et
al. 1983) to 7140 +/- 120 BP (Site E29G1 Area E; Wendorf
and Schild 1976). Qarunian
sites appear to reflect small groups of hunter-gatherers and contain no ground
stone or pottery (Wenke et al. 1988; Wendorf et al. 1984). Extensive examination of plant
remains indicates little or no use of cereal grains (Wenke
et al. 1988:39) and faunal analyses indicate that the Qarunian
subsistence base was centered around lacustrine
resources, particularly fishing (Brewer 1986). The lithic assemblages, which compose the bulk of the artifacts recovered from these
sites, represent bladelet technologies, with backed bladelets as the main components, numerous notches and denticulates, and a few geometric microliths.
Neolithic (the 'Fayum A' of Caton-Thompson
1926) is separated from the Qarunian by an apparent
abandonment of the Fayum, corresponding to low lake
levels and general aridification (Hassan 1986a).
Neolithic settlements are larger, indicating long-term, perhaps seasonal,
occupations, though without any evidence of substantial architecture. Numerous
grain silos with domesticated cereals (Caton-Thompson
and Gardner 1934), grinding stones, and sickle blades indicate a substantial
reliance on domesticated cereals. Faunal evidence (Caton-Thompson
and Gardner 1934; Gautier 1976; Brewer 1986), while showing the presence of
various domesticated forms (sheep, goats, and cattle), also indicates
substantial use of fish, particularly Nile catfish (Clarias).
Thus, there seems to be some degree of continuity in subsistence practices with
tool kit represents a characteristic Neolithic bifacial flake industry, with
the addition of worked tabular slabs (Holmes 1989). Typologically, the
Neolithic assemblages are very similar to the Nabta-Bir
Kiseiba assemblages (Wenke
et al. 1988), and also to the Merimden Phase II-V
lithics (Holmes 1989). Since these sites were all occupied roughly
contemporaneously, the similarity in artifact styles raises the possibility of
common cultural origins and perhaps similar origins for domesticated species
and/or agricultural practices.
The problem of
explaining the origin of the Neolithic -- whether it derives directly from the Epipaleolithic or is intrusive and unrelated to earlier
cultural manifestations -- has continued to perplex scholars for most of the
past century (Jomard 1918; Caton-Thompson
1926; Sandford and Arkell
1929; Wendorf and Schild
1976; Hassan 1986b; Wenke et al. 1988). Lithic
artifacts (stone tools) are the only artifact category that appear in both Epipaleolithic and Neolithic sites, and therefore are
central to resolving this question. Traditionally however, typologies have been
applied to the small portion of lithic artifacts that are retouched to form
specific shapes, i.e., the "tool" portion of the assemblages.
Differences between assemblages described by such typologies are then used to asses the degree of cultural similarity between different
areas and time periods.
typologies are adequate for establishing broad regional and temporal trends in
tool form, they do not adequately address the source of change in stone
tool industries. That is, they do not enable one to
ascertain whether change results from new people moving into an area, from a
new technology being developed to create the tools, from new and different
functions for which the tools were used, or some combination of these.
Furthermore, a vast amount of material, the debitage,
or waste material from stone tool production, has been virtually ignored in
most studies involving Epipaleolithic and Neolithic
on lithic artifact variability has indicated that tool form is controlled by a
number of factors including the quality and availability of raw materials (Bamforth 1986; Beck and Jones 1990) and the
settlement/subsistence patterns and social structure of the people utilizing
them (Teltser 1988; Wiant
and Hassen 1984). Parry and Kelly (1987), for
example, have noted a correspondence between the adoption of sedentism and 'expedient' (simple flake and core tools)
lithic technologies in wide areas of North and Mesoamerica. McDonald (1991) has
noted a similar pattern in the later Paleolithic of Dakhleh
Oasis in Egypt. In order to explain changes in lithic variability then, one
must describe these various sources of variation in detail to determine which
factor(s) are controlling the observed change.
With this in
mind, the methodological goals of this research involved that portion of lithic
variability determined by raw material quality and availability and technology.
More specifically, I am attempting to establish which portion of the
variability in stone tool form that results from the acquisition of different
raw materials and the technology used to reduce this raw material to usable
tools. It is essential that this variability be accounted for and controlled
for before further investigation of possible cultural and functional factors be addressed.
First, I sought
to establish the specific geological deposits from which the raw materials were
obtained. Since the same technology may produce different forms when applied to
different raw materials, it is essential to control for variation caused by
differential raw material use. The distance to these raw material sources can
also affect the technology used to produce these tools: distant material may be
used much more efficiently and completely than locally available material.
Second, since finished tools exhibit only the final stages of manufacture, I
endeavored to gain technological information through an analysis of the debitage which,
with some qualifications, preserves evidence of the entire production (or more
appropriately, reduction) sequence. By addressing both of these aspects of tool
manufacture simultaneously, I hoped to be able to obtain measures of the
variation in technology before and after the Epipaleolithic-Neolithic
for this project began in the first part of May 1994 and continued into the
first part of July 1994. My work concentrated in the southwestern corner of Birket Qarun, near the village of
Qasr Qarun. In this area,
Dr. R.J. Wenke of the University of Washington
conducted extensive surveys and excavations of Epipaleolithic
and Neolithic sites in 1981 (Wenke et al. 1983, Wenke et al. 1988). Wenke's work
revealed extensive remains of Epipaleolithic and
Neolithic settlements along either side of a fossil beach ridge, a prominent
feature of the area (see Figure 1). The Neolithic sites, designated FS-1, are
found on the desert side of this ridge; the Epipaleolithic
sites, designated FS-2, are found on the lake side of
this ridge. All of these remains cover extensive areas of what is now desert.
Because of their relative isolation, they have been largely ignored by looters
and early archaeologists, and thus retain a great deal of their material.
According to Wenke's initial analyses, the two sets
of remains can be assumed to be independent of one another; that is, no Epipaleolithic material is found on the Neolithic side of
the ridge, and vice versa.
For both the
archaeological and geological samples, I made use of the Global Positioning
System for locational purposes. This system uses satellites to determine the
locations of the user's latitude and longitude to an accuracy of within about
25 meters. Since many of these collections described here were made in remote
areas where standard surveying methods are impractical, this was the only
viable system with which I could accurately determine the location of my
2.1 Debitage collection.
First I located
several large areas of archaeological deposits on either side of the ridge that
contained abundant remains of stone tool production. I laid
out a total of twelve 2-meter squares, each oriented N-S, six on the FS-2 (Epipaleolithic) side, and six on the FS-1 (Neolithic) side.
All surface material from each square, including rocks, bones, and other
debris, was screened through approx. 0.60 cm mesh. All of the material was then
bagged and removed to the guardhouse near the temple site of Qasr Qarun. These samples were
then sorted to separate all lithic debris from the remaining matrix. This
debris was then separately bagged. The units were designated as follows:
There has been
relatively little work done to determine accurately the sources of raw
materials for this material, especially for these more southern sites. Most
researchers have indicated various Eocene and Oligocene deposits above the
northern rim of the Depression as the source of most lithic raw materials. That
this is probably true is not in question; however, a more detailed analysis is
required especially for the FS1 and FS2 assemblages as they are more distant
from these northern source areas than assemblages collected by earlier workers.
the archaeological and geological literature from this area revealed a number
of possible deposits. These were spread throughout the Depression and included
1) Fluvio-Marine series (Gebel Qatrani
beds). These Upper Eocene-Lower Oligocene beds outcrop on the top of the scarp
directly above Qasr el Sagha,
and consist of hard cherty limestones with beds of
tabular chert and flint. According to Beadnell (1905) this is the only area in the Fayum where chert occurs in
primary geological position. Its use as a flint source for
stone tools has been mentioned by numerous authors including Beadnell (1905), Caton-Thompson
(1926, 1934), and Wendorf and Schild
Above this area
on the very top of the northern scarp this series continues as a set of beds
consisting of variegated sediments, including small chert
and/or flint nodules. Again, these nodules have been
mentioned by several authors as source materials. These beds also occur
above the scarp near Qasr Qarun,
only a few kilometers away from the sites of FS-1 and FS-2. These deposits have
not, to my knowledge, been cited in the literature as possible lithic raw
material sources. However, their proximity to the sites in this analysis
obviates their study.
2) Plio-Pleistocene gravels. These gravels are found over wide
areas of the Fayum, though only a few can be said to
contain chert/flint adequate for stone tool
production. Several of these deposits occur along the road between the Fayum and Cairo, roughly twenty kilometers north of the
site of Karanis.
gravels. These heterogeneous deposits are found throughout the Fayum and occur in the area of FS-1 and FS-2. There is some
indication that these materials were utilized, though to what extent in
unknown. Certainly the use of local stone, if suitable for lithic production,
would be preferable to distant sources.
I was able to
investigate some aspects of each set of deposits, though financial constraints
prevented a more thorough analysis this season. I surveyed each deposit on foot
to establish the variability within the deposit in terms of its chert and flint content. Then a random sample of nodules
was collected in grab sample fashion. Each sample constituted of roughly 20-30
nodules, depending on the homogeneity of the deposit and the size of the
nodules themselves. I collected two samples each from either side of the beach
ridge separating FS-1 and FS-2 (Pleistocene gravels, above); two samples from
the Plio-Pleistocene deposits that outcrop on either
side of the Fayum-Cairo road (designated PP1 and
PP2); and one sample from the scarp north of the lake near FS-1 and FS-2 (part
of the Fluvio-Marine series). All of these are
secondary deposits, consisting of water-worn nodules of chert
3.1 Debitage analysis.
The goal of
this analysis was to determine the completeness and complexity of core
reduction in each set of assemblages and how these differ according to time
period and rock type. Completeness of reduction indicates how far each core was
reduced before being discarded. Complexity of reduction refers to the number of
reduction events performed prior to an individual flake's removal. Each flake
was measured using a paradigmatic classification consisting of attributes that
directly reflect completeness and complexity. Besides basic size attributes,
these attributes, or dimensions, include: the amount of cortex on the dorsal
surface; platform configuration (cortex, number of facets); the presence of platform
crushing and lipping; the number of dorsal scars; and the type of flake
was coded to a particular value, thus generating a class for each flake
describing its configuration along these attributes. Different core reduction strategies
will thus result in different proportions of classes for each assemblage. For
example, a very incomplete reduction strategy will result in a large number of
relatively large flakes with cortex and small numbers of dorsal scarring. A
more complete reduction strategy would produce a wider range of flake sizes,
most without cortex, and abundant dorsal scarring (see Teltser
1991 for a more detailed analysis of this kind of classification scheme).
I am also
conducting a functional analysis of the debitage
using an additional paradigmatic classification. To perform this analysis I
examine the edges and surfaces of each flake for signs of use in the form of
wear. Since these materials have been subject to sandblasting for the past
several thousand years, a micro-wear analysis is not useful. However, a
macro-scale analysis of wear is appropriate, since the larger-scale instances
of wear will remain visible. These include chipping, crushing, deep abrasions,
and some kinds of polish. Each instance of wear on a flake edge or surface is
treated as a separate tool. Consequently, a single flake may have several
instances of wear and thus be composed of several tools.
While this kind
of analysis will not demonstrate what specific "activities" these
objects were used for, it will show the kinds of actions that they were
subjected to. These wear patterns indicate the mechanical parameters that were
required of raw material, and is thus vitally important determining why
particular materials were used over others.
3.2 Debitage results.
reported here are based on a preliminary analysis of two collection units,
FS1-A (Neolithic) and FS2-A (Epipaleolithic), and the
conclusions drawn herein are necessarily quite tentative.
contains descriptive statistics for some of the variables from the
technological classification. Both units have approximately the same
proportions of whole and broken flakes/chunks, roughly half, and also about the
same proportions of platform cortex. However, FS1-A has a slightly larger
percentage of complete flakes with no cortex and a slightly smaller percentage
of flakes with full dorsal cortex than does FS2-A. This indicates that FS1-A
has a more complete reduction sequence than FS2-A, and also that initial core
reduction may have occurred off-site during Neolithic (FS1) times.
Figures 2a and
2b show the distribution of flake sizes in the FS1-A and FS2-A assemblages
using complete flakes only. I use weight as a measure of flake size, since the
log of flake weight in these data and others (Teltser
1991) has a strong linear relationship with both (log10)length
and (log10)thickness. There is a striking difference between the
units. The FS1-A debitage has a skewed distribution
indicating that the majority of flakes are small sized. The FS2-A debitage, in contrast, has a much flatter and even
distribution of flake sizes. This trend is also noted in the descriptive
statistics of the mean and standard deviation accompanying each graph: the
FS1-A debitage has both a smaller mean flake size and
smaller standard deviation. All other things being equal, this is to be
expected given the difference in dorsal cortex measures: flakes removed from
the inner parts of the core (and having no cortex) will be smaller than those
removed from the outside.
Figure 3 shows
the distribution of number of dorsal scars in each unit. Again, the FS1-A
assemblage is somewhat more skewed toward a smaller numbers of dorsal flake
scars, while the FS2-A debitage has a more even
distribution of this variable.
differences can be summarized thus: 1) FS1-A (Neolithic) debitage
has a somewhat larger percentage of flakes with no cortex; 2) FS1-A debitage has a wider range of flake sizes with most flakes
occurring in small sizes, while FS2-A (Epipaleolithic)
debitage has a more even distribution of flake sizes;
3) FS1-A debitage has a wider range of numbers of
dorsal scars and is again positively skewed toward more flake scars than those
in FS2-A, which has a more even distribution. These factors, taken together,
indicate that the reduction process at the Neolithic site of FS1 was more
complete and complex than that of FS2.
The use wear data presented something of a surprise. Given the
proclivity of settled agriculturalists to develop more expedient technologies,
I had expected to find relatively more simple utilized flakes among the FS1 debitage. Looking again to Table 1, we see that this is not
the case at all: the presence of use wear is nearly identical in both units.
Further, the number of instances of wear per complete flake is similar:
1.84/flake for FS1-A as opposed to 1.61/flake for FS2-A. This indicates that as
far as the utilization of debitage goes, there seems
to be a great deal of continuity between the two periods. My analysis of the
distribution of kind of wear is still in progress, and should clarify
this issue still further. However, it does indicate that there is a great deal
of functional variation in these assemblages apart from those pieces generally
regarded as formal tools.
analyses and results.
materials that I collected were subjected only to visual inspection in
anticipation of a more refined analysis in 1995. The purpose of this was obtain some idea of source locations and the proportions in
which different materials occur. The results of these inspections are as
First, from an
initial analysis of the debitage, it appears that the
Epipaleolithic assemblages contain a much more
eclectic blend of raw materials than the Neolithic. Both of these assemblages
contain a wide variety of cherts and are not easily
classified into different types purely on visual inspection. However, when
trying to sort some of the debitage samples into
different material types, I found the Neolithic samples to contain several
coherent groups. That is, it was easier to find groups of flakes that came from
a single material type in the Neolithic assemblages. The Epipaleolithic
assemblages rarely contained more than one or two coherent types of materials,
each containing no more than a few flakes.
Neolithic materials also seemed to be more uniform in raw material
characteristics. That is, all of the flakes seemed to be from relatively
fine-grained, homogeneous cherts. The Epipaleolithic materials were much more variable in this
Third, the Epipaleolithic people made extensive use of at least one
raw material that is virtually absent from the Neolithic assemblages. This
material has a distinctive chalky-white cortex, and was found to be abundant in
all FS-2 assemblages analyzed. None was found in the Neolithic assemblages
analyzed thus far. This material may be locally available on-site; I have yet
to confirm this with an analysis of the geological specimens.
may be more use of local material in FS-2 assemblages. Geologically, the FS-2
side of the beach ridge contains an abundance of gravel, much of which is
cherty in nature and of sufficient size for the creation of stone tools. There
is virtually no knappable material on the FS-2 side.
It appears that the Epipaleolithic people may have
made more use of this local material; indeed, this material may not have been
available to the Neolithic people, since the lake at that time would have
covered up the material on that side of the ridge. I have been unable to
confirm or refute this as yet, though the amount of the chalky-white material
in FS-2 assemblages leads me to believe that it was of local origin.
As I indicated
in the introduction, very little attention has been paid to the debitage in Epipaleolithic and
Neolithic assemblages; work has usually focused on the larger, obviously worked
"tools" such as projectile points. In fact, until fairly recently, debitage was not even collected as artifactual. As my
preliminary results indicate, however, there is a great deal of information
that can be gained from an analysis of this material.
First, the use
of raw materials seems to be much more varied in the Epipaleolithic.
This could result from several causes. First, the Epipaleolithic
seems to be characteristic of small mobile bands of hunter-gatherers, while the
Neolithic seems to contain evidence of rather more sedentary populations. The
more mobile Epipaleolithic people could have
encountered and used many more sources of lithic raw materials in their yearly
wanderings. If the Neolithic inhabitants were in fact less mobile than their Epipaleolithic counterparts, they would have had a more
restricted range to choose from. This would not preclude them from making
special trips to non-local areas to obtain raw material. However, the fact that
the Neolithic assemblages can be grouped rather more readily into raw material
types does suggest that they were obtaining their material from several
The presence of
the chalky-white cortex material only at FS-2 may indicate two possibilities.
If this material is, in fact, of local origin, and was not utilized by the
Neolithic artisans, it could indicate that some mechanical aspect of this
material made it unsuitable for Neolithic tool-making,
rather than some aspect of accessibility. If it is
non-local, it would indicate either that its mechanical properties made the
acquisition of this material too costly, or simply not within the range of
Second, the debitage indicates that reduction in the Neolithic was much
more complete and complex than in the Epipaleolithic.
This would be consistent with the notion of Neolithic artisans making special
trips to more distant (and more difficult to obtain) sources for raw materials.
These more costly materials would be used more fully than less costly
materials, resulting in a more complete and complex reduction sequence. Decortification, to reduce carrying weight and/or to insure
quality, may also take place at the source rather than on-site resulting in
less cortical flakes in the FS1-A debitage.
Third, there is
a great deal of functional information in the debitage.
There do not appear to be significant differences in the percentage of utilized
flakes in these assemblages, nor in the number of instances of wear per flake.
This suggests a certain amount of functional continuity between the Epipaleolithic and Neolithic, though the type of wear in
each assemblage has yet to be fully examined. Even so, the very presence of
numbers this high is surprising in light of past research into stone tools from
interpretations however, the locations at which tool manufacture took place
needs to be considered. From the debitage analysis,
it seems as though more of the entire reduction process occurred at the
Neolithic site of FS-1. This would mean that most of the waste material from
the production of tools was, in fact, located on this site and was recovered in
my samples. However, if the Epipaleolithic peoples
were obtaining their materials from the same source as the Neolithic artisans,
but carrying out the reduction process at various locations, most of which were
not located within my sampling space, the raw material characteristics could
look different. It is possible that within their yearly round, tool production
was carried out throughout the entire range of movement, FS-2 being only one
site in this range. To what degree this may affect the distribution of raw
materials is unclear. A more detailed analysis will surely illuminate this
I have tried to
show that there is a great deal of information in the non-tool portion of late
prehistoric lithic assemblages. The tools themselves are just the end product
of a process of raw material collection, manufacture, use, re-manufacture, and
discard. Each of these steps is bound together with other aspects of the
settlement and subsistence system of the prehistoric artisans, and in each step
there is the potential for a great deal of variation that can affect the final
form that the tools eventually take. Thus, a detailed study of each aspect of
the manufacturing process is essential to a complete study of this tool
variability. I have demonstrated that there is a significant amount of
functional variation in the debitage, indicating that
this material was not just incidental to the manufacturing process, but was an
integral part of the prehistoric tool kit. I have also shown that there are
significant differences in the reduction process between the two periods. A
more complete analysis of these and other aspects of lithic variation will, I
believe, give a more complete picture of the range of changes that took place
in this important period in Egyptian history.
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