Mota man is from the Land of Punt?

This news of the genetics of Mota man proving that Middle Eastern farmers migrated into Africa 4,500 years ago has me scratching my head. Didn’t we already know that? 4,500 years ago was during the Fourth (!) Dynasty of Egypt. 4,500 years ago is historical times, even if the record is a bit sparser. The Nature article states:

Radiocarbon dating suggested that the man died around 4,500 years ago — before the proposed time of the Eurasian migrations and the advent of agriculture in eastern Africa.

Who proposed that time? Even without Mota man, it sounds weird. Agriculture by their own estimate arose 9,000 years ago (and I’m betting more like 13,000 years ago) and to think that it took several thousand years to reach East Africa from the Middle East, when there clearly was already farming in Egypt 4,500 years ago is peculiar. Pyramids were being built!

Hell, what about Nubia? Kerma culture was flourishing. Sudan is next door to Kenya. They certainly weren’t hunter-gatherers.

Better yet… remember the Land of Punt?! It was to the southeast of Egypt. Its exact location has yet to be nailed down, but obviously it did exist and it wouldn’t be far removed from Mota Cave. When was the first recorded trading expedition between Egypt and Punt? Yep…. 2,500 BC. How on earth would Egyptians be cruising up and down the Red Sea for luxury items trade with Stone Age hunter-gatherers? Agriculture penetrated Africa well before 4,500 years ago.

In stumbling around sites looking for the obvious proof, this article about there being a mega-drought in Egypt 4,200 years ago, which closed the era of the Old Kingdom. It also mentions:

Similarly, pollen and charcoal evidence recorded two other large droughts: one that occurred some 5,000 to 5,500 years ago and another that occurred around 3,000 years ago.

These events are also recorded in human history — the first one started some 5,000 years ago when the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt occurred and the Uruk Kingdom in modern Iraq collapsed. The second event, some 3,000 years ago, took place in the eastern Mediterranean and is associated with the fall of the Ugarit Kingdom and famines in the Babylonian and Syrian Kingdoms.

Those were some pretty good reasons for people to move around a lot. I’m still convinced agriculture already existed in East Africa prior to 4,500 years ago, but perhaps that mega-drought 5,000 years ago is where the admixture from the Middle East came from. There very well could be another mega-drought prior to that one that pressured migrations even earlier.

two possible secret doors in Tutankhamun’s tomb

Huh. This theory about Tutankhamun’s tomb actually being Nefertiti’s tomb and there are hidden chambers feels like an old one, but apparently it’s only last February that two possible secret doors have been detected while analyzing scans made of the chamber in a project to create a replica. It’ll be three more months before radar equipment will be brought in to confirm whether these truly are hidden passages.

Damned red tape.

4,000 year old Egyptian manuscript rediscovered

The eight foot long, leather manuscript has been on a shelf in Cairo, Egypt for the past 70 years.

Basically a portable religious manuscript, the more than 4,000-year-old roll, contains depictions of divine and supernatural beings which predate the famous drawings found in the Book of the Dead manuscripts and the so-called Netherworld Books from the New Kingdom onwards (1550 B.C. onwards).


6,500 year old burial in Egypt

More interesting work done in the Western Desert in Egypt:

Another interesting find, according to Prof. Kabaci?ski, is also the burial of a man whose body, after the burial, was showered with fragments of broken pottery, stone products and lumps of red dye. The remains of the deceased were also unusual – anthropologists noticed the pathology of numerous bones in the form of overgrowth of femoral bone, fractures and abnormal bone adhesions. Above his head archaeologists found a fragment of Dorcas gazelle skull with horns, which probably served as a headdress, worn during a ceremony. Similar finds known from European Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites suggest that it is a grave of a person who performed magical rites, perhaps associated with hunting – the researchers suggest.

In another grave they found stone slabs lining the cavity of a grave, which was previously unknown practice in the area.

rediscovery of the “Headless Pyramid” of Menkauhor

The pyramid is described as “headless” as only the base of it remains, which also explains why it was lost again, as it was easily recovered by the desert sands. It’s believed to be from the Fifth Dynasty (constructed between 2,465 BC and 2,325 BC) and during the reign of the pharoah Menkauhor Kaiu (the second most obscure pharaoh of that dynasty) although a cartouche with his name has yet to be found.

Heh. Out of context, the Headless Pyramid of Menkauhor sounds nicely ominous.

Ruins of 7,000-year-old city found in Egypt oasis

This story will definitely have follow-ups i hope to see:

CAIRO (AFP) – A team of US archaeologists has discovered the ruins of a city dating back to the period of the first farmers 7,000 years ago in Egypt‘s Fayyum oasis, the supreme council of antiquities said on Tuesday.

“An electromagnetic survey revealed the existence in the Karanis region of a network of walls and roads similar to those constructed during the Greco-Roman period,” the council’s chief Zahi Hawwas said.

The remnants of the city are “still buried beneath the sand and the details of this discovery will be revealed in due course,” Hawwas said.

“The artefacts consist of the remains of walls and houses in terracotta or dressed limestone as well as a large quantity of pottery and the foundations of ovens and grain stores,” he added.

The remains date back to the Neolithic period between 5,200 and 4,500 BC.

The local director of antiquities, Ahmed Abdel Alim, said the site was just seven kilometres (four miles) from Fayyum lake and would probably have lain at the water’s edge at the time it was inhabited.

RSS alert feeds failed me that time, as i’ve seen this from several blogs, but have yet to spot the story in the actual news folder. I wonder how much else i’m missing out on.

paleolithic toolkit found in Jordan

It is the sickle that i’m the most curious about. The article states that it was used in the harvesting of wild grains, but agriculture of sorts had already been developed in Egypt. The wikipedia entry on the neolithic revolution of agriculture mentions the Sebilian and Mechian cultures in Egypt, dating from an earlier period from this Jordanian toolkit, as a “false dawn” for agriculture. This double-bladed sickle seems to be a little sophisticated for the gathering of wild grain, in my wildly uninformed opinion. If the tool is that stylized, then the technology seems that it would be relatively established. 

Maybe that “false dawn” in Egypt was not so false after all, as the technology could have spread west through the Fertile Crescent and advanced. The gap of a couple of thousand years of evidence of agriculture is still possible to turn up. The Natufians are already well-known known with the advent of agriculture, but how do the other sickles that have been found compare to this one, and how old are they?

Here’s the article on the kit:

Washington, Dec 31 (ANI): Archaeologists have discovered a 14,000 year old bag of tools near the wall of a roundhouse residence in a site called Wadi Hammeh 27 in Jordan, which provides a glimpse into the daily life of a prehistoric hunter-gatherer.

According to a report in Discovery News, the contents of this ancient toolkit show that its owner, belonging to the Natufian culture, was well equipped to hunt for meat and edible plants in the wild.

“There was a sickle for harvesting wild wheat or barley, a cluster of flint spearheads, a flint core for making more spearheads, some smooth stones (maybe slingshots), a large stone (maybe for striking flint pieces off the flint core), a cluster of gazelle toe bones which were used to make beads, and part of a second bone tool,” said Phillip Edwards, a senior lecturer in the Archaeology Program at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.

The sickle, constructed out of two carefully grooved horn pieces, was fitted with color-matched tan and gray bladelets.

The rest of the items were designed to immobilize and then kill game such as aurochs, red deer, hares, storks, partridges, owls, tortoises and the major source of meat -gazelles.

“A lone hunter or a group of hunters might wait for gazelles to cross their path while waiting behind a low ‘hide’ made of twigs and brush,” explained Edwards.

“They might have worked on making bone beads to wile away the time. Then a hunter could get off a shot while the animals were off their guard. A first shot might wound, but not kill, and then a hunter or a group of them will track the wounded animal,” he added.

Archaeologists believe that these tools were enclosed in a hide or wickerwork bag with a strap that would have been worn over the shoulder. Because such bags rarely had compartments, the owner probably protected valuable items by wrapping them in rolls of bark or leather before placing them at the bottom of the bag.

“The clustering of these items is due to a decision made by some Natufian individual,” said Francois Valla, director of the French Research Center in Jerusalem and a noted archaeologist. “As such, it is a rare testimony of the behavior of a person 14,000 years ago,” he added.

But, the bags owner wasnt necessarily a man because women are thought to have been in charge of plant gathering.

The tools, therefore, either belonged to a woman hunter-gatherer, or work activities were more gender-blind than thought during prehistoric times, Edwards told Discovery News.

The toolkit’s showpiece item, its double-bladed sickle, is now on display in the museum of the Faculty of Archaeology & Anthropology at Jordan’s Yarmouk University. (ANI)

Kingdom of Yam found 700 miles west of the Nile

It’s quite cool to see that Carlo Bergmann expedition into the Sahara has apparently identified the Kingdom of Yam, 700 miles west of the Nile:

Explorers just returning from the Sahara desert have claimed they found a remarkable relic from Pharaonic times.

Mark Borda and Mahmoud Marai, from Malta and Egypt respectively, were surveying a field of boulders on the flanks of a hill deep in the Libyan desert some 700 kilometres west of the Nile Valley when engravings on a large rock consisting of hieroglyphic writing, Pharaonic cartouche, an image of the king and other Pharaonic iconography came into view.

Mr Borda would not reveal the precise location in order to protect the site.

He explained the far-reaching implications of the find for Egyptology. “Although very active in the Eastern Desert, as attested to by the innumerable inscriptions they left behind, there is very little evidence for the presence of the ancient Egyptians in the much larger and harsher Western Desert.

“The consensus among Egyptologists is that the Egyptians did not penetrate this desert any further than the area around Djedefre’s Water Mountain. This is a sandstone hill about 80 kilometres south west of the Dakhla Oasis that contains hieroglyphic inscriptions. Its discovery in 2003 by the German explorer Carlo Bergmann caused a sensation as it extended the activities of the Pharaonic administrations an unprecedented 80 kilometres further out into the unknown and waterless Western Desert. The find we just made is some 650 kilometres further on!! Egyptologists will be dumbstruck by this news.”

But that is not all. As soon as he emerged from the desert Mr Borda flew to London to discuss the find with Maltese Egyptologist Aloisia De Trafford from the Institute of Archaeology (University College London).

She immediately facilitated a preliminary decipherment of the text via Joe Clayton, an ancient languages specialist who lectures on hieroglyphic writing at Birkbeck College at the same university.

Mr Borda continues, “Within a matter of days the short text was yielding astonishing revelations. In the annals of Egyptian history there are references to far off lands that the pharaohs had traded with but none of these have ever been positively located.

“It turns out that the script we found states the name of the region where it was carved, which is none other than the fabled land of Yam, one of the most famous and mysterious nations that the Egyptians had traded with in Old Kingdom times; a source of precious tropical woods and ivory.

“Its location has been debated by Egyptologists for over 150 years but it was never imagined it could be 700 kilometres west of the Nile in the middle of the Sahara desert.”

Speculation about the extent to which the Egyptians penetrated the Western Desert gained momentum in the 1990s when it was determined that caches of pottery discovered all along the Abu Ballas Trail by Bergmann, where determined to be of XVIIIth Dynasty manufacture.

During this period it was also realised that the central stone in the famous Tutankamun pectoral was made of Libyan Desert Glass, which is only found just north of the Gilf, 700 kilometres west of the Nile. Egyptologists however, concluded that the Egyptian pottery on the Abu Ballas Trail was probably transported there by desert dwellers who were trading with the Egyptians, and that Tutankamun’s natural glass also got to the Nile via such desert peoples.

Last year Mr Borda was the main sponsor and also a participant in Carlo Bergmann’s expedition to the Gilf Kebir, the aim of which was to find evidence that the ancient Egyptians had crossed the Western Desert and reached the Gilf.

Mr Marai who specialises in providing desert transport for adventurers and explorers supplied the vehicle back up. The expedition involved walking the entire distance on foot with camels carrying essential supplies and surveying the ground along the way.

After the 2006 expedition Mr Borda resolved to do this year’s expedition with vehicles that would allow a much greater area to be covered.

The search would focus on hieroglyphic writing which, if found on immovable surfaces such as boulders, hillsides and so on, would be positive proof for Egyptologists that the pharaohs has organised long range trading, diplomatic and prospecting missions very deep into the desert.

He thus contracted Mr Marai to provide the transport and together they searched two routes between the oasis of Abu Munqar and Jebel Uweinat, a total distance of about 1,400 kilometres.

Numerous boulders, rocky ridges and hillsides the length and breadth of these routes were inspected before they eventually made the discovery.

A trip is being planned in February to show the site to Egyptologists and journalists.

I’m still waiting for the final word on Punt though.  It’s going to turn up one of these years.