Filling In The Gaps

Many of our challenges with understanding prehistorical civilizations lie in determining the context of what we find at archaeological sites. It is often hard to date items, especially when there are few sites to compare them to. Many times civilizations are built on existing sites, which limits the amount of excavation that can be done. Finally, because of war, climate change, and other migratory forces, sites are often abandoned and establishing long term occupancy observations are rare.

That is why when sites like the 7,000 year old farming village in the Faiyum depression yield new information about Neolithic life, it becomes groundbreaking news. Early discoveries at this site revealed imported sheep, goats, and pigs, as well as grain showing early trade with the Middle East. These first digs dated the site to around 5200 BC, and contributed evidence to establish the earliest possible dates of large-scale domestication.

This was before, in 1920. However, archaeologists have revisited the site because it has become threatened by the agriculture industry and its expansion. New magnetic surveys revealed undisturbed habitat piling up for one whole meter, meaning life there could be looked at pre 5200 BC, and that this life may be continual. They discovered “numerous hearths containing carbonized grain, postholes…, and the remains of domesticated animals.” IT also showed continuous occupation which allows researchers to look at the changes over time.

Since this new excavation began, they have been able to piece together 1) A Neolithic diet, 2) Earlier roots of domestication, 3) Housing that was previously unknown, 4) Earlier dates of trade (as evidenced by pig remains), and 5) more evidence for personal adornment (as evidenced by “ostrich shell beads, a bangle cut from a Red Sea shell, a finger ring, and a slew of pendants”. Perhaps the most intriguing find was an unfired clay pot, the earliest known piece to survive from that area,

This find helps fill in a phase that was poorly known in Egypt’s past. It changes notions of the Neolithic as a primitive and disconnected society compared to later Egyptian culture. It shows the stability of habitation in the region that was previously not evident. Most importantly, it shows early trade with the Middle East, helps lend evidence to the roots of Egyptian agriculture, and hopefully will one day help map the evolution and spread of farming throughout the African Subcontinent.