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[Egyptian Limestone Plateau: Prehistoric links between the Desert and the Nile]
[Landscape and prehistoric land use in the Gilf Kebir (Southwest Egypt)]
[The Archaeology of Regenfeld, Great Sand Sea of Egypt]
[The Abu Gerara Survey connecting Dakhla and Djara]
[New Results about the Clayton Rings - Earliest Desert Travellers in North-East Africa]

[A Prehistoric Game Trap in the Great Sand Sea of Egypt]
[Khartoum-styled pottery in Egypt]
[NEAPPO - North East African Prehistoric Pottery]

[Project-Cooperation (E1) - Landuse potential of archaeological regions of interest]


Egyptian Limestone Plateau: Prehistoric links between the Desert and the Nile

Karin Kindermann

A number of links – notably several artefact types and technological features – point to contacts between Neolithic and Predynastic sites of the Nile Valley and Mid-Holocene groups in the “Western Desert”. This research project focuses on archeaological features from the so called “Limestone Plateau”  between the Egyptian oases and the Nile Valley.

Directly in the centre of this plateau, only 15 km away from the Abu Muharik-dune train, the archeaological site “Djara” is situated next to an old camel track, connecting Farafra and Assiut. A lot of different bifacially retouched stone tools were found, for example various sorts of arrowheads, knives, leafpoints and side-blow flakes. Some circular scrapers and especially bifacial retouched knives are comparable to predynastic as well as to neolithic stone artefacts, although the sites yield already Middle Neolithic dates. Four facially retouched arrowheads, found in a fireplace, were dated into the Middle Neolithic with radiocarbon datings among 5.630 and 5.360 calBC. Just as most of the archaeological sites on the Limestone Plateau belong to neolithic periods.

The Djara region appears as the core of a settlement area with a diameter of nearly 10 by 5 km. Here we observed several sites with an extraordinary richness of lithic artefacts. More than one reason is responsible for this kind of conglomeration in the middle of the Egyptian Plateau, several natural favorable factors encounter. It seems to be that in former times water was temporarily available here in good years. Over and above that, various local flint deposits and workshops document a surplus of raw material for a stone artefact-production.

An aim for our further research is to get more informations about the economical and environmental conditions on the Egyptian Plateau, also about different strategies of land use and the spatial concepts. What are the reasons for such a concentration of sites and how do they interact?


DJARA - dripstone cave
(Abu Muhariq Plateau, Egypt)



Landscape and prehistoric land use in the Gilf Kebir (Southwest Egypt)

Jörg Linstädter

The Gilf Kebir Plateau is situated in the far Southwest of Egypt, to the South of the Great Sand Sea and about 650 km to the west of the Nile valley. Although nowadays part of one of the earth’s most arid deserts, the valleys of the Gilf Kebir offered favourable conditions for prehistoric settlement during the so-called “Neolithic wet phase” from the middle of the 7th to the middle of the 4th millennium BC.

Human occupation was favoured by the fact that wadis were blocked by north-south trending dunes which resulted in the formation of temporary lakes (playas) upvalley. Since the early eighties numerous sites in the vicinity of the playa and the barrier dune in the Wadi Bakht were excavated. They were dated in the Middle Neolithic (6500-4350 calBC) and the Late Neolithic (4350-3500 calBC).

Since the Middle and the Late Neolithic are clearly distinguished by their material culture, one of the research subjects is to find out whether the various lithic inventories can be related to different mode of production in regard t different strategies of land use.


The Archaeology of Regenfeld, Great Sand Sea of Egypt

Heiko Riemer

Between 1996 and 2000 archaeological excavations and regional surveys were conducted in the southern Great Sand Sea of Egypt by interdisciplinary teams of the ACACIA project. A study region, named "Regenfeld", was selected for detailed analysis of the geophysical units, environmental conditions and settlement patterns. The chronological affiliation of surveyed sites shows temporary activities of prehistoric desert dwellers during the Holocene pluvial lasting approximately from 9500 to 6400 bp (c. 8900-5300 BC). Although the palaeo-environmental archives clearly indicate a Holocene "wet-phase" during that period, the southern Great Sand Sea was an arid environment with scarce and highly variable key resources, such as surface water. The analysis of the sites and their artefact assemblages indicates that the dwellers were highly mobile hunters and gatherers, covering hundreds of kilometres during their episodic rounds through the desert. The settings of sites within the landscape clearly indicate camp-site concentration around sources of open water. The Regenfeld playa was situated in the northern part of the region. Archaeological work was concentrated on the western shore line of the playa and the Pleistocene dune (draa). Camp sites were mostly found on the fossil dunes covered by the recent active dune sand (seif). Among the ACACIA sites, Regenfeld yielded the most detailed chronological sequence during the Early Holocene or Epipalaeolithic grouped into three major phases. Archaeobotanical and -zoological results are available for the most sites of the entire Regenfeld sequence indicating desert conditions during the Holocene "wet" phase.


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Section of the dune train and the adjacent playa deposits of Regenfeld playa. 96/1 is one of the archaeological sites on the fossil dune (draa)

Excavation and cross section on the foot of the fossil dune in 1997 (site Regenfeld 96/1)

Surveying site Regenfeld 96/1 at the lower dune slope

Geoarchaeological work in the southern Great Sand Sea during a two-weeks sandstorm in 1996




GEHLEN, B., KINDERMANN, K., LINSTÄDTER, J. & H. RIEMER 2002. The Holocene Occupation of the Eastern Sahara: Regional Chronologies and Supra-regional Developments in four Areas of the Absolute Desert. In: Jennerstr. 8 (Eds.), Tides of the desert - Gezeiten der Wüste. Contributions to the Archaeology and Environmental History of Africa in Honour of Rudolph Kuper. Africa Praehistorica 14. Köln 2002 (Heinrich-Barth-Institut e.V.): 85-116.

RIEMER, H. (2000) Regenfeld 96/1-Great Sand Sea and the question of human settlement on whaleback dunes. In: KRZYZANIAK, L., KROEPER, K. & M. KOBUSIEWICZ, eds., Recent Research Into the Stone Age of Northeastern Africa. Studies in African Archaeology 7, Poznan 2000 (Poznan Archaeological Museum): 21-31.

RIEMER, H. (2003) The "Re-conquest" of the Great Sand Sea. In: HAWASS, Z. & L. PINCH BROCK, eds., Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists. Cairo 2003 (American University in Cairo Press): 408-415.



The Abu Gerara Survey connecting Dakhla and Djara

Heiko Riemer

ACACIA's geoarchaeological survey of Abu Gerara was conducted between 1996 and 2001. On the way from the Dakhla Oasis to the sites of Djara some 120 km north of Abu Gerara the fields along the routes have been prospected for prehistoric sites, vegetation habitats, drainage systems, soils etc. After discovering several sites some 80 km north-east of Dakhla, a number of localities were selected for surface collections and test excavations.
Numerous potsherds have been collected from the sites of Abu Gerara which show parallels to the Dakhla-Abu Tartur region.

In Comparison with the lithic assemblages from the Djara sites, the collection from Abu Gerara 98/5 shows distinct similarities. Diagnostic tools as adzes, knives and side-blow flakes indicate an age between 7000-6000 BP associated to the Djara B unit. Abu Gerara also shows a similarity to the Late Bashendi A and Bashendi B units in Dachla. As to the later Sheikh Muftah unit, there are only very few remains in Abu Gerara (such as Clayton rings). This picture corresponds well with the general climatic trend. According to these relative-chronological approaches, two radiocarbon dates from site 98/5 and 99/28 fall into the hiatus of the Bashendi A-B transition, c. 6850-6500 bp.

We take into account that all known sites outside the oases were non-permanent camp sites because of the limited water supply. Far ranging contacts connecting the oases and the Nile Valley have been evidenced by remains of the Nile mollusc Aspatharia rubens in Djara and Abu Gerara. The parallels of the lithic tool kit around the Limestone Plateau, as bifacial retouch, adzes, side-blow flakes, to name but a few, suggest a network of contacts. Abu Gerara may have had closer contacts to the southern Dakhla-Kharga region while Djara could have served as stepping stone between the Nile Valley and the Oases.


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Side-blow flake from Abu Gerara

Bifacially retouched knife from Abu Gerara made of caramel flint


RIEMER, H. in press. Abu Gerara: Mid-Holocene sites between Djara and Dakhla Oasis. In: Cultural Markers in the Later Prehistory of Northeastern Africa and Our Recent Research. International Symposium Puszykowo, Poznan 2000.



New Results about the Clayton Rings - Earliest Desert Travellers in North-East Africa

Heiko Riemer

When Cologne's ACACIA project started in 1995, the main objective of our research was the cultural development and the environmental and climatic adaptation of the desert dwellers during the Holocene wet phase, which lasted from approximately 9500-6000 bp (c. 9000 to 5000 BC). The desert was a green habitat and populated during this period, but it rapidly changed into an inhospitable and depopulated area after hyper-arid conditions set in at about 6000 bp (c.5000 BC). It was, therefore, surprising to find evidence for a later, but previously unknown, use of the deserts west of the Nile when the ACACIA project was still in its initial phase. Since then an impressive number of sites have been discovered, distributed over a large area of the Eastern Sahara, which contained an enigmatic type of pottery. In 2000 we summarized the preliminary evidence regarding this nearly unknown ancient pottery type (RIEMER & KUPER 2000). The Pottery consists of standardized rings open at both ends, which are always found together with perforated disks.
About 20 sites containing the rings were known when that article was written. The majority of these sites were discovered and surveyed by the ACACIA expeditions between 1995 and 2000. Three further examples were collected in the northern Sudan during one of the B.O.S. expeditions in the early 1980s. Parallels were already known from a site, which was discovered by P.A. Clayton during his desert expedition in 1930-31, east of Gebel Kamil in Egypt's Southwest Desert. As a descriptive term was still lacking for this pottery, and in honour of this great geographer, we named them "Clayton rings".
At the moment, Clayton rings or disks are known from nearly 40 sites found within the ACACIA project area, together containing about 150 rings.

Sites with Clayton rings are spread over all desert areas of the Eastern Sahara. In the north, there are sites on the Limestone or Abu Muhariq Plateau between the oases and the Nile Valley. A disk on the southern plateau between Luxor and Kharga had already been published by Caton-Thompson in 1952. She also mentioned a number of other sites known from the literature or personal communication. To the west, there is the site of Mirmala 00/10 in the inhospitable dune fields of the Great Sand Sea near the Libyan border, and more than 200 km away from any settled area or source of water. In the south, two sites are known from Wadi Shaw in northern Sudan, and there are a number of new examples from the Nubian Nile.
Clayton rings were also found in the Eastern Desert. At about the same time that Clayton discovered his site G.W. Murray also found a similar ring on the top of a hill north of Aswan. In 1938 his wife found a single pot and five rings and three disks. The single pot was dated to the First or Second Dynasty. Murray noted that this type of pottery had not yet been found during excavations within the Nile Valley, but was already known from the Western Desert. He was informed by Clayton, his colleague from the Egyptian Desert Survey, about his site, and by John Ball, who mentioned half a dozen disks "perhaps in the Sheb-Tarfawi area" discovered during one of the expeditions of the late Prince Kemal ed-Din. Murray also published a photograph of H.A. Winkler showing a Clayton ring from Winkler's site 68 east of Tineidah in Dakhla Oasis. In the wider environs of the oasis a number of locations with Clayton rings have been documented by the ACACIA expeditions over the past seven years.
With the exception of a small number of other locations, the distribution is clearly confined to the Western and Eastern Deserts, however until now there is still no evidence of Clayton rings from the Egyptian Nile Valley.

Most sites lack meaningful structures or recognizable arrangements of pottery. In many cases the rings and disks have been found as loose single finds. Only a small number of sites produced assemblages that probably were in their original state. The placement of pottery caches on rocky hills has been confirmed as a characteristic by many sites. As to the meaning and use of such caches, we tend to the interpretation that they do not represent their state in use, but probably have been stored to await the return of their owner.

At present, three radiocarbon dates are associated with the Clayton rings, which places the Rings in the Late Predynastic or Early Dynastic 4400-4500 bp (c. 3100/3000 BC). Bir Sahara (excavated by Wendorf, and recently studied by Gatto) not only contained Clayton rings, but also produced a small number of other pots that were identified by Gatto as A-Group and Egyptian Naqada III pottery. The Clayton rings and disks from Dakhla Oasis mentioned by Hope came from the Sheikh Muftah cultural unit. Only two 14C-dates are available for this period, which fall at about 5000 and 4300 bp (c. 3800 and 2900 BC), but the archaeological evidence indicates that the local Sheikh Muftah material survived until the Sixth Dynasty. It has been noticed during the past two years of the ACACIA project that Clayton rings are also observed on Old Kingdom sites. Along the Abu Ballas Trail, which was probably a Pharaonic route connecting Dakhla with the far west many of the Old Kingdom stations bear Clayton rings.

Recent research has revealed many details about the Clayton rings, but little is known about their function and use. A detailed analysis of use-wear traces did not produce significant results. Remnants of contents have not yet been observed. The functional interpretation of the Clayton rings is currently reduced to less fruitful analogies and speculations.
Although direct evidence regarding the use of the rings is lacking, we can make some assumptions based on the climatic and environmental background in which they must have been used. From the data outlined above it is evident that Clayton rings are predominantly found in the desert. The dating indicates to a Late Predynastic or Early Dynastic age, clustering at the time around 4400 bp (3100/3200 BC). It has generally been accepted that the Holocene wet period with episodic rainfalls ended after approximately 6000 bp (5000 BC). After this time, there was neither a revival of long-lasting rains over the desert nor a resettlement of the desert territories. The desert areas are nearly void of archaeological material dating to the period after 6000 bp (5000 BC) with the exception of the Clayton rings. These facts give rise to fundamental questions about the rings: What were people doing in the desert, some 2000 years after it had become hyper-arid; and how did they survive when living conditions were obviously not sufficient to support a resettlement of the desert?
Because of the general absence of other cultural material at the desert sites in which Clayton rings are found, these sites can be clearly identified as short-term transitory camps. Most probably the Clayton rings are part of special subsistence strategies or techniques for desert travel. Such techniques include the ability to transport enough water and food for the desert journey. It might be reasonable to suggest that the crossing of the desert was aided or at least initiated by the domestication of the wild donkey. Nevertheless, the distribution of Clayton rings over the inhospitable areas of the desert from Egypt to northern Sudan and to the western boundaries of the Great Sand Sea clearly shows that the people were well-prepared for such long distance desert travel.


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Clayton ring and disk

Clayton ring and disk

Small Clayton ring cache in a rock niche (Great Sand Sea)

Detail of the cache

Distribution of Clayton rings and disks




RIEMER, H. & R. KUPER 2000. "Clayton rings": enigmatic ancient pottery in the Eastern Sahara. Sahara 12, 2000: 91-100, Pl. G-I.

RIEMER, H. in press. News about the Clayton Rings: Long Distance Desert Travellers during Egypt's Predynastic.Hendrickx, S., Friedman, R.F., Cialowicz, K.M. & Chlodnicki, M. (eds.), Egypt at ist Origins. Studies in Memory of Barbara Adams. Proceedings of the International Conference "Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt", Krakow 28th August - 1st September 2002. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta. Leuven in press: Peeters Publishing.



A Prehistoric Game Trap in the Great Sand Sea of Egypt

Heiko Riemer

Regenfeld 96/28 is a 4 km long stone alignment in the southern Great Sand Sea of Egypt. Surveying the structure of the walls, and comparing it with parallels led to the assumption of a game drive or trap. The field survey in the surrounds produced some hearth mounds and a small lithic collection. The artefacts and the predominant flaking technique tend towards a late Early or Mid-Holocene age, c. 7700-6000 BP (c. 6500-4900 BC calibrated), before hyperaridity set in in the Eastern Sahara. Although archaeological evidence of a killing site is still vague because hunting tools as well as bones of butchered wild animals have not been observed on site 96/28, the game drive idea forms the most plausible interpretation.
The site consists of a single stone line ranging about 4 km from the middle of the inter-dune street in the east towards the dune in the north-west. Along the main wall a number of blind walls occurs almost all facing to the north or north-east. The length of the blind walls varies between c. 30 m and 400 m. The walls are made of black-weathered sandstone blocks. They seldom exceeded 50 cm in height and most were 20 or 30 cm high.


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Main wall of the game drive

Blind wall




Riemer, H. in press. Holocene game drives in the Great Sand Sea of Egypt?
Stone structures and their archaeological evidence. Sahara.


Khartoum-styled pottery in Egypt

Heiko Riemer

The earliest dates connected to Khartoum-styled pottery in Egypt are those of Bir Kiseiba and Nabta Playa. Looking on the other available data, it becomes obvious that around 7500 BP a pottery horizon marked by a mineral tempered fabric decorated with dotted zigzag patterns appear in the southern and south-western part of Egypt's Libyan Desert. Decoration techniques, especially the application of the rocker stamp technique to apply the zigzag patterns, as well as the decoration patterns permit the inclusion of these sites in the larger "Khartoum techno-complex". The sites presented here can be considered the northernmost outpost of this complex. The northern distribution reaches the oases of Dakhla (and Farafra?), and the southern limestone Plateau in Abu Tartur. It seems to us that the Khartoum-styled ceramic is an exotic influx of nomads or mobile hunter-gatherers coming from the south, however, the comb found on one of the Eastpans sites point to a local production. In any case, the identical decoration and the unity of the quartz-rich fabric indicate that the pottery was produced within the same cultural tradition.
Following the dates running on organic tempered potsherds in the Glass Area, it seems to us that there was a second horizon later on, which shares with the earlier one an identical decoration, but not the same temper.


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Khartoum decoration on a vessel from Khufu 02/14 (Packed dotted zigzag)

Comb made of quartzitic sandstone from Eastpans 95/2, such as used for the zigzag decoration



RIEMER, H. & F. JESSE in press. When decoration made its way: the northern extent of Khartoum-styled pottery in the eastern Sahara. Proceeding of the Nubian Studies Conference, Roma 2002.




NEAPPO - North East African Prehistoric Pottery
Comparative data base on prehistoric potsherds from the B.O.S. and ACACIA projects.


Heiko Riemer

The concept of fabrics is one of the aims in ceramic studies to derive information about cultural traditions, chronology, ceramic techniques and so on. One of the difficulties of temper and fabric analysis is the absence of comparable information in publications. There is a need of more detailed data and standards in fabric analysis.

Therefore information on prehistoric pottery from the Eastern Sahara will be collected in the NEAPPO data base. The information presented here are additional data, such as on the technical process, pictures and short descriptions of characteristic potsherds. Detailed descriptions and interpretations will be published in monographs and articles.

Work in progress on the following subjects and regions:

  • Wadi Bahkt, Gilf Kebir (Gregor Wagner & Jörg Linstädter)
  • Abu Tartur (Heiko Riemer & Peter Schönfeld)
  • The Prehistoric Pottery of the Egyptian Limestone Plateau (Heiko Riemer & Peter Schönfeld)

Further Informations:




Project-Cooperation (E1)

Landuse potential of archaeological regions of interest



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