DMP VI: Preliminary results from 2009 fieldwork on the human prehistory of the Libyan Sahara

M. Mirazón Lahr, Robert Foley, Federica Crivellaro, Mercedes Okumura, Lisa Maher, Tom Davies, Djuke Veldhuis, Alex Wilshaw, David Mattingly

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This paper reports on the work carried out during the 2009 field season of the prehistory sub-theme of the Desert Migrations Project. The work consisted of detailed survey and small-scale excavations in two wadis that drain the Messak Settafet, near the town of Jarma. Both wadis were found to contain evidence of Palaeolithic and Neolithic occupation, as well as of having been used as migratory routes between the Ubari and Murzuq sand seas. One of the wadis (WJAR-E-O1) was surveyed intensely along a few kilometers of its tributary margins. This revealed archaeological material ranging from Oldowan (Mode 1) to historic. The distribution of the various industries and structures had a distinct spatial patterning; the Palaeolithic scatters were spatially discrete, but Holocene remains were often found superimposed on earlier industries. Among the finds were a spatially discrete Oldowan assemblage, an extensive Acheulean industry which included the exploitation of fossil wood as a raw material, the identification of at least five major outcrops of fossil trees, and a number of more recent structures dating from Neolithic to Islamic times and consisting of graves, cairns, rock engravings, and stone features. Middle Stone Age lithics, so predominant over the surface of the Messak plateau, were absent. The second wadi (WJAR-W-02) was geomorphologically different, being comparatively narrow and deeply incised, and containing a number of terraces on the wadi bed resulting from cut and infill processes in the past. The surface of these terraces contained an extensive Aterian lithic industry, while evidence of late Holocene use of the area was also recorded in the form of Tifinagh inscriptions, rock engravings, cairns and graves. Besides mapping the archaeological distributions, a number of trenches were dug at the edge of the river terraces. These revealed an in situ stratigraphic sequence, within which Aterian lithics were found at a depth of > 1 m. Samples for OSL dating were taken. Overall, the work of the 2009 field season was extremely successful in that, besides the fascinating range of archaeological material recorded and studied, it provided important insights into the role of the north-south wadis that cross the Messak, the southern boundary of the area being explored by the DMP, and their differential use in prehistory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-153
JournalLibyan Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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