Archaeological Mission In Farafra Oasis
Presented by Naglaa Habib El Zahlawi

The working mission "La Sapienza", University of Rome organized their 10th annual field campaign as from 5th November to 11th December 1999 assisted by Dr. Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, Ein Shams University to establish a geomorphologic study of the Farafra depression in coordination with Dr.Fikri Hassan, University College, London. Fieldwork developed in different sectors where archaeological activities concentrated on excavations carried in The Hidden Valley Village.

Excavations of stratigrafic importance started since 1995 and revealed evidence focusing on economical aspects of life during prehistorical eras. A close study to the deposits showed, in layer I, laminated sand mixed with numerous charcoals in 5/10-cm thickness while a carbonate crust was found in another area. The removal of the charcoals led to the discovery of the underneath level that mainly consists of desiccated mud mixed with sand. A yellow green zone probably represents a playa episode that sunk forming pockets.

 The sediment covered by the same previously mentioned mud formation is mixed in the western section of the excavation area, the mixture includes a large amount of ashes and charcoals coming from the existing hearths previously discerned. The uncovered floor at the bottom is revealing burned patches.

Sedimentological units are represented as a desiccated mud layers and friable gravelly sand with charcoals grained sand mixed with pebbles at 120cm depth. Abundant ostrich eggshells fragments shaped in little beads appeared in the northwest corner where a large hearth features set on the mud level. Soil samples were taken for analysis. A little wall included within a very compact clay level 15-25cm thick is stretched between stones and human bones detected lying on the compact ground next to that wall. Further digging revealed some charcoals, sprinters and few stone artifacts. A punch of bones was collected out of an extremely compact layer lying below the most superficial stones on the thin playa level. A hearth was detected in the deepest point of the heap.

This research brought to light the exceptional density of anthropic remains in this site dated to prehistoric eras where 16 structural hearths were located with stone accumulations, meal remains and technological activity. This remains most probably and according to Barbara Barich, Director of the Italian Mission," pertain to rather well organized communities which frequented the zone seasonally, presumably during the dry winter months." These groups of inhabitants would move away with the rising of the ground water level during the raining seasons.

The plant study as stated in the annual report of Mr. Fahmi, 1998 indicated the presence of sorghum as one of the most common plants from the levels recently dated to 7600 and 7400 bp, dates that are chronologically much closer to the Nabta Playa situation. Moist climate plants were also identified in the area which denotes the presence of abundant water there estimated by the members of the mission to 100-250mm annually.

The Hidden Valley, as an important settlement, witnessed a high-density occupation in a zone extending towards the center of the basin. The most recent formation of the excavated site has been dated around 7250bp, the 7th millenium bp as attested by samples found at 25cm depth; while similar dates are usually obtained from levels between 45 and 70cm from the surface.  This information confirms the previous hypothesis that the most recent formation, found in the northern boundary of the village, happened because of colluvium and erosion phenomena. This needs a new perspective of evaluation to the prehistoric side of the Hidden village, as occupation of the site seem to have chronologically happen before the Middle Holocene, after the final part of Nabta Playa, according to the researcher, and partly developing in synchrony with El Jerar Unit recently defined as 7800-7500.

 The preliminary sedimentological report presented by Dr.Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, University of Ein Shams states that the first horizon is a "muddy facies in relation with the hut stones (sandstone)" where ashes mixed with charcoals appear as desiccated white mud.

The second horizon is muddy facies at the top that include charcoals. " …The presence of alluvial pebbles and due to imbricate gravels at the base indicate wadi activity accelerated during that time. The water seems to have come from west to east along the drainage lines carrying gravels, sand salt and mud."

Archaeological remains, from the southern part of the Hidden Valley, are resumed by M.C.Gatto as lithic artefacts, some ostrich eggshells, grinders and hammer stones. "…Although the number of artifacts is too scarce to make an exhaustive study, it can be said that the high percentage of flakes in the debitage, the presence of bifacial tools as well as end-side scrapper suggests a Late Neolithic date. This supposition is also confirmed by the 1998 results in this area, where a bifacial point and pottery shards were collected."

A survey practiced along Wadi El Obeiyid, west of the Hidden Valley, revealed a prehistoric site located on top of the Cave where fireplaces contain various remains: lithic artifacts, ostrich eggshells, grinders, hammerstones and potsherds. Some of these remains, chronologically referred to Paleolithic and Neolithic phases (Lithic Materials), Late Final Neolithic for Pottery, are still stuck in the ground, thus revealing that the area is preserved from erosion factor. The site is generally very interesting and deserves deeper investigations.

Test pits practiced by P.Van Peer revealed three phases of occupation. A small hearth shows the first phase located in the upper part of "…loose fine sediments at the top of the profile". Lithic assemblages out of the three phases represent "…specific functional facies of the Neolithic occupation in the playa areas." A series of test pits practiced in Wadi El Obeiyid near the Farafra-Ain Dalla Road, revealed a horizontal deposit truncated by slope evolution "…which suggests that the artifacts are being eroded from this sediment." Van Peer confirms that Paleolithic occurrences are "…certainly present in the village Valley area and that the Farafra region has a potentially important contribution in the establishment of the overall archaeological sequence in northeast Africa.

This important work is a contribution between The University of Rome represented by the acting Mission, Ein Shams University represented by Dr.Abdel Moneim Mahmoud coordinated by Prof.Dr.Fikri Hassan, University College London and the assistance of SCA inspectors.