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Remains of silos in Neolithic Egyptian village discovered in Tell el-Samara.

Archaeologists Unearth the Oldest Neolithic Settlement in Egypt

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An Egyptian-French archaeological mission in Egypt has made a very rare discovery of a settlement from the Neolithic era, only the second known in the country. This is significant as it will add to the prehistoric knowledge of the region, way earlier than the usual ‘Ancient Egypt’ finds from the later dynastic periods of pharaohs, tombs and pyramids that dominate the headlines.

The mission, working at the Tell El-Samara site in the Delta governorate of Daqahliya, excavated Neolithic remains which were occupied “until the second dynasty (ca. 4200-2900 BC), at the bottom level of El-Samara site,” according to a report in Egypt Today . The discovery is one of the oldest villages ever located in the Nile Delta in Egypt. 

Ayman Ashmawi, the head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities sector, told reporters that the “importance of this discovery is based on the fact that these buildings, which date back to the Neolithic period, are not known in this region.” And this sentiment was supported by Frederic Geyau, the leader of the mission who said: “Discoveries from the Neolithic period are substantially anonymous in this area, so this discovery is of great importance.”

Neolithic site unearthed at Tell es-Sultan in Jericho, Palestine.  (Public Domain)

Neolithic site unearthed at Tell es-Sultan in Jericho, Palestine.  ( Public Domain )

A Historic Region Explodes

This year has seen an explosion in announcements of archaeological finds in the region. Back in February, the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Khaled el-Anany told reporters of a necropolis near the Nile Valley city of Minya , saying: “Today we are announcing the beginning of a new discovery, the tombs are full of jewelries, potteries and pharaonic jars.”

The finding of a huge number of artifacts was announced earlier this year. (Ministry of Antiquities)

The finding of a huge number of artifacts was announced earlier this year. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Whilst at the only other site known to date back to the Neolithic period, Sais, among the more modern discoveries made so far are: “pottery vessels, terracotta statues, bronze tools, a stone fragment engraved with hieroglyphs and a small statue of a ram.”

What is more, they discovered parts of a huge red brick building, probably part of a bath dating back to the Greco-Roman era that measured about 16 meters [52.5 ft] long. Among the most prized artifacts were “a gold mask, coffins, mummies and statues.”

One would imagine a gold mask or a mummy’s coffin would be the most prized discovery, but according to archaeologists the “most important discovered artifact” is the rarest and that is a “gold coin of King Ptolemy III” depicted wearing the crown on one face of the coin and on the other side is the “Land of Prosperity” surrounded with the name of the king. 

Discoveries at Tell El-Samara

Ashmawi told reporters that the archaeological mission has also discovered “a dozen silos containing a huge quantity of animal bones and botanical remains.” Analyses will provide a complete vision about the Nile Delta's first known population and will allow scientists to map “the survival strategies of these populations.” Researchers had strongly believed that Neolithic communities settled in the wetlands of the Nile Delta as early as the end of the fifth millennium BC; and this has now become a fact proven by the age of the pottery and artifacts discovered in this newly discovered site. 

The Known Life of Really Ancient Egypt

While this discovery will help complete the picture of life and times in Egypt between the Neolithic and the present, much remains unanswered about what happened in Egypt pre-5000 BC. However, over the last 40 years advances in technology have led archaeologists to make some really quite remarkable finds, which has created a model of history somewhat like a ladder, where for every step there are big gaps in between. What is known is the Khormusan industry in Egypt began between 42,000 and 32,000 BP and they developed tools in stone, bones and hematite. The end of the Khormusan industry came around 16,000 BC with the appearance of other cultures in the region.

Nazlet Khater man. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Nazlet Khater man. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Anthropologists and archaeologists regard the Late Paleolithic as beginning in Egypt around 30,000 BC and in 1980 a grave site was discovered on the boulder hill at Nazlet Khater , Upper Egypt. Archaeologists unearthed the exceptionally rare skeleton of “a subadult male individual” which the archaeologists noted had “archaic features.” A bifacial axe found in the grave suggested that it was contemporaneous with a nearby chert mining site where similar axes were found. According to an article in Archeology, the mine was dated between 35,000 and 30,000 years ago,” wrote P.M. Vermeersch, G. Gijselings and E. Paulissen January 1984 in their paper entitled Discovery of the Nazlet Khater Man, Upper Egypt .

This specimen is the only complete modern human skeleton from the earliest Late Stone Age in Africa.

Top image: Remains of silos in Neolithic Egyptian village discovered in Tell el-Samara.   Source: Ministry of Antiquities

By Ashley Cowie

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