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Man-made holes visible amongst the natural erosion features of the granite rock in Sudan

Were Peculiar Holes Drilled in Rocks Used to Construct Shelters by Ancient Sudanese?

Archaeologists working at the site of Sphinx, in central Sudan, have examined closely some peculiar man-made holes in rocks located on the west bank of the River Nile. They now speculate that the holes could be the remains of an ancient, no longer existing type of architecture which was created thousands of years ago and served as a shelter for hunters.

Mysterious Holes Drilled in Rocks Impress Researchers

The study was published in the journal Antiquity and its main focus is a series of holes found in granite rocks.

"These holes are clearly man-made as their regular shapes and diameters suggest. They are different from natural features that appear with the weathering of the rocks. One of the first questions we get when we present the paper is how these holes were drilled," one of the study's authors, Lenka Varadzinová, a researcher at the Czech Institute of Egyptology, told IBTimes UK .

The rock wall in the northern part of the settlement platform with numerous drilled holes for anchoring of one of the two structures.

The rock wall in the northern part of the settlement platform with numerous drilled holes for anchoring of one of the two structures. ( Ladislav Varadzin, 2015 )

And she adds, "Metal was probably not involved in the process as we find no traces of it. We can't be sure of the method used to create the holes, but what is certain is that it would have been a hell of a job, a long-term investment done over a long period of time with the intention of being fixed to the place"

Could the Holes be a Sign of Ancient Rituals?

According to the researchers the holes have a regular cylindrical shape with obvious smooth sides, a diameter of between 40 and 50 mm, and a pointed end, while they are placed at a height of about 1.3 to 3.2 meters above the present-day ground surface.

Some propose that these holes could possibly be sign of ancient rituals associated with magic and spirituality, even though that is only a speculation for now since there’s no evidence backing this theory up. For now, the majority of archaeologists suggest that the holes were created to serve more practical purposes and are confident that further investigation will help them to better understand their usage.

Rock wall in the northern shelter, against which one of the structures was anchored; the drilled holes used for its anchoring are indicated by short sticks.

Rock wall in the northern shelter, against which one of the structures was anchored; the drilled holes used for its anchoring are indicated by short sticks. ( Ladislav Varadzin, 2015 )

Modern Technology Provides Valuable Information 

With the help of modern technology, more specifically the use of photogrammetry, 3D models and photographs, the team of archaeologists managed to obtain detailed measurements of the holes during the 2015 excavation season. Next, as IBTimes UK reports , the team used the data to come up with a hypothetical reconstruction of two structures which would have been firmly anchored to the rocks and supported by pliable wooden poles made of branches or roots – one end of which was inserted into the holes in the rock.

In this hypothetical model, the holes drilled over a long period of time, form the basis for the construction of huts anchored to the rocks, where ancient people would have lived. "​There is no certainty in archaeology, we just present a hypothesis of what the structures might have looked like. The hypothesis is based on scientific reconstruction, which is based on all the data recorded at the site," Varadzinová tells IBTimes UK .

And continues, "These ancient people had to live somehow, and since there are so few architectural remains from the past in the North East of Africa, these holes constitute another type of find that, we believe, one can associate with them. These shelters would have been anchored to the rocks for solidity and to keep them in the shade throughout the day, but also because there wasn't that much space at the settlement platform set in the rocky landscape, and otherwise putting a hut in the middle of it would have left little space for other activities."

The Difficulties of Dating the Holes

Of course, linking these holes to a specific era is as challenging as dating rock art. Archaeologists are fully aware of this difficulty and for that reason they often have to rely on finds of artifacts that have previously been discovered in the same geographical area. At the site of Sphinx, most artifacts date back to the Khartoum Mesolithic era (9000–5000BC) although as IBTimes UK reports , a few of the found objects date back to later periods such as the Meroitic (300 BC– 350 AD) or Post-Meroitic (350–550 AD) and Funj (1500–1800 AD) periods.

As confusing as things appear to be, the researchers won’t reveal much about the culture of the people who created the holes, even though it is speculated that they could possibly be early hunter-gatherers and later pastoralists, who would have found shelter in pole-built structures like the ones modelled in the study’s papers.

Top image: Man-made holes visible amongst the natural erosion features of the granite rock in Sudan ( Ladislav Varadzin, 2015 )

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Comments

There is no mention of the depth of the holes. If used to anchor one end of a wooden pole (branch) they need not be too deep provided the other end could be fixed and the (bent) pole was held by its attempt to straighten. Are there matching sets across the gap? it isn't clear. To drill it a flint point could be fixed to a shaft and with someone holding the shaft steady on the hole target, someone else could use cord wound round it to rotate it.

The boulders look to be a moderately weathered sandstone, a god soft rock that would be drillable with a flint tipped drill [fire bow on a grand scale =) ] While i have my doubts that they braced hut frames in many cases, I could see them framing in something like warp weighted looms, hide stretching frames and racks for drying meat and bundles of herbs.

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