Understanding the ‘place’ of Neolithic peoples in Egyptian prehistory: Bioarchaeological investigations at Gebel Ramlah, Western Desert, Upper Egypt
Keywords: Northeast Africa, Upper Egypt, Neolithic, human osteology, cemeteries, village sites, pastoral society
‘Ancient Egypt’ is often considered synonymous with the Dynastic (founded 3100 BC) and, occasionally, late Predynastic periods (4000-3100 BC). Yet other ‘more ancient’ people—from the Early (9300-6150 cal. BC), Middle (6050-5550 BC), Late (5500-4650 BC) and Final (4600-4000+ BC) Neolithic—get little attention despite critical contributions to these cultures. The reason is a scarcity of accessible Neolithic archaeological sites, including cemeteries, excepting those near our project area, Gebel Ramlah, in Egypt’s Western Desert–120 km west of Abu Simbel.
Fieldwork is being undertaken by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition. Site presence in this region results from a favourable climate then and geographic remoteness today. Further, because these Neolithic sites approximate those across Egypt and greater Northeast Africa, they are useful for characterising the period regionally.
Specifically, we study human remains in cemeteries together with excavations of their village sites. The goal is to advance research through archaeology, funerary analyses and bioarchaeology. Burials from all phases are present, though most are Final Neolithic. The latter introduced formal cemeteries, and was the period’s highpoint with domesticated cattle, intensive wild plant processing and potential megalithic architecture and shrines. Excavating ~200 burials and multiple village sites to date significantly expanded our understanding of the period.
Other Projects from Joel D. Irish
Two important fossil relatives were recently discovered in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. In collaboration with lead palaeoanthropologist, Dr. Lee Berger, University of the Witwatersrand, this study focuses on their origins and evolutionary relationships with other hominins through the study of teeth.