The occurrence of rock art in the vicinity of the village of El-Hosh, situated on the west bank of the Nile, about 30 km south of Edfu (FIGURE 1), had been known for over a century (Chester 1892), but until our 1998 mission the petroglyphs had not been properly documented. The rock art at El-Hosh includes a substantial number of archaic-looking, curvilinear designs, capped with mushroom-shaped protuberances, and associated in a number of cases with a wide range of abstract motifs, anthropomorphic figures and zoomorphs. Our aim was to establish the chronological and cultural-historical framework for these petroglyphs by sampling carbon-bearing substances in patina and rock varnish formed within them. That carbon could then be applied for direct dating using the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) [sup.14]C method (Tuniz & Watchman 1994; Watchman 2000). We describe here the main results of this procedure indicating that part of the rock art at El-Hosh pre-dates the early 7th millennium BP (mid 6th millennium cal BC). It is therefore well beyond the age of any other graphic activity recorded in the Nile Valley.
[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Curvilinear `fish trap' designs
The 1998 rock-art survey was conducted in a 6x2-km stretch along the Nile between the village of El-Hosh in the north and the mouth of the Wadi el-Shatt el-Rigal in the south. A multitude of rock-art sites was located containing several thousands of petroglyphs. Some of these had already been briefly explored in 1926 and 1937 by the VIII. Deutsche Inner-Afrikanische Forschungsexpedition (Cervicek 1974:37-9) and the Sir Robert Mond Desert Expedition respectively (Winkler 1938: 9; 1939: 5).
On the basis of its principal subject matter (boats, anthropomorphic figures and various species of animals), the bulk of the rock art at El-Hosh belongs to the late prehistoric (Predynastic) and early dynastic periods (~4000-2650 BC). Many of the themes represented can closely be related to the iconographical repertoire of the early Nilotic pastoral-agricultural civilizations. There are, however, a substantial number of intensively patinated, curvilinear designs, capped with mushroom-shaped or cordiform protuberances, that appear to date from another epoch. Three different …