Environment and Settlements in the Mid-Holocene Palaeo-Oasis of Wadi Tanezzuft (Libyan Sahara). (Special Section)

By Cremaschi, Mauro; di Lernia, Savino | Antiquity, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Environment and Settlements in the Mid-Holocene Palaeo-Oasis of Wadi Tanezzuft (Libyan Sahara). (Special Section)


Cremaschi, Mauro, di Lernia, Savino, Antiquity


Introduction

Past research in the Acacus mountains has been mostly concerned with studies of rock art (Mori 1965) and site-oriented investigations, particularly rock-shelters in the central and northern Acacus (Uan Muhuggiag: Mori 1965; Barich 1987; Ti-n-Torha North: Barich 1974; 1987; Wadi Athal: Barich & Mori 1970). This important research disclosed the astonishing archaeological richness of the area. Particular emphasis was given to data suggesting the existence of early forms of pastoral economy in the region (Mori 1961; 1965; Barich 1987). This led to the hypothesis, differently and repeatedly formulated, of a Saharan focus for the emergence of food-producing activity, based on cattle herding, independent from the Nile Valley and the Near East (Mori 1961; Barich 1987). This is not the place to discuss in detail this interesting, but now largely discarded, hypothesis; what is important to underline, however, is the limited database used in its formulation. The results of only three excavations, all located in the mountain ranges, provided the basis of the evidence presented without any attempt to place these sites in a broader regional framework.

More recent research, conducted since 1990, is indicative of a distinct change in methods and approaches. The scale of analysis has been dramatically enlarged, favouring extensive regional surveys (improved by some selective excavations); a much greater use of radiocarbon determinations; and the integration of ethnoarchaeological and geoarchaeological approaches set in an explicit theoretical background. As a consequence, the deep relationships between climatic and environmental changes and human trajectories have been largely reformulated without recourse to environmental determinism (e.g. Cremaschi & di Lernia 1999), and archaeological analysis has been enlarged to include the historical era in an effort to isolate cultural continuities and discontinuities up to the rise of the Garamantian civilization (Liverani 1999).

Nevertheless, and despite this long tradition of study, Middle and Late Holocene cultural dynamics of the central Sahara, in particular the end of the Pastoral world and the emergence of complex societies, are still poorly understood. To address this, the Italo-Libyan Joint Mission of the University of Rome `La Sapienza' to the Acacus Mountains has intensified fieldwork aimed at analysis of environmental changes and cultural trajectories in the mountain ranges and surrounding areas during later prehistory (e.g. Cremaschi & di Lernia 1999). Thus far, the main focus has been on the Early and Middle Holocene human occupation, with particular reference to the investigation of hunter-gatherer social organization (Cremaschi & di Lernia 1998a; di Lernia 1999a) and the economic features of the subsequent pastoral economy in the region (Cremaschi & di Lernia 1998a; di Lernia 1999b; in press), with reference to the Wadi Tanezzuft, a crucial region practically ignored in the past.

Moreover, the paradigms of `continuity', which were theoretically predominant in the 1980s, no longer provide a sufficient explanation of the particular features of the later phases of pastoral culture, and the analysis of the cultural, probably ethnical, fragmentation of Late Pastoral communities and the emergence of different forms of adaptation to an ever more arid environment need a different theoretical framework. Recently, extensive regional survey and full integration of paleoenvironmental data have provided the basis for a `punctuated' model (sensu Gould 1987) to explain local cultural trajectories (di Lernia in press). Ethnohistorical information for the area, such as Herodotus' descriptions of the Garamantes and early Egyptian accounts concerning Libyans (e.g. David 1992), provide further support to the hypothesis for the emergence over time of differentiated ethnicities, rather than of a uniform lineal model of development, represented by simplified sequences of archaeological phases (from Early to Middle to Late Pastoral). …

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