Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mammals of late Palaeolithic Wadi Kubbaniya

Wadi Kubbaniya

Excerpts from "Foraging and Farming in Egypt" by Wilma Wetterstrom from The Archaeology of Africa edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah and Alex Okpoko (Link)

"We now have a better understanding of hunter-gatherer subsistence in the Nile valley than even a few years ago, thanks to the work of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at Wadi Kubbaniya in Upper Egypt (Wendorf, Schild & Close 1989). Wadi Kubbaniya, dated to 18,000 BP, provides a baseline from which one can begin to understand foraging adaptations in holocene Egypt and some of the factors involved in the transition to farming."


"Large mammals would have been important for meat and hides but the faunal remains indicate a very limited role.  Little mammal bone was recovered from the Wadi Kubbaniya sites compared to fish and bird.  At one site mammals represented only about 1 per cent of the bone (Wendorf & Schild 1989, p. 819).  These low quantities can probably be attributed to an impoverished environment.  The Nile valley at this time, covered mostly with wetlands and meadows, could have supported neither a large number nor a great variety of game.  The monotonous flora would have provided grazing for only a limited number of species;  indeed, only three large mammals were common at Wadi Kubbaniya, as well as at later sites in the Nile valley - the hartebeest, aurochs and dorcas gazelle.  This stands in marked contrast to the rich faunas at sites in the Sudan (Gautier & van Neer 1989, pp. 156-7).  In addition, the river's flood regimen would have severly limited the size of the game populations.  During the two to four weeks of maximum flood, people and animals were driven out of the wadi and Nile valley.  Between the floodwaters and the arid desert, large mammals would have found a very narrow band of grazing that would have effectively restricted the land's carrying capacity.  As a result, the available biomass of the hartebeest and aurochs may have been only a few animals per square kilometer (Gautier & van Neer 1989, pp. 158-9).  Finally, the game's behavior would have rendered them unpredictable and difficult to hunt at times."

"Little is known of the behavior and ecological requirements of wild cattle, as these creatures have been extinct for several centuries.  Gautier & van Neer (1989, pp. 135-6) suggest they were fairly tolerant herd animals, adapted to good grassland with or without wooded vegetation."

"Dorcas gazelle are a rare sight in the Nile valley today, but they can be seen in the wadis and canyons of the Red Sea hills and the Western Desert and at the margin of oases (Dorst & Dandelot 1970, p. 239)."

"If need be, [gazelles] can migrate great distances in search of food and water (Delany & Happold 1979, p. 154). "

"Kubbaniya hunters may have used spears for taking the larger ungulates and nets and traps for the smaller ones.  They may have driven the large herbivores into shallow water where they could have been more easily attacked (Gautier & van Neer 1989, p. 159.) "


Delany M. J. & D. C. D. Happold 1979, Ecology of African Mammals.  London:  Longman.

Dorst J. & P. Dandelot 1970, A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. London:  Collins.

Gautier, A. & w. van Neer 1989, Animal remains from the late paleolithic sequence at Wadi Kubbaniya.  In The Prehistory of North Africa: Vol. 2:   Stratigraphy, Paleoeconomy, and Environment and Late Palaeolithic Archaeology. Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Wendorf, F., R. Schild & A. E. Close (eds) 1989 In The Prehistory of the Wadi Kubbaniya, Vol 2 & 3:  Stratigraphy, Paleoeconomy, and Environment and Late Palaeolithic Archaeology. Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.

Wendorf, F. & R. Schild 1989.  Summary and synthesis.  In The Prehistory of the Wadi Kubbaniya, Vol 3:  Late Palaeolithic Archaeology.  Wendorf, R., R. Schild and A. E. Close (eds.), 768-824. Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press.


Maju said...

Interesting, thanks. I would not call wetland environment "impoverished" however but rather one rich in birds and fish specially. It surely also hosted many crocodiles and hippopotamuses and we must wonder why they were not hunted. Maybe the people of that area just felt fine about surviving with fish and bird meat.

What about veggies? Today meat is only a small part of our diet and even among hunter-gatherers it is not the only source of life.

But in any case I guess that fish would have supported, if plenty, lots of people.

Marnie said...

Indeed, the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at Wadi Kubbaniya reconstructed a complex economy of fishing, water-fowl, root gathering, seed gathering, palm gathering and hunting.

By "impoverished", Wetterstrom is referring to an impoverishment of large mammals in comparison with an earlier time and also with respect to Sudan, which did not experience the hyper-aridity of Egypt during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Regarding "veggies", I'll leave it to you to hunt down the sections on roots, seeds and palm foods described in Wetterstrom's chapter.

I've posted the sections on large mammals not suggest that there wasn't a diversified economy, but to show that even in the hyper-arid, colder climate of Egypt during the Last Glacial Maximum, aurochs, gazelles, and hartebeests seem to have clung to existence in the Egyptian Nile valley and perhaps in the Red Sea hills.

Regarding hippopotamus, see my next post.