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The Megaliths of Nabta Playa, South Western Desert of Egypt

Project information


Project title: The Megaliths of Nabta Playa, South Western Desert of Egypt

Project No: 2014/13/B/HS3/04928

Project lead: prof. dr hab. Romuald Włodzimierz Schild

Project lead, institutional: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences
Project financing:National Science Center, 2014-2016


e-mail: rschild@iaepan.edu.pl
phone (22) 620-28-81 do 86

Project implementation:

prof. dr hab. Romuald Włodzimierz Schild – Project lead





1. Research project objectives/ Research hypothesis


The major objective of the project is to prepare (in English) a comprehensive synthesis of the research on the Nabta Playa megalithic monuments in the South Western Desert of Egypt. Nearly three decades of archaeological investigations conducted by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition in the Nabta Playa Basin led to the discovery of a vast Neolithic ceremonial center. The megaliths of Nabta Playa are an expression of an elaborate Neolithic ceremonialism unprecedented in Africa.

Nabta Playa, in the South Western Desert of Egypt, is not only one of the major Neolithic settlement regions of the Sahara, but also the largest Neolithic ceremonial center of the entire African continent, covering an area of about 10 sq. km, and stretching in time from about 7000 to 3500 years BCE. It embraces an immense amount of sacred installations assembled in several clustters

It is hypothesized that the most important links bringing together Ancient Egyptian myths and religion and the cattle herders of the South Western Desert are the groups of the stelae of Nabta Basin. At Nabta Playa, most of the stelae face the northern, circumpolar region of the heavens. Following the early Egyptian mortuary texts known as the Pyramid Texts, it is a heavenly section where the stars never die and where there is no death at all. It is the Area of Dāt (Duat), the objective of the departed, the Field of Offerings, in which the deceased will live as an ‘effective’ spirit. (compare Frankfort et al., 1961:57). It is here that the spirits encounter their northern emergence into the world (Allen, 2005:10), and an area where the king would become a circumpolar star (Spencer, 1982:140). One cannot exclude that the mushroom-like rocks often found under the stelae possible tie to this myth as well. They may have been regarded as the launching pads sending the deceased, symbolized by the upright megaliths, to Dāt.


2. Research project methodology


Since the project concentrates on bringing together already gathered data, no specific methodology of accessing the data is necessary. While describing and/or presenting the data most of the standard in the Stone Age archaeology methods should be used, e.g., lists of artifact types, lists of raw materials used, frequency tables, metrical data tables and diagrams. Parametric and non parametric statistical tests (mostly Student's t test and Colmogorov-Smirnov test) would be employed to measure statistical significance of data. Dendograms should be employed to show degrees of similarities (clustering) of artifact assemblages (Nearest Neighbor Method).


3. Expected impact of the research project on the development of science, civilization and society


Numerous questions and problems relating to the megaliths and megalithic cultures in the world are among the most researched subjects in contemporary archaeology of the Stone Age. It is the result of the fact that the emergence of megaliths is a turning point in the cultural and social development of humanity. The research on megaliths may reflect a change in level of development and complexity of particular societies. That is why one can appreciate the unusual importance of the appearance of the megaliths in the Western Desert.

Early and Late megalithic installations of Nabta Playa are among the oldest in the world. The unusually large field of offering tumuli upon the Sacred Mountain is the oldest megalithic locus in the Africa. On the other hand, the clusters of stelae in the Final Neolithic Fields of Stelae and the tumulus of the Little Lord of Nabta Playa seem to indicate that the chiefdom system already had formed among the societies of the southern Western Desert. Prolific contacts of the pastoralist with the Predynastic agricultural societies of Upper Egypt may indicate a certain compatibility of the two cultural systems.

Although fragmentary histories of the Western Desert pastoralists are already known to a number of interested archaeologists and to a certain extend to enlightened public, the complete results of the research have never been put together and made public. This is why the latest results of the field and laboratory work during the last two decades should be included as soon as possible in the emerging socioeconomic and cultural synthesis of these societies of yesteryear. The recent research has deeply changed ourunderstanding of the changes leading to the emergence of the first Ancient Egyptian kingdoms.