Egypt's Earliest Farming Village Found

Steven Stanek in Cairo
for National Geographic Magazine
February 12, 2008

Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest known agricultural settlement from ancient Egypt, a new study says. (See photos of the site and artifacts.)

The 7,000-year-old farming-village site includes evidence of domesticated animals and crops—providing a major breakthrough in understanding the enigmatic people of the Neolithic, or late Stone Age, period and their lives long before the appearance of the Egyptian pharaohs.

The discoveries were made as a team of Dutch and U.S. archaeologists dug deeper into a previously excavated mound of sand concealing the ancient village in the Faiyum depression, a fertile oasis region about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Cairo.

Just centimeters beneath the modern plowed surface, in an area that had been used until recently to grow grapes, the researchers discovered evidence of structures, such as clay floors, and hearths containing homegrown wheat grain and barley.

Also unearthed were the remains of sheep, goats, and pigs—which, along with the grains, were imported from the Middle East.

These finds could add a new chapter to the history of Egypt's contact with foreign cultures in pre-pharaonic times.

Digging Deeper

Evidence of agriculture in Egypt's Faiyum depression had been discovered at the same site by British archaeologist Gertrude Caton Thompson in the 1920s.

Thompson found a series of Neolithic-era granaries and farming tools—including a wooden sickle with its serrated flint blade still attached—on a nearby ridge.

Radiocarbon dating places the occupation of the site to around 5200 B.C. But details about the lifestyle of the farmers who used those granaries and tools remained a mystery until now.

The Faiyum "is important because it provides the first evidence of farming that we have in Egypt," said the excavation's co-director Willeke Wendrich, an associate professor of Egyptian archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"For the first time, we have domesticated wheat and barley in a domestic context."

Continued on Next Page >>


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