Prehistory of the Sudan

Back in the 1990s, an expedition to the east bank of the Nile (by the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, directed by Dr. Kryzstof Grzymski), about 70 miles south of Dongola along the Nile valley in North Sudan, has uncovered hundreds of Paleolithic axes dating to 70,000 years ago. The axes present tangible evidence for the sophistication of this pre-Paleolithic society of Hominids.

Rock picture of a Rhnoceros. Nubian Sandstone. Prehistoric. Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
Nubian elephant

It is not clear how the environment in Sudan had evolved in such distant times. Yet, probably between 50,000 and 25,000 years ago, the hand axes had vanished, and were replaced by new types of chipped stone tools. These new stone implements varied from one place to the other suggesting the presence of competing communities and tribal groups.

Female Figurine from el-Kadada. Neolithic. Courtesy of the Excavations of the SFDAS and the Khartoum National Museum. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
Nubian figurine

A settled community and culture labeled Khormusan has emerged in Wadi Halfa, Sudan, around 25,000 to 8,000 years ago.1 Significant grave discoveries were made for the period in Wadi Halfa. There, forensic anthropology helped unravel how deceased individuals were killed. The killing methods suggest the use of varied stone tools and weapons.

In 1974, the American Anthropologist Fred Wendorf has accidentally discovered one of the most important pre-historic sites in the Nile valley. The area falls west of the Nile in the Libyan Desert, near the Sudanese border with Egypt. Using artefacts and mound structures, Wendorf and his team have dated the site to as far back as 11,000-9,300 years ago.2 Investigation showed that the area had enough water supply to support a community, labeled Nabta, prior to the desertification of the region in the Neolithic era around 7000 years ago.

Vessels from el-Kadada. Prehistory. Courtesy of the Excavations of the SFDAS and the Khartoum National Museum. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
Nubian pottery

The artefacts indicate that the Nabta inhabitants built houses, dug wells, and manufactured items including stone tools, weapons and pottery. Evidence suggests that the Nabta community has adopted a complex and a centralized culture. Five circles made of sandstone slabs were detected, one of which reached 27 feet in diameter.3 We do not clearly understand the function/s of these structures. Some, however, think they were used as some sort of a calendar system.

Around 8005 years ago a herding community known as Khartoum Mesolithic produced pottery in large amounts.4 The Khartoum pottery is one of the finest and most sophisticated in all Paleolithic cultures. As a matter of fact, the Khartoum community is the first Mesolithic and Neolithic community to produce pottery before practicing agriculture in the world. Pottery remains were found in pits next to skeletal remains, showing the first signs for mortuary offerings that continued throughout the ancient history of Sudan. Other Prehistoric sites are found in several areas in Sudan including Sesi, Jebel Wahaba, Arduan Island, and Jebel Gorgod.5

  • 1 A. E. Marks, "The Khormusan and the Halfan," The Prehistory of Nubia, ed. F.Wendorf (Dallas, 1968).
  • 2 J. Hertaus, "Nabta Playa", African Sites 31 Oct. 2008 <http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/africa/nabtaplaya.html>.
  • 3 R. A. Bagnold, "Journeys in the Libyan Desert 1929 and 1930", The Geographical Journal Vol. LXXVIII No. 1 (1931).
  • 4 E. A. A. Garcea, Cultural dynamics in the Sahara-Sudanese prehistory (1993).
  • 5 A. Osman, I. Soghayroun, El-Zein, and A. M. Sadig, "Rock Drawings in Nubia", The Mahas Survey Project, Department of Archeology University of Khartoum, 31 Oct. 2008 <http://www.spicey.demon.co.uk/Nubianpage/rockart.htm>.
Authored: 2004.
Edited: Dec. 2008.

The primary material of the website is authored by Ibrahim Omer © 2008.