Jebel Sabaloka

Until the arrival of the Czech team in 2009, Jebel Sabaloka was the only unexplored cataract zone in the Sudan. Already the first survey brought to light numerous remains of human presence there from the Palaeolithic to the Post-Medieval (from 16th century onwards) Period. Since 2011, the research has been aimed at the understanding of this region’s prehistoric occupation and its interaction with the environment.

A dense network of settlements from the Mesolithic (ninth–sixth millennia BC) and the Neolithic (fifth–fourth millennia BC) has been discovered in the area. Two sites dominate the settlement structure. Fox Hill (SBK.W-20B) is located about 1.2 km from the Nile on one of the granite outcrops grouped around a depression on whose bottom remnants of a prehistoric seasonal lake have been uncovered by the Czech team. The site was occupied during the Mesolithic and the Neolithic. It features platforms and terraces delimited by exposed bedrock and granite boulders. Of these, some were used for dwelling, others for burialsand the rest for various activities. The site thus representsan example of structuring of prehistoric settlements unparalleledin Northeast Africa. Sphinx (SBK.W-60) is locatedin the completely arid but very impressive landscape of the Rocky Cities formed by islands of granite rising above the surrounding plain. The settlement, located on one of the outcrops, was apparently the core of an independent are a in the Mesolithic, which might have been settled by agroup of people different from the inhabitants of Fox Hill. Sphinx is much smaller, however – a few families at the most might have lived there at one time.

The extraordinary character of these sites, indicated alreadyby the density of surface finds of pottery, stone industry, animal bones and mollusc shells, has been confirmed by the excavations conducted so far. In their course, Mesolithic burial grounds with a high number of individuals of both sexes and various age groups have also been uncovered. This type of find, unusual in central Sudan, extends the possibilities of understanding of the life of the local hunter-gatherer populations prior to the rise of pastoralism in the fifth millennium BC. Moreover, the remnants of a seasonal lake detected near Fox Hill preserve important information about the periodicity of the regional water regime and about the changes of the environment and climate in Northeast Africa during the Holocene.

In addition to the Czech Institute of Egyptology, the research project at Jebel Sabaloka is realised thanks to active participation of and co-operation with specialists from the Institute of Archaeology of the CAS, Prague, v. v. i., Institute of Geology of the CAS, v. v. i., Faculty of Environment of the J. E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Department of Anthropology of the Natural History Museum of the National Museum in Prague, Centre for Theoretical Study of the Charles University in Prague, and other scientific institutions.

As of 2017, the investigation of prehistoric occupation at Jebel Sabaloka constitutes the subject of the research project entitled Communities and resources in late prehistory of Jebel Sabaloka, central Sudan: from analysis to synthesis (Czech Science Foundation project no. 17-03207S) aimed at completion of the primary exploration of the Mesolithic and Neolithic at the Sixth Nile Cataract by processing the hitherto excavations and acquiring new comparative data. The outcome will be a data synthesis and evaluation and contextualization of the findings within late prehistory in Northeast Africa.

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