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RAW MATERIAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGES IN CERAMIC PRODUCTIONS AT SAI ISLAND, NORTHERN SUDAN, FROM THE SEVENTH TO THE THIRD MILLENNIUM BC

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This study presents the results of integrated mineralogical, petrographic and chemical analyses of different ceramic assemblages and local sediments from Sai Island, northern Sudan, dating to between the seventh and the third millennium BC, and
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  RAW MATERIAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGES INCERAMIC PRODUCTIONS AT SAI ISLAND, NORTHERNSUDAN, FROM THE SEVENTH TO THE THIRDMILLENNIUM BC* G. D’ERCOLE†  Austrian Academy of Sciences, Commission for Egypt and Levant, Postgasse 7/1/10, Vienna, Austria 1010 G. ERAMO  Department of Earth and Geoenvironmental Sciences, University of Bari ‘Aldo Moro’, Via Orabona 4, Bari 70125, Italy E. A. A. GARCEA  Department of Letters and Philosophy, University of Cassino and Southern Latium, Via Zamosch 43, Cassino 03043, Italy I. M. MUNTONI Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Puglia, Centro Operativo per l’Archeologia della Daunia, Via De Nittis 7,Foggia 71121, Italy and J. R. SMITH  Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA This study presents the results of integrated mineralogical, petrographic and chemical analy-ses of different ceramic assemblages and local sediments from Sai Island, northern Sudan,dating to between the seventh and the third millennium  BC   , and highlights a significant variability in the raw materials and technology of these productions. Although archaeometricanalyses of ceramics are widely employed in many parts of the world, a lamentable scientificgap exists for African pottery, which this paper aims to bridge with new and compellingresults. KEYWORDS:  SAI ISLAND, HOLOCENE, SUDAN, RAW MATERIALS, CERAMICTECHNOLOGY, KHARTOUM VARIANT, ABKAN, PRE-KERMAINTRODUCTION The invention of pottery has been considered the earliest deliberate control of a chemical processon the part of humans through the mastery of fire (Childe 1937). In Africa, the production of ceramic containers was a technological innovation independent of the ‘Neolithic package’,preceding animal and plant domestication, the adoption of food production and the formation of villages (e.g., Garcea 2004)—making this technology one of the earliest in the world. Africanpottery appeared at the end of the 10th millennium cal  bc  (Huysecom  et al . 2009) and was *Received 14 October 2013; accepted 7 January 2014†Corresponding author: email Giulia.dErcole@oeaw.ac.at doi: 10.1111/arcm.12113 © 2014 University of Oxford  Archaeometry  57 , 4 (2015) 597–616 bs_bs_banner  commonly used by hunter–gatherers in various parts of West and North Africa from then on(Jesse 2010). In Sudan, the earliest pottery comes from Sorourab, on the west bank of the Nileriver, and dates to the end of the 10th/beginning of the ninth millennium  bc  onwards(Mohammed-Ali and Khabir 2003).Given the malleability and plasticity of clay, pottery provided an extremely powerful means of expression and communication. Every step in the manufacturing process involved technologicalskills and choices, which are chronologically, culturally and behaviourally meaningful, bothworldwide (e.g., Rice 1996; Gosselain 2000; Sillar and Tite 2000) and inAfrica (e.g., LivingstoneSmith 2000, 2001b; Nelson  et al . 2002; Garcea 2008, 2013). While descriptive methods cansuccessfully characterize certain features of pots, such as decorative techniques and shaping (e.g.,Camps-Fabrer 1966; Nordström 1972; Caneva and Marks 1990), other production phases havelong been best determined through archaeometric analyses in other parts of the world. ForAfrican samples, and particularly prehistoric Nubia, these analyses are still infrequent, incom-plete and often outdated (e.g., Hays and Hassan 1974; De Paepe 1986; De Paepe  et al . 1992;Goossens  et al . 1997), with some rare exceptions (e.g., Zedeño 2002; Klein  et al . 2004).The present study aims to bridge an unfortunate scientific gap on such an important archaeo-logical record as African pottery, by presenting the results of mineralogical, petrographic andchemical analyses of different ceramic assemblages from Sai Island, northern Sudan. Theseassemblages, dating to between the seventh and the third millennium  bc , are particularly signifi-cant in that they display significant variability in their production techniques. ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONTEXT Sai Island is located in the Nile river, in northern Sudan (Fig. 1). Its position was strategic and thearchaeological sites played a key role in the cultural and economic dynamics between thepopulations at the boundary between Egypt and Nubia.This paper presents the ceramic assemblages from four sites on Sai Island dating to differentchronological and cultural horizons. The oldest, from Site 8-B-10C, on the eastern side of theisland, dates to the early Middle Holocene ( c .7000–5000 years  bc ).Archaeological investigationsbrought to light a stratified sequence with repeated layers of occupation within distinct domesticand functional features (Garcea 2006–7, 2011–12; Garcea and Hildebrand 2009). This site wasassigned to the Khartoum Variant cultural complex, which represents the hunter–fisher–gathererswho lived in sedentary or nearly sedentary conditions, seasonally exploiting different resourcessupplied by the Nile environment. This pottery represents the earliest ceramic production on SaiIsland. Characteristic shapes are open bowls with straight walls made with the coiling technique.Surfaces are plain or smoothed, and rarely burnished or polished. They are typically decoratedwith impressed dotted wavy line patterns and may also have milled rims (D’Ercole  et al . 2014)(Fig. 2, 1 and 2).The second assemblage, from Site 8-B-76, on the south-western side of the island, dates to theMiddle Holocene ( c .5000–4000  bc ), corresponding to the Abkan cultural horizon. It was pro-duced by people with a subsistence economy based on hunting and fishing, supplemented byanimal husbandry. Ceramic vessels have straight and globular walls. They are usually undeco-rated (Fig. 2, 3 and 4), with rare incised motifs or rocker-stamped impressions and milled ornotched rims. As for the Khartoum Variant assemblage, coiling seems to be the most commonshaping technique. Surfaces are plain or burnished.The most recent assemblages are from Sites 8-B-10A and 8-B-52A, both belonging tothe Pre-Kerma period ( c .3300–2500  bc ). Site 8-B-10A is a stratified settlement, located in the G. D’Ercole  et al . 598 © 2014 University of Oxford,  Archaeometry  57 , 4 (2015) 597–616  Figure 2  Representative pottery from Sai Island. 1, 2, Khartoum Variant sherds from Site 8-B-10C; 3, 4, Abkan sherds from Site 8-B-76; 5–7, Pre-Kerma sherds from sites 8-B-10A and 8-B-52A. G. D’Ercole  et al . 600 © 2014 University of Oxford,  Archaeometry  57 , 4 (2015) 597–616  south-eastern part of the island, and 8-B-52A is in the centre of northern Sai, in one of the driestareas of the island. It comprises several storage pits used as containers for both wild and domesticplant seeds, including Asian domesticated grains and local species (Geus 2004; Hildebrand2006–7).An integrated agro-pastoral economy was adopted by the inhabitants of the island at thisperiod. Ceramic shapes include both large storage jars and smaller bowls. Surfaces are usuallyburnished and occasionally polished, and present different kinds of decorations, such as incisedgeometric motifs as well as rocker and alternately pivoting stamped impressions (Fig. 2, 5–7).Black-topped and ripple wares are also common. GEOLOGICAL AND CLIMATIC BACKGROUND Sai Island is one of the largest islands between the Second and the Third Cataracts of the Nile(about 12 km long and 5.5 km wide), north of the confluence of the Blue Nile and theWhite Nile.Geologically, this area forms part of the Eastern Saharan Craton in Sudanese territory, close to theArabian–Nubian Shield, which is involved in the formation of the Red Sea rift system (Guiraud et al . 2005). The Nubian area contains two main geological domains: the Precambrian basementand the younger sedimentary units on top of it (Fig. 1).The basement consists mostly of granitoidrocks, together with a series of metamorphic rocks and magmatic intrusive sequences (Shang et al . 2010). These are overlain by the continental sands (and minor intercalated silts) of theNubian Sandstone, which were largely deposited during the Cretaceous period and perhapsslightly later (Prasad  et al . 1986; Klemm  et al . 2001; Gardiner 2010). While the Nubian Sand-stone Formation is exposed frequently within the Nubian Shield, younger fluvial sedimentsrelated to the Nile drainage system dominate the Nile Valley area. Coarse sediments (gravels)characterize the higher Nile terraces, while the finer sediments of the lower terraces are ofteninterbedded with aeolian sand as a consequence of desertification (Pachur and Hoelzmann2000).Sai Island encapsulates this regional geological history; eroding beds of Holocene and Pleis-tocene silts, sands and gravels representing Nile overbank, marginal and channel deposits inter-mittently overlie both quartz-veined Precambrian metamorphic rocks (including those commonlycalled ‘schist’ by archaeologists) and the subhorizontal strata of the Nubian Sandstone (spec-tacularly displayed by the inselberg of Jebel Adu) (Fig. 1). Two Pleistocene Nile terraces,approximately 15 and 10 m above the modern floodplain, are present in the central and southernparts of the island. They consist of often thin (50 cm or less) pebble to cobble gravel layers(locally thicker and more sedimentologically variable where gully erosion and filling occurred),the upper dominated by coarse cobbles of vein quartz and the lower by smaller chert pebbles,although numerous other lithologies are represented. The lower elevations of the island consist of Holocene overbank and channel deposits (Van Peer  et al . 2003).While the current regional climate is hyper-arid, pluvial phases have occurred in the past, mostrecently between 9500 and 4000  bc . Gradual desiccation began in  c .5300  bc , and arid conditionswere established by  c .3500  bc  (Nicoll 2004; Kuper and Kröpelin 2006). Sand dunes and gravelbars, horizontally and vertically isolated from the current course of the Nile, suggest that the Nilemigrated in the past, affecting resource availability on Sai. In the Early Holocene, the island waslimited to the pediment surrounding Jebel Adu (Fig. 1) and attained something like its currentmorphology only after the fifth millennium  bc  as a consequence of drops in Nile levels and theemergence of silty floodplains. The south-eastern floodplains may have presented a favourableenvironment during arid periods, at least in comparison to the straight mainland shorelines andsteep banks on Sai’s southern and western margins. Ceramic productions at Sai Island, northern Sudan  601 © 2014 University of Oxford,  Archaeometry  57 , 4 (2015) 597–616
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