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The Desert Fayum in the twenty-first century

  • Simon Holdaway (a1), Rebecca Phillipps (a1), Joshua Emmitt (a1), Veerle Linseele (a2) (a3) and Willeke Wendrich (a4)...

From 1924–1928, Gertrude Caton-Thompson and Elinor Gardner surveyed and excavated Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic sites across the Fayum north shore in Egypt, publishing a volume entitled The Desert Fayum (1934). Since then, a number of researchers have worked in the Fayum (e.g. Wendorf & Schild 1976; Hassan 1986; Wenke et al. 1988; Kozłowski & Ginter 1989), and most recently the UCLA/RUG/UOA Fayum Project. The long history of research in the area means that the Fayum is a testament to changing archaeological approaches, particularly regarding the Neolithic. Caton-Thompson and Gardner's study is recognised as one of the most progressive works on Egyptian prehistory, and their research provided the foundation for many subsequent studies in the region (e.g. Wendrich & Cappers 2005; Holdaway et al. 2010, 2016; Shirai 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016a; Emmitt 2011; Emmitt et al. 2017; Holdaway & Wendrich 2017). A recent article in Antiquity, however, uses Caton-Thompson and Gardner's preliminary interpretations of their excavations at a stratified deposit in the Fayum, Kom W, to generate a series of speculative statements concerning agricultural origins in the region (Shirai 2016b). The majority of these statements are very similar to conclusions initially made by Caton-Thompson and Gardner in the first half of the twentieth century, and new data and theory needed to reassess earlier conclusions are not considered. Recently published studies concerning the Fayum north shore and adjacent regions provide a different view of the state of research in this region and the Egyptian Neolithic in general. Here we acquaint Antiquity readers with current archaeological approaches to the Fayum north shore Neolithic, with the intent of stimulating academic debate.

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