The palaeoanthropological and geomorphological sub-projects of the Desert Migrations Project (DMP) focus on the Pleistocene and early Holocene environment and prehistory of Fazzan so as to assess the timing and extent of hominin and human movement across the Sahara through time. This paper reports on the findings of the 2008 field season, with a focus on the prehistoric evidence along the northern margin of the Ubari sand sea.
The geomorphological record of the area preserves evidence of at least five past episodes of lake formation. The exact chronology of these, as well as the spatial extent of these lakes, remains the focus of further study.
The archaeological record of hominin and human occupation of Fazzan prior to the establishment of the Garamantian civilisation is extraordinarily rich. Between 2007 and 2008, the DMP palaeoanthropological project surveyed thirty-five localities along the northern margin of the Ubari sand sea, recording a range of assemblages spanning all Palaeolithic industries. Most of the archaeological remains found consisted of stone-tools, while grinding stones were comparatively restricted geographically. Mode 1/Oldowan tools were found at two localities, contrasting with the widespread presence of Mode 2/Acheulean, Mode 3/Middle Stone Age and Mode 5/microlithic artefacts. This indicates that, although hominin presence in the area is probably earlier than previously thought, populations were comparatively sparse until the Middle Pleistocene. Twenty-one localities within the Ubari sand sea, as well as seven south of the Messak Settafet were also surveyed between 2007 and 2008. The detailed study of the lithics from these areas will be carried out next year, but preliminary results stress the different nature of the assemblages found within interdune corridors — very low frequency of cores, no Mode 1 and extremely rare Mode 2 lithics (found at a single locality).
The 2009 field season will focus on obtaining further samples of palaeolake sediments for dating, on the evidence of Mode 1 assemblages south of the Messak, as well as on the refining of the archaeological indicators that may distinguish the different phases of hominin and human occupation of Fazzan during the Later Pleistocene and Holocene.