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Paleolithic and Neolithic Northeast Africa  

Donatella Usai

The Nile Valley with the deserts and the Ethiopian highlands with the Afar depression and the Rift were, albeit to different extents and in different phases, witnesses of the human enterprise from the origin of the species up to the formation of one of the most important forms of complex society. These regions form a vast area of Africa and, although archaeological and anthropological research make great strides, and the help of science contributes ever more to understanding, the available knowledge is still like a drop in an ocean. From the oldest traces of humankind to the societies that underlie the formation of the pharaonic kingdoms, tracing this history requires a great capacity for synthesis on the basis of a precise line; in this case, one approach can be described as evolutionary. The story begins with the oldest evidence of artifacts made by the first hominids and continues with their evolution into increasingly elaborate form, in a constant relationship with the surrounding environment and under the yoke of a climate that has, sometimes, dictated the times and ways of these changes. This part of the story sees the Ethiopian and the Afar and Rift depressions as the richest in evidence. The most recent phases see the Nile Valley with evidence of the hunter-gatherer groups of the Late Pleistocene and the Early Holocene always grappling with climate changes but with new tools to face and overcome them. The invention of pottery may be seen as one of these tools. This is also when the foundations for a food-producing economy are laid. For a long time, however, hunting and gathering practices continue and, especially along the Nile, fishing activities remain a constant in the economy of prehistoric societies, with herding and plant cultivation differently contributing and, supposedly, according to the potential and characteristics of each corner of this immense area.