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date: 29 March 2023

Northeastern African Stone Agelocked

Northeastern African Stone Agelocked

  • Alice LeplongeonAlice LeplongeonKU Leuven


Research on the northeastern African Stone Age is intrinsically linked to the study of human occupation along the Nile, which flows north through the now hyper-arid eastern Sahara to meet the Mediterranean, forming a natural route toward the Sinai Peninsula. Since this is the only land bridge between Africa and Eurasia, the region is often referred to as a “corridor,” with the hypothesis that the Nile Valley may have repeatedly acted as a possible route used by hominins out of (and back into) Africa guiding many research projects on the Stone Age of this region. However, past human occupation of northeastern Africa is far from restricted to the Nile Valley and includes evidence from areas that are now desert on either side of the Nile, as well as the Red Sea Mountains. Throughout the Pleistocene (2.58–0.01 Ma), the region was subject to climatic and environmental fluctuations that may have alternately rendered the desert habitable or the Nile Valley inhospitable for hominin settlement.

Researchers have used both European and African terminologies to describe the northeastern African Stone Age record. In particular, the terms Early Stone Age and Middle Stone Age are often used for earlier phases, but Upper Paleolithic, Late Paleolithic, Epipaleolithic, and Mesolithic are commonly used for the later phases. Evidence for the Earliest Stone Age is sparse, but numerous sites are attributed to the later part of the Early Stone Age, the Late Acheulean, after c. 0.6 Ma. The Middle Stone Age is known by many surface scatters of lithic assemblages and few stratified sites, sometimes associated with raw material extraction features. Only a few sites document the Upper Paleolithic in the region, whereas a rich archaeological record documents the hunter-gatherer-fisher societies of the Late Paleolithic. While Acheulean and Middle Stone Age sites are located in the desert areas as well as the Nile Valley, for the later periods until the beginning of the Holocene, c. 12 ka, sites are mainly restricted to the Nile Valley. The study of the northeastern African Stone Age reveals complex human-environment interactions with implications for the potential central role of this region in hominin dispersals out of and back into Africa during the Pleistocene.


  • International and Indigenous Anthropology

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