Nabta Playa’s Archaeological Significance

Situated in the eastern Sahara of Egypt, Nabta Playa is the home of one of the pieces featured in the African Cosmos Stellar Arts exhibition. The calendar circle at Nabta Playa dates more than a millennium before the Stonehedge in England, and is thus far one of the oldest calendar systems in the world.

Calendar circle at Nabta Playa, Egypt, January 1997 Photograph by J. McKim Malville.
Calendar circle at Nabta Playa, Egypt, January 1997
Photograph by J. McKim Malville.

However, this site also has much more to it than just this calendar circle. According to sources the Nabta Playa was a large internally drained basin, which was an important ceremonial center for prehistoric people about 10,000 years ago. During seasonal rain people would bring their livestock down to drink from the basin as well as record astronomical events. What this means however, is that the people located near the Nabta Playa had the ability to domesticate cattle and had developed the system to farm and produce livestock.

How do we know that these cattle existed and were domesticated? Archaeological evidence suggests that there would be no way for the cattle to survive in the arid climate of Egypt without the guidance of humans. If this is the case then the Nabta Playa proves to be a very important spot in the Sahara desert. Not only is there significant astronomical interpretations, the fact that the prehistoric humans in this region had settled down and were no longer a nomadic people. This also means that they had the ability to farm and did not have to survive off of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

What’s more, approximately 9,000 years ago the people of the Nabta Playa dug out walk-in wells in order to provide a year-round source of water for humans as well as cattle. This goes more to suggest that the humans of the Nabta Playa had acquired the technology and skills to live year round in the Sahara desert.

Given the ability to visit the Nabta Playa thousands of years ago, this site truly seems reminiscent of a prehistoric desert oasis. The technology and knowledge from this site was once great and is still being studied today by archaeologists and astronomers in the area.

Sources:

Hirst, K. Kris. “Nabta Playa – Early Evidence of Cattle Domestication.” About Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Wallace, Ryan C. “Megalithic Astronomy at the Ceremonial Center of Nabta Playa.” Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

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