Nabta Playa contains numerous megaliths some still standing in their original positions and some having toppled over. The archaeological site of Nabta Playa is located approximately 70 miles west of Abu Simbel in the south of Egypt.
These North African megaliths include flat, tomb-styled stone structures and a circle of stones that predates the larger Stonehenge arrangement. This megalithic site is regarded as one of the oldest in the world.
Discovered at a Comfort Stop
The site was first uncovered by a group of scientists headed by anthropology professor, Fred Wendorf, in 1974. The Egyptologists had stopped for a short comfort break after a tedious ride from the Libyan border when some of them noticed potsherds and other artefacts sprawled across the ground. Professor Wendorf returned many times to the site and continued excavations into the 1980’s.
A Very Ancient Site
Archaeological excavations at Nabta Playa have revealed that human occupation there was at its height 6,000 years ago coinciding with the major mega stones and the majority of other artefacts. There is also good archaeological evidence of earlier habitation. The ceramic artefacts that have been recovered are not extensive in number but are considered by Egyptologists to be some of the oldest ever identified on the African Continent.
The Early People of Nabta
The playa of Nabta is a self-draining, land basin and is vulnerable to climate changes. There are noticeable voids in the archaeological record that point to non-habitation periods and possible migration from the region. Such migration would be primarily due to lack of water and early peoples seem to have moved back and forth from the Nile River area depending on the drought conditions of Nabta.
To alleviate water shortages and provide more stability for larger settlements the early nomadic Nabtans dug deep water wells. There is evidence that the people of Nabta began to produce their own local pottery prior to the building of the megaliths.
The Megalithic People
Settlements grew, due to large water reservoirs, and their cultures became larger and more sophisticated. One settlement, which has been excavated from this urbanisation period, contains 18 house structures arranged in two, or possibly even three, straight lines in an almost ‘Coronation Street’ style.
The area contains numerous fireplace hearths and, of course, the amazing walk-down water wells. These were the people who constructed the megaliths perhaps for ceremonial or religious purposes. The great stone alignments have been classified and named by modern archaeologists.
During this period of occupation the Nabtans erected five megalithic alignments all radiating like wheel spokes from a central cluster of stones named E-96-1 Structure A. The stones are quartzite sandstone and have been moved to the site from and open sandstone area located about half a mile away.
The Structures of Nabta
Apart from the very obvious megalithic alignments, Nabta boasts numerous fire hearths located around a stone calendar circle about 300 metres north of the mega stones. This stone circle is very small compared with the great structures of Stonehenge and Carnac but it demonstrates similar astronomical affiliations. Archaeologists, using global positioning systems, have surveyed the large radial stones and found that their alignments are exactly on the axis north-south and east-west as are the stones of the calendar circle.
The east-west line has been calculated to align with the rising and setting sun of the summer solstice more than 6,000 years ago.
Egypt’s Sacred Cow
Many cattle bones have been discovered, adding to the speculation that this was a place of animal veneration. The ancient Egyptians deified cattle, especially the cow. One tumulus contained a fully articulated cow while numerous other, more basic, tumuli contained some artefacts, unshaped stones, and disarticulated cattle bones.
The Early Pharaohs
The constant battle against the relentless heat and droughts of Southern Egypt was a fight that the Nabtans would not win. Eventually, even their great dug out water wells were not sufficient to maintain a civilization. It is uncertain where the last people moved. The people of the Nabta Basin had developed a complex society that archaeologists suggest would have emerged as a leading cultural force in its day. It was beaten by the climate but perhaps they moved north to the Nile Delta and it was their influence that brought Egypt its future Pharaohs and fame.