PalaeoAffad Project Team

Age of pioneers – Piotr Osypiński (the expedition initiative, prehistorian), Marta Gauza-Osypińska (archaeozoologist), Maciej Kurcz (ethnographer)– team members of the Southern Dongola Reach Survey,  directed by Bogdan Żurawski (Polish Academy of Sciences, Mediterranean Archaeology Department) February 2003. Achilles Gautier (archaeozoologist, Ghent University, Department of Geology and Soil Science) inspired us and was a real accelerator of the first summary of research upon Affad assemblages (published in Journal of African Archaeology 2011).

‘Levallois Traditions Epigones in the Middle Nile Valley’ (2011-2015) – Marta Osypińska (Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology), Piotr Osypiński (Patrimonium Foundation), Achilles Gautier, Mike Morley (geoarchaeologist, Human Origins and Palaeo-Environments Research Group, Oxford Brooks University, Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong), Anna Maria Kotarba-Morley (assistant, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford), Michał Sita (photographer), Houyam Khalid (inspector, National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums, Khartoum), OSL team: Tomasz Kalicki & Ireneusz Olszak (J. Kochanowski University in Kielce, Institute of Geography).

‘Epigones and Forerunners – adaptation strategies of the sub-Saharan societies in terminal pleistocene and early holocene’  (2016-2021) – new faces in the team: Michał Kuc (scholarship of the project – Phd candidate in the Institute of Geography, Wroclaw University), Katarzyna Pyżewicz (use-wear analysis, Institute of Prehistory, A. Mickiewicz University in Poznan), Marek Chłodnicki (archaeologist, Poznan Archaeological Museum), Wim Van Neer (palaeoichtiologist, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, The Palaeontology Department), Anne Skinner (ESR analysis, Williams College, The Chemistry Department), Paweł Wiktorowicz (GIS analysis, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology), and the list is still open.

PalaeoAffad Project Almanac

Project aims & objectives


The previous stage of research in Sudan’s Southern Dongola Reach financed by the National Centre of Science (UMO-2011/01/D/HS3/04125) has become a pivotal study into the prehistory of North-Eastern Africa. Since 2012 the area of Affad was a place of fieldwork for the project  known as the “Levallois Tradition Epigones in the Middle Nile Valley” or the PalaeoAffad Project.

Three-years works resulted in a number of unique data concerning Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene settlement – e.g. relics of cut features (postholes, pits, hearths), rich assemblages of animal remains and one of the latest stone industries rooted in the Levallois traditions. Riverine plains located a few kilometres away from present-day Nile contain relics of settlement sealed with silts from Terminal Pleistocene river alluviation (c.16,000 years old). Also later sediments (Early Holocene in age) produced settlement remains rich in osteological materials that enable an evaluation of the adaptation strategy of the first demographically and socially advanced societies by the Nile.

Current research project objectives

The principal objective of the current project is the evaluation of the different adaptation strategies of the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene societies. Preliminary hypothesis assumes substantially different models of environment exploitation in the two periods while the fauna composition, geomorphology and hydrology suggest identical or very similar ecozones within the Affad Basin microregion. Comprehensive analysis of both hitherto excavated and new locations through widely applied palaeoenvironmental studies (including magnetometric survey and the absolute dating of sediments, archaeozoological and geomorphological studies) will allow the presentation of a high resolution model of landscape formation. The main research problem is to find and evaluate particular factors driving adaptation models of the Middle Palaeolithic and Mesolithic/Early Neolithic societies. Archaeological sites in the Affad Basin gave a unique opportunity to research the subject due to the preservation of stratified archaeological evidence from both periods. Diversity of the adaptation strategies as a combination of relations between human culture and environment were not previously analysed in the Middle Nile Valley. Our results undoubtedly shall accelerate discussion upon the prolonged persistence of the Middle-Palaeolithic in sub-Saharan Africa and the late appearance of socially and demographically advanced societies in the region.

Research methodology

The unique potential of the Affad sites results from secure stratigraphic evidence enabling an assessment of the camps’ size and their spatial organization, ascertaining functional diversity of the sites within the landscape as well as detailed analysis of the lithic industries through functional and technological approaches. A similar potential concerns animal remains as a source of data for palaeoenvironmental studies, defining hunting/gathering strategies and meat processing (food conservation and preparation). Also Early Holocene sites produce additional correlates of material culture – pottery and domesticated animal remains (their isotopic composition to be analysed to allow an evaluation of the animals’ diet and migrations). The wide spectrum of planned analyses includes also OSL dating of sediments, radiocarbon dating of remains, Electron Spin Resonance dating of teeth, Digital Elevation Model (DEM) creation for GIS analysis, magnetometric survey of selected areas and petrographic analysis of sediments for reconstruction of the buried topography, working on the best world-wide comparative collections of African mammals and fish in Belgium and Kenya as well as experimental procurement and usage of stone tools for use-wear analysis.

Expected impact of the research on science, civilization and society

Taking into account the multispectral approach and range of the project, it should be perceived as an innovative way of research into the prehistory of Africa. The project results will greatly influence global knowledge of the early history of human culture, especially of the adaptation strategies related to Middle Palaeolithic societies and its prolonged survival in Sub-Saharan Africa. No less important will be the results derived from the study of the Early Holocene societies that inhabited the Affad Basin where were true forerunners of a new adaptation model. The African Neolithic age origins (e.g. domestication of African ruminants rather than the influx of Near Eastern animals) is still a subject of international debate.