Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Wadi Kubbaniya (ca. 17,000–15,000 b.c.)

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In Egypt, the earliest evidence of humans can be recognized only from tools found scattered over an ancient surface, sometimes with hearths nearby. In Wadi Kubbaniya, a dried-up streambed cutting through the Western Desert to the floodplain northwest of Aswan in Upper Egypt, some interesting sites of the kind described above have been recorded. A cluster of Late Paleolithic camps was located in two different topographic zones: on the tops of dunes and the floor of the wadi (streambed) where it enters the valley. Although no signs of houses were found, diverse and sophisticated stone implements for hunting, fishing, and collecting and processing plants were discovered around hearths. Most tools were bladelets made from a local stone called chert that is widely used in tool fabrication. The bones of wild cattle, hartebeest, many types of fish and birds, as well as the occasional hippopotamus have been identified in the occupation layers. Charred remains of plants that the inhabitants consumed, especially tubers, have also been found.


It appears from the zoological and botanical remains at the various sites in this wadi that the two environmental zones were exploited at different times. We know that the dune sites were occupied when the Nile River flooded the wadi because large numbers of fish and migratory bird bones were found at this location. When the water receded, people then moved down onto the silt left behind on the wadi floor and the floodplain, probably following large animals that looked for water there in the dry season. Paleolithic peoples lived at Wadi Kubbaniya for about 2,000 years, exploiting the different environments as the seasons changed. Other ancient camps have been discovered along the Nile from Sudan to the Mediterranean, yielding similar tools and food remains. These sites demonstrate that the early inhabitants of the Nile valley and its nearby deserts had learned how to exploit local environments, developing economic strategies that were maintained in later cultural traditions of pharaonic Egypt.

Diana Craig Patch
Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Laura Anne Tedesco
Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

View looking southeast toward the mouth of the wadi. The white areas in the middle distance (on the wadi floor) are excavations at Late Paleolithic sites.
Courtesy of The Combined Prehistoric Expedition.
View looking south. Workers at the Late Paleolithic site E-81-5, ca. 15,000 B.C.
Courtesy of The Combined Prehistoric Expedition.
View looking northeast toward the wadi's head. Excavations at site E-78-3, a Late Paleolithic settlement dating from 18,300–18,000 B.C.
Courtesy of The Combined Prehistoric Expedition.

Wadi Kubbaniya in the Nile valley, site of Paleolithic remains.