Nabta Playa: The ancient astronomers and the origin of Egypt

Nabta Playa is an archaeological site in the Nubian desert and is made up of hundreds of prehistoric burial mounds, stelae, and megalithic structures.

Nabta Playa

It is the result of an advanced urban community that emerged approximately 11,000 years ago and left behind a large number of stones that, for scientists, are the oldest megalithic astronomical alignments in the world.

Some archaeologists believe that the town of Nabta Playa was the precursor to the first cities of the Nile that emerged in Egypt thousands of years later.

The ancient remains of Nabta Playa were first discovered in 1974 by a group of scientists led by Fred Wendorf, professor of anthropology at the Methodist University of South Texas, who realized that there were many objects in the sand.

Wendorf made several visits to the site, discovering something new each time.

But it was actually several decades earlier when researchers discovered the dozens of stone structures that are known today and when they realized the function and importance of these large megaliths.

The first inhabitants of Nabta Playa

Although Nabta Playa is currently in a dry and unforgiving desert, it was not always the case.

Scientists have determined that around 10,000 BC. C., a climatic change produced in the north of Africa a displacement towards the north of the summer monsoons.

This change caused enough rain over the region to fill a number of “beaches” (dry lakes) for at least several months of the year: enough water to support animals and humans.

Archaeological evidence seems to suggest that the first settlements of people at Nabta Playa emerged between 11,000 and 9,300 years ago.

Wendorf and ethnolinguist Christopher Ehret have suggested that they were nomadic herders with seasonal camps and that they eventually left the site when the water ran dry.

Nabta Playa

Although very few ceramic remains have been found, the discovered ones are considered among the oldest identified in Africa.

About 9,000 years ago, settlements became larger and more sophisticated, and villages built cabins with fireplaces, arranged in rows, and began digging deep wells, allowing them to have a year-round water supply: condition necessary for permanent settlement.

During this time the area was covered by grasslands where gazelles and hares lived and people survived by hunting and eating wild plants.

There is also evidence that the domestication of animals, including goats and sheep, arose around 8,100 years ago, as well as the establishment of organized jobs.

Between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago the region suffered two major droughts that caused a significant decrease in the water level. Nabta Playa became an extremely arid and almost lifeless place and the settlements were abandoned.

However, the droughts subsided after about 1,000 years and new human groups began to return to the site.

From that moment the region witnessed the arrival of a much more complex and advanced society and it was during this period that most of the megalithic structures were built.

The stone structures of Nabta Playa

For several thousand years, the town of Nabta Playa built numerous megalithic monuments, including stone circles, underground tombs, huge stone slabs, and rows of stelae stretching for some 2,500 meters.

These megalithic monuments are among the oldest in the world: Nabta Playa is a few thousand years older than Stonehenge.

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