The earliest inhabitants of Sudan
It was on the vast plateaus of East Africa that humankind evolved. According to archaeological investigations the earliest remains of human presence found in Sudan date to 500 thousand years ago. These are, single only, finds of stone Acheulean hand axes associated with the populations of Neanderthals. The appearance of Homo sapiens in the area of present-day Sudan 40 thousand years ago marked the beginning of the Late Paleolithic period. Extremely dry and cooler than today’s climate forced the concentration of settlement near rivers – the Blue Nile and the Atbara. The most characteristic artefacts of that time were small flint implements called microliths.
The beginnings of pottery
About 9,000 BC (at the turn of the Pleistocene and the Holocene periods) came another wave of profound climate changes, which involved relative warming and increasing precipitation. In the result, the area of Central Sudan became part of Sub-Saharan savannah zone. Vast expanses of previously hostile region were again available for colonization advancing both from the south and the north, as well as from distant desert oases. Small communities inhabiting seasonal camps or semi-permanent settlements based their subsistence on the exploitation of the environment in the vicinity of rivers and water reservoirs (fishing, hunting, gathering fruit and wild grains). From this period come the oldest pottery vessels found the region. They were unearthed at the sites of Mesolithic Early Khartoum culture (Saqqai, Khartoum Hospital).
At the same time, Lower Nubia was inhabited by communities specialized in different subsistence strategies. Groups living in the area of the Second Cataract (so called Arkin culture) specialized mainly in hunting large mammals of the savannah. People of the Quadan culture (which developed between 9th and the end of 7th century BC) based their subsistence on the gathering of molluscs and fishing.
First animal breeders
The second stage of later prehistory in Sudan began at the turn of the 6th and 7th c. BC – then a two-way civilization development became more apparent. The region of Wadi Halfa was inhabited by the communities of the Abkan culture, who lived in large settlements located in the areas of ravines and the old riverbeds of the Nile. At the sites of this culture a number of domesticated animal bones were recorded; however, the subsistence was still based on hunting and gathering. Central Sudan, on the other hand, was characterized by the spread of animal husbandry (cattle, sheep, goat) – the tradition introduced by small communities migrating along the Nile from the Egyptian Western Desert. This culture is defined as the Neolithic Khartoum. It is characterized by high quality pottery, bone harpoons, as well as elaborate objects of polished stone, such as mace heads or cosmetic palettes. Finds recorded within settlements include imprints of sorgo and millet grains on pottery vessels, and numerous grinding tools; they should not be regarded as evidence for planned soil cultivation, but rather a sign of a widespread use of wild plant species. All in all, the Neolithic economy would soon spread further into African continent.
Beyond central Sudan, in the middle of the 5th millennium BC, the Neolithic animal breeders reached also the area to the south of the III Cataract. Cemeteries known from this region, impressive in terms of their size, consist of hundreds of graves covered with small mounds. At least one of the burials unearthed at the site of Kadruka, exceptionally large and centrally located, may have belonged to a tribal chieftain.
The Neolithic period introduced fundamental changes in the development of the region’s civilisation. The research carried out for over 30 years at the Neolithic site of Kadero (20 km north of Khartoum) by the Poznań archaeologists, provide a unique opportunity to study different aspects of life of the old Nubian pastoral communities.
Over 200 graves uncovered at the Kadero cemetery have allowed the reconstruction of the social structure of the community. The majority of graves were equipped modestly or did not contain any items. There was also a small percentage of rich burials, concentrated in a separate zone of the necropolis. They contained high quality pottery (among them characteristic bell-shaped beakers with intricate geometric decoration, used probably in burial rituals) and ornaments made of ivory, precious stones and shells (both local and imported from more distant places, e.g. the Red Sea). Other finds included maces with stone heads. Richly equipped children graves indicate that belonging to social elites was hereditary.
Similar social differentiation was characteristic for the Late Neolithic and it can be observed, among others, at the cemetery of Kadada dating to the first half of the fourth millennium BC.