1Pottery is by far the most important archaeological material found in the Southern Libyan Desert. Since 1980 multi-disciplinary research projects of the University of Cologne have been working in the Wadi Howar and adjacent regions to the north and south (fig. 1). From 1980 to 1993 the project B.O.S. (« Besiedlungsgeschichte der Ostsahara ») (Kuper 1981, 1988, 1995) and beginning in 1995, followed by the project ACACIA (« Arid Climate and Cultural Adaptation in Africa ») (e.g. Keding 1998, 2000 ; Keding & Vogelsang 2001 ; Hoelzmann et al. 2001). Nearly 2000 prehistoric sites are now known in the Wadi Howar Region. Pottery is most informative concerning questions of cultural evolution and contact with surrounding areas as the Nile Valley to the east or the central Sahara to the west.
1 - The area of research in the Wadi Howar Region, northern Sudan
2To deal with the large amounts of pottery found on the prehistoric sites and to assure conformity of the pottery description, a system of classification was established already during the times of the project B.O.S. (e.g. Keding 1997, p. 37-40). Technological features, such as the preservation of sherds, colour, treatment of the surface, temper, modeling techniques and hardness of the pottery, are considered as well as the form (thickness of the rim, wall and bottom, the form of the rim, the bottom or the vessel, rim diameters, height of the vessels, modifications) and, of course, the decoration. After a description of its preservation and location, the decoration is analysed on four different levels which are hierarchically organised (Keding 1997, p. 39-40 ; Jesse 2000b, p. 63) :
1) Decorative element / Verzierungselement : The technique and the instrument used to create a decorative pattern.
2) Motif element / Motivelement : The combination of one or more decorative elements and the optical impression of the pattern.
3) Motif / Motiv : The arrangement of the pattern on the surface of the vessel. The motif is formed by one or more motif elements.
4) System of decoration / Verzierungssystem : It results from the structure of the motifs on the vessel. To analyse the system of decoration complete vessels or at least large portions of one vessel are necessary.
3The analysis of the pottery allowed for the establishment of a holocene cultural sequence in the Wadi Howar Region which begins in the 6th millennium BC. Three main horizons can be distinguished, each characterised by a certain pottery design style, lithic artefacts and a specific way of subsistence (see Keding 1998, 2000 ; Keding & Vogelsang 2001 ; Hoelzmann et al. 2001). This paper presents an overview of the development of the pottery design styles in the Wadi Howar Region through time focusing on the main aspects of the decoration principles typical for each cultural horizon.
4Holocene settlement of the Wadi Howar Region started in the 6th millennium BC with groups living a predatory way of life based on hunting, fishing and gathering (Keding 1998, p. 4). On the sites of this period, pottery is found in large quantities (see Jesse 2000b, p. 60). However, complete vessels not having been found, the archaeologist has to deal with sherds of which some larger ones allow the reconstruction of the vessel form and also a more detailed description of the decoration. All pots seem to have been completely decorated, partly decorated sherds are unknown and undecorated pottery is only seldom recorded (Jesse 2000a, p. 83).
5Incision and impression are the techniques of decoration, incision however is infrequent. A combination of incision and impression is to be supposed in some cases. Impressed decorations are made by simple impression or rocker stamping. Pivoting stamp with a two-toothed implement is nearly unknown. Rocker stamping with its different ways of application allows a large variety of different decorative patterns. The implements used for decoration are evenly serrated combs with similar teeth (Jesse 2002, p. 84). In some cases a cord-wrapped stick can be supposed. Single-pronged implements can also be proven, their use is however limited to the rim zone.
6Among decorations, zigzag patterns and different forms of Wavy Line and impressed lines of dots dominate. The Wavy Line pattern can be further subdivided (Jesse 2000b, p. 58, fig. 1, 2002, p. 80) : first of all a distinction has to be made between Incised Wavy Line (IWL) and Dotted Wavy Line (DWL), then between waves and arch-shaped motifs (fig. 2).For the Dotted Wavy Line the length of the waved lines allow a further subdivision : long waves and short waves.
2 - The classification of Wavy Line (adapted from Jesse 2000b, p. 58, fig. 1)
7However, not all of these types have been found in the Wadi Howar. Incised Wavy Line is infrequent, but waves are found as well as arch-shaped motifs (fig. 3.2). Among the Dotted Wavy Line long waves (fig. 3.1) and arch-shaped motifs (Jesse 2000b, p. 67, fig. 7.3) are common. The implements used for the manufacture of Dotted Wavy Line patterns have most frequently four to six teeth (Jesse 2002, p. 84). The arch-shaped motifs differ in their arrangement on the pottery : They can form horizontal bands or covering motifs when super- and juxtaposed.
3 - Pottery of the Dotted Wavy Line and Laqiya Horizon
1 : Dotted Wavy Line, site Abu Tabari 84/50 ; 2 : Incised Wavy Line, site Abu Tabari 97/9 ; 3 : packed zigzag, site Dreizack 95/2 ; 4 : Laqiya pattern, fine type, site Conical Hill 84/24 ; 5 : Laqiya pattern, coarse type, site Conical Hill 95/4
8The waved lines are made by different applications of the rocker technique :
1) The implement is walked in a pivoting fashion over the surface of the vessel following at the same time a general undulating movement.
2) One angle of rotation is kept and the tool then moved rockerwise resulting in a fan-like impression leading to a Dotted Wavy Line pattern when the angle of rotation is changed after having fulfilled one fan-like impression (Caneva 1987, p. 237, fig. 9.1-4) (fig. 4).
4 - Different applications of rocker stamp (adapted from Keding 1989, fig. 1)
9For the undulating lines a distinction has been made previously between short and long waves (see Jesse 2002, p. 80-81) (fig. 2). The form of the small waves, typical for the central Sahara is not known in the Wadi Howar Region. Here long waves, with a length of 20 to 40 mm dominate (Jesse 2003, p. 193). However, on sites in the Ennedi Erg (fig. 1) Dotted Wavy Line patterns with shorter waves have been found which show affinities to sherds from the Tibesti region (e.g. Gabrong, Gabriel 1977, p. 85, photo 34).
10Dotted Wavy Line can be the only decorative pattern (fig. 3.1), but often a combination of packed zigzags and Dotted Wavy Line motifs in zoned bands is observed (Jesse 2000a, p. 84, see p. 81, fig. 3.7).
11A large variety of different zigzag patterns is present. These zigzag patterns are always packed. Different implements are used for their manufacture: cord-wrapped sticks producing dashes (fig. 3.3), fish bones or other natural items. The evenly serrated tools can be of a large shape, up to 16 teeth. However, tools with about six to ten teeth are more common.
12Another typical pattern is the Laqiya-type decoration, a cross-hatched herringbone motif, first described in the area of Wadi Shaw (Schuck 1989, p. 423). This pattern is restricted in its distribution to the Southern Libyan Desert between Jebel Tageru and the Selima Sandsheet (Jesse 2002). Two different forms can be distinguished :
1) The coarse Laqiya type (fig. 3.5) is made by impression and very probably rocker stamping although the movement of the tool across the vessel which creates this pattern can not yet be fully determined.
2) The fine Laqiya type (fig. 3.4) makes it sometimes difficult to discern the technique of decoration, a combination of impression and incision might also have been used. This pattern appears to be rhombus-shaped (Jesse 2002, p. 85).
13The Laqiya-type pattern is mostly the only one found on the vessels, combination with other patterns (mostly waved lines) are rare (Jesse 2003, p. 187).
14In some cases, waved patterns (curves or arch-shaped motifs) are restricted to the rim zone, followed by a Laqiya-type pattern (Jesse 2000a, p. 80, fig. 2.2) or a zigzag pattern on the vessel body. The combination of waved bands in the rim zone and the Laqiya type pattern on the wall seems to be a regional feature of the area between Wadi Howar and the region of Laqiya Arbain (Jesse 2002, p. 85).
15Characteristic for the decoration of the rim zone are « U-shaped » notches arranged in a single horizontal row (Jesse 2000a, p. 84 and p. 80, fig. 2.1). They result from simple impression.
16To summarise the general decoration principles of the first pottery horizon of the Wadi Howar Region (Table 1) : Impression, especially in its variety of rocker stamping, is the dominating technique. Evenly serrated tools with similar teeth are used. Different kinds of Wavy Line patterns and zigzags and the Laqiya-type pattern are the most common decoration types. Decoration always completely covers the vessel. Banded motifs can occur and mostly consist of the alternating application of Wavy Line patterns and zigzag patterns or rows of impressed dots or dashes. Certain decorations (e.g. « U-shaped » notches) are limited to the rim zone. Rim lip decoration consists of only a few decorative patterns, impressed or incised oblique or horizontal lines.
Table 1 - The development of the pottery design styles in the Wadi Howar Region – an overview
17In around 4000 BC a marked change occurred with the establishment of a producing way of life : Cattle herders now occupy the territories of the Wadi Howar (Keding 1997, 1998, p. 5-10). Concentrations of pottery and / or bones, mostly of cattle, in different numbers can be observed on the sites, representing the visible parts of pits. Pottery preservation is much better than for the previous period, often the reconstruction of complete vessels is possible (see Keding 1997 ; Günther 1995).
18Unlike earlier periods, undecorated vessels are now rather common (Keding 1997, p. 302, plate 10.2 ; Günther 1995 : plate 1-2) as are partly decorated vessels with a decoration limited to the upper part (e.g. Keding 1993, p. 376, fig. 4.4 ; 1997, p. 319, plate 27.1 and p. 347, plate 55.4 – 55.5). Completely decorated pots exist as well (e.g. Keding 1993 : p. 375, fig. 3.4-5 ; 1997, p. 362, plate 70.2).
19The main techniques used for applying the decorative patterns are incision and impression. Incised decoration is mostly restricted to the rim zone, impressed decoration can be found on the whole body. Among the different incised patterns simple lines (e.g. Keding 1997, p. 300, plate 8.6) and bands with a criss-cross pattern (e.g. Keding 1997, p. 328, plate 36.3) are the most common. Seldom incised waved lines (e.g. Keding 1997, p. 308, plate 16.6) or a single waved line as part of a body decoration (e.g. Keding 1997, p. 339, plate 47.4) occur.
20The impressed decorations are distinct not only by the tool used for their application but also by the technique (Keding 1997, p. 76). Simple impression is used as is rocker stamping. The tools have either a plain or a serrated edge (fig. 4). Tools with an evenly serrated edge can be distinguished from those with an unevenly serrated edge. The tools with an unevenly serrated edge are marked by one or more larger gaps between the teeth. The combs are rather small, the length varies from 10 to 30 mm (Günther 1995, p. 128 ; Keding 1997, p. 87).
21A standardised form of an unevenly serrated comb was used to produce the most prominent decorative pattern, the Leiterband pattern (Keding 1997, p. 88). The name « Leiterband » was introduced by R. Kuper (Kuper 1981, p. 272) to describe the ladder-like impression of the decoration. The typical tool for the application of that pattern has three teeth and two gaps in between. The first tooth is of oblong shape, the two others are round (fig. 4). Sometimes a two-toothed implement was used to form the Leiterband pattern, then having an oblong tooth and a rounded one (Keding 1997, p. 88). Also patterns made by tools with four teeth might appear (Günther 1995, p. 128).
22The combination of tool and technique (fig. 4) creates the different patterns of the Leiterband Horizon of which the most important shall be presented in more detail. The application of the plain edged tools, either straight or curved, in a rocker movement results in straight or curved zigzag patterns (fig. 5.3). The bands of zigzags are mostly arranged in horizontal rows parallel to the rim, the single zigzag bands can be directly juxtaposed forming a covering decoration (Keding 1997, p. 86, see p. 299, plate 7.4).
23Evenly serrated combs with mostly four to five teeth used with a rocker movement create dotted zigzags (fig. 5.5) which can be either straight or curved (Keding 1997, p. 86, see p. 346, plate 54.11 and p. 347, plate 55.4) depending on the form of the implement. The zigzags are well and evenly spaced, which in general makes it easy to recognise the rocker movement, and are organised in horizontal bands on the vessel surface. The unevenly serrated combs among them the special form of the « typical » Leiterband comb (one oblong tooth, larger gap, round tooth, larger gap, round tooth) were also used with the rocker stamp technique. To create the « typical » Leiterband pattern (fig. 5.1 and 5.4), the second movement of the tool partly overlaps the first impressed row (fig. 4). The result is a banded motif with alternating decorated and non-decorated bands (Keding 1997, p. 88, see also p. 85, fig. 40e-f). This type of decoration is thus a rather standardised. Sometimes the second row overlapped two-thirds of the first, thus creating a rather dense pattern, called «vivid» Leiterband (Keding 1997, p. 89).
5 - Pottery of the Leiterband Horizon
1 : Leiterband, site Djabarona 84/13 ; 2: contraposed triangles, site Djabarona 84/13 ; 3 : plain zigzag, site Djabarona 84/13 ; 4 : Leiterband, site Djabarona 80/86 ; 5 : dotted zigzag, site Djabarona 84/13
24A variant of the Leiterband pattern, the « Halbmondleiterband » pattern results from the application of a slightly different tool: the first tooth is of crescent shape. This pattern also creates a rather vivid impression (Keding 1997, p. 90, see p. 357, plate 65.6).
25Among the tools are two-toothed implements with two identical teeth and a large gap in between. When applied in the rocker technique, contraposed triangles appear separated by an undecorated zone (Keding 1997, p. 90, see also p. 84, fig. 40d) (fig. 4, fig. 5.2).
26Simple impression, either using a comb or a single-pronged implement is not very common. The most prevalent pattern, the so-called « Wellenband-motivelement » results from the impression of a tool with one circular point. The impressions are arranged in a way that the clay between the simple impressions takes the form of a waved band (Keding 1997, p. 92, see p. 332, plate 40.8 and p. 336, plate 44.10). This pattern is rather typical of rim decorations (fig. 5.3) but can also appear in the middle of the wall decoration.
27For the decoration of the rim lips only a few patterns were observed, the most common ones are criss-cross lines or incisions vertically applied to the rim (Keding 1997, p. 93).
28The decorative principles of the Leiterband Horizon can be summarised as follows (Table 1) :
29Incision and impression are the techniques used for decoration, rocker stamping is of great importance, return technique is applied. Among the different tools combs are most important, a certain standardisation is observed concerning the tools used for the creation of the Leiterband pattern. Patterns made by implements with plain edge appear.
30Certain patterns are limited in their application to certain parts of the vessel body: for example incised criss-cross patterns or incised simple lines are restricted to the rim zone.
31Patterns characteristic of the vessel body are the various Leiterband patterns, contraposed triangles and plain or dotted zigzags (fig. 5).
32The decorative patterns are mostly arranged in horizontal bands. A semi-circular arrangement appear (fig. 5.4) as well as a vertical arrangement of zigzag patterns (e.g. Keding 1997, p. 326, plate 34.5). The vessel can be completely decorated but often only partly decorated vessels are observed. The decoration is then limited to the upper part of the vessel (e.g. Keding 1986, plates 19-21; 1997, p. 307, plate 15.6). Completely undecorated vessels also exist. The idea of decoration covering the whole surface of the vessel is no longer cogent, undecorated zones gain their importance as part of the decoration system. On some vessels, the incised criss-cross pattern used in the rim zone reappears after a larger undecorated portion of the vessel (e.g. Keding 1986, plate 25 upper part, plate 27 ; 1997, p. 361, plate 69.2). First indications of geometric structures appear: a medallion embedded in a covering motif (Keding 1997, p. 362, plate 70.2) or undecorated squares resulting from the arrangement of zigzag patterns (e.g. Keding 1997, p. 307, plate 15.3 and p. 331, plate 39.11). One vessel is only decorated on the bottom part (Keding 1986, plate 31).
33Finds from the Lower Wadi Howar show, that incision was probably more important as a decorative technique during this period. Incised herring-bone patterns appear on several sites (Keding 2000, p. 92 and fig. 2.d, fig. 4). These can be limited to the upper part of the body. The role of completely undecorated pottery has yet to be evaluated.
34With the end of the 3rd millennium BC new decorative patterns again appear in the Wadi Howar together with a change in lifestyle: geometric patterns and mat impressed patterns. Due to increasing aridity small livestock (sheep and goat) was added to the herds; domestic donkeys appear. Changes in pottery are not only reflected in new types of decoration but also in a larger variety of vessel forms (e.g. curved profiles) and a change of temper. Organic material was commonly used, but often combined with sand temper (Keding 2000, p. 99 ; Keding & Vogelsang 2001, p. 274).
35The techniques of decoration are still incision and impression. Incision is widely used now, however, never appears as the only decorative technique. Impression still remains the most important technique of decoration but in contrast to the previous periods the amount of rocker stamping is decreasing, simple impression or mat impression becoming more important (see Günther 1995, p. 128-129). A combination of incision and impression is often used.
36As to the tools, small combs with angular teeth have been used, having a length between 7 and 35 mm, a general standardisation is not discernible. Only on the level of site analysis, and probably connected with chronological features, certain types of tools show a preferential use: e.g. on site Djabarona 96/2 in the Middle Wadi Howar combs often have eight teeth and a length of 20 mm or nine to twelve teeth and a length of 30-35 mm. Smaller combs with three, four or six teeth are rare (Prill 2000, p. 57). On site Djabarona 84/19 the combs had four respectively five to seven teeth, combs with more than seven teeth are rare (Günther 1995, p. 126). Combs are evenly serrated, the unevenly serrated implements with one ore more large gaps widely used for the application of patterns of the Leiterband Horizon are lacking. Implements with one single point, mostly of a triangular shape, more seldom of irregular or rounded shape are used (Prill 2000, p. 57).
37Two phases can be distinguished regarding the pottery with geometric patterns due to different decorative patterns and a different range of vessel forms present : for the time being, they have been simply named « fine geometric » and « coarse geometric » pottery (Keding 1998, p. 10). Being aware of the fact that geometric patterns are widespread in Northern Africa from the end of the 3rd millennium BC onwards and to provide a better specification of the cultural evidence in the Wadi Howar Region we now propose to call this cultural complex the Handessi Horizon. « Handessi » is an arabic expression for « geometric » patterns. It should then be distinguished between Handessi A (corresponding to the former «fine geometric» pottery) and Handessi B, the former « coarse geometric » pottery. The two groups seem to have chronological significance (see Keding 1998, p. 10-11) : Handessi A is characterised by simple impression and incision. The decoration is limited mostly to the rim zone, characteristic are one or more row(s) of triangular impressions sometimes associated with criss-cross patterns or simple impression using a comb (Keding 1998, p. 10 ; Prill 2000). The slightly younger Handessi B is marked by a larger range of vessel forms, the presence of complex geometric patterns (e.g. hanging triangles or other geometric designs filled with impressions) and the appearance of mat impression. Decoration of the interior of the vessels is also observed (see Günther 1995, p. 145 ; Keding 1998, p. 11). When connected with the available C14-datings, the sites with Handessi pottery analysed in more detail, seem to confirm the chronological implications of the two phases. The question remains, however, if they do not just represent the coexistence of different groups in the Wadi Howar Region with different ceramic styles and traditions.
38Coming back to Handessi A: decoration is mainly limited to the upper part of the vessel, the rim lip and the rim zone. Decoration on the body is seldom seen. Rim lip decoration is rather varied (incised vertical lines, incised criss-cross-patterns, vertical or oblique impressions), but the rim lip is never the only decorated part of the vessel. The main zone of decoration of the vessel is the rim zone, here the largest varieties of techniques and motif elements can be observed (Prill 2000, p. 61). Characteristic for the decoration of this zone are simple impressions with a single-pronged implement resulting in one or more band(s) of triangular impressions (fig. 6.1, 3) and incised patterns like a criss-cross one (Prill 2000, p. 63). The characteristic Bouton-impressions, small nodes protruding to the exterior of the vessel and resulting from punctuations nearly perforating the wall, are seldom found (Prill 2000, p. 58).
39The « typical » vessel of a Handessi A site is thus undecorated except for a band of decoration in the rim zone (Prill 2000, p. 71). The triangular impressions can be combined with bands of simple comb impressions (fig. 6.1) or incised or impressed criss-cross-patterns (Prill 2000, p. 69 ; see plates 1-2). If decoration on the body is present it often shows complex geometric designs (hanging triangles filled with impressions or other geometric forms; see Prill 2000, plate 10.2 and plate 16) (fig. 6.2). Decoration covering the whole vessel is not common.
6 - Pottery of the Handessi Horizon
1 : Handessi A, site Djabarona 96/2; 2 : Handessi A, site Djabarona 84/1 ; 3 : Handessi A, site Djabarona 84/1 ; 4 : Handessi B, site Djabarona 96/119
40In general, rocker stamping is not a main decorative technique for the Handessi A pottery. On site Djabarona 84/1, however, zigzag patterns made by rocker stamping, using either a comb or a spatula, are important for the wall decoration (Prill 2000, p. 76-77).
41The Handessi B pottery differs in some aspects from the Handessi A ceramics: Rim lip decoration is rare (Günther 1995, p. 144). The rim zone is the most important zone of decoration. Simple impressions with a single-pronged implement or an evenly serrated comb resulting in oblique rows of impressions are present (Günther 1995, p. 136). Geometric patterns, e.g. hanging triangles filled with impressions (Keding 1998, p. 11, plate 6) (fig. 6.4), are a common decoration. Mat impression is mostly found on the vessel body (Günther 1995, p. 141) ; in some cases it was, however, already applied from the rim downwards. Other than by mat impression, the body of the vessel can be decorated by complex geometric patterns (Günther 1995, p. 144 and plate 25.2).
42Decoration on the interior of the vessel is frequent (Keding 1998, p. 11). Here, oblique rows of simple comb impressions are present as are incised or impressed criss-cross patterns or herringbone patterns. Pottery has been found with decoration on the rim zone of the interior surface but with no decoration on the upper part of the exterior surface which is then however followed by mat impression on the main part of the vessel body.
43The appearance of mat impression thus seems to be one of the most prominent features of the Handessi B pottery.
44To summarise the development of the different pottery design styles in the Wadi Howar Region clear differences between the three main cultural horizons can be seen. But some continuities are also present (Table 1). Incision and impression are always used but in different forms and quantities. For the Dotted Wavy Line and Laqiya Horizon, impression with its special form of rocker stamping is the most important technique of decoration, by which evenly serrated implements are used. The decoration always covers the whole vessel. Rim lip decoration appears with a small variety of decorative patterns.
45For the Leiterband Horizon impression, again rocker stamping, is the main technique of decoration. Besides evenly serrated tools now also unevenly serrated appear, the most prominent being a tool with three teeth and two larger gaps. This implement was used to create the Leiterband patterns. Banded decoration is typical, the alternatingly decorated and undecorated bands result from the application of an unevenly serrated tool. Vessels can either be completely or partly decorated (mostly then on the upper part). Undecorated pottery exits.
46The Handessi Horizon shows a larger variation in its decoration systems which is chronologically explained but might also be the result of different groups coexisting in the same region. Vessels are partly or completely decorated, but even in the latter case the most important zone for decoration is the upper part of the vessel, but not necessarily on the exterior surface. Decoration on the interior surface is common in the rim zone. Mat impression appears, covering either the complete vessel or large portions of the body. Complex geometric patterns can be found. Impression and incision are still used, rocker stamping however is no longer of importance. Simple impression predominates.
47A diversification of the rim lip decoration which can be seen in the Nile Valley (Jesse 2003, p. 161) is not observed in the Wadi Howar Region. Here rim lip decoration is always limited to a small number of patterns.
48Through time the phenomenon that certain types of decoration are limited to certain parts of the vessel can be observed, especially the rim zone (on the exterior as well as on the interior surface) often shows a special range of patterns.
49The changes in pottery decoration – but also in vessel form and temper – are linked with changes in the general way of life. The question must thus be asked if these changes are the result of a continuous evolution over time or the result of external influences. Both are certainly true.
50The main outlines of the development of the pottery design styles in the Wadi Howar Region are well established. However, the finds of new types of decoration in the Middle and Lower Wadi Howar (see Keding 2000, p. 100) during the last field seasons of the ACACIA-project can definitively clarify the sequence presented here.