BMCR 2010.02.79

The Archaeology of Fazzan. Volume 2

, The Archaeology of Fazzan. Volume 2. Site Gazetteer, Pottery and Other Survey Finds. Society for Libyan Studies Monograph 7. London: The Society for Libyan Studies and Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahariya Department of Antiquities, 2007. xxix, 522, figs. 760, tables 37. ISBN 9781900971054 £50.00.

[The author of the review has collaborated closely with the editor of the volume under review on the Leptiminus Archaeological Project.]

This is the second volume resulting from a multidisciplinary investigation in the territory of the Garamantes, the powerful kingdom of southern Libya whose existence is roughly contemporary with that of ancient Greece and Rome. Surveys and excavations of Garamantian sites were initially conducted by a number of scholars including Charles Daniels, who worked in the 1960s and 1970s. The Fazzan Project, led by David Mattingly from 1997 to 2001, was designed to augment the research of Daniels, and after his premature death was also charged with bringing his research to publication. The major goal of the Fazzan Project was to understand the role of the Garamantes within the history and exploitation of the Sahara over the long term. Volume 2 publishes all the sites recorded by both Daniels and the Fazzan Project in the main settlement area (Wadi al-Ajal) and outlying districts occupied by the Garamantes. It also presents radiocarbon dating evidence, the pottery typology, lithics, metalworking and other industrial activities, and coins, beads, leather, paper, glass, and other small finds.

The Fazzan region is situated at a major crossroads in the central Sahara approximately 1000 km from the Mediterranean coast. The earliest occupation documented in Volume 2 consists of small bands of hunter-gatherers exploiting quartzite deposits to make Acheulean handaxes from c. 400,000 BP. There is substantial evidence for the Middle Paleolithic until c. 70,000 BP when an arid phase set in, resulting in the drying up of a large lake in the 3-10 km-wide by 150 km-long Wadi al-Ajal. At that time the Fazzan was abandoned and re-occupation did not take place until c. 10,000 BP, when mobile hunter-gatherers returned. Growing aridity led to the initiation of pastoralism and agriculture perhaps as early as 8,000 BP. During the last 5,000 years, rainfall has been negligible, and therefore agricultural production increasingly depended on the ability to acquire water from underground sources. This was most notably achieved by the use of foggaras, subterranean tunnels which tap aquifers and lead water to cultivated plots. A minimum of 617 of these foggaras are known in the Fazzan. They provided for the basis for substantial human occupation, with population numbers possibly in the tens of thousands at their peak in the first three centuries CE (Daniels estimated 120,000 Garamantian tombs could be found along the Wadi al-Ajal). The majority of the population lived in towns and villages, though they were stereotyped as transhumant pastoralists by Greek and Roman authors. Garamantian civilization declined from c. 400 CE. The Fazzan existed outside Islamic control until the 11th or 12th century, but new trans-Saharan trade routes developed through Morocco and Algeria, and the influence of the Garamantes on the development of the desert diminished.

A gazetteer of sites recorded by Daniels and the Fazzan Project constitutes about three-fifths of Volume 2. There are approximately 1000 sites, including hundreds of cemeteries, foggaras, lithic scatters, settlements of varying sizes, forts, inscriptions carved on cliff faces and other rock drawings. The research of Daniels focused on the Garamantes and the Fazzan Project aimed to cover all periods, but (as the authors admit) the gazetteer contains more information about later periods and about regions that have been most intensively explored. It is not, therefore, a comprehensive record of the Fazzan, though it is as good as or better than that for any Saharan region.

The gazetteer is divided into regions and begins with a helpful introduction to the codes used to designate these. Photographs, high-quality plans, and detailed records characterize the presentation of sites. The inclusion of many color photographs in a ‘finds volume’ was an unexpected delight, though this reviewer was disappointed by the small scale at which some of the illustrations were printed.

Extracting information from the descriptions of sites is straightforward; however, one is struck by the potential for the analysis of the information in the gazetteer beyond what has already been carried out. This observation would be valid for the other finds reports that follow the gazetteer and comprise the remaining two-fifths of the volume. All employ traditional formats and offer detailed and careful studies of material, but do not make use of GIS for spatial and chronological assessments. Analyses along these lines were undertaken in The Archaeology of Fazzan. Volume 1. Synthesis, but not to the fullest extent possible. Thus, Volume 2 contains a treasure trove of data suitable for exploitation in more detail. The authors will no doubt do more in their continuing work on the Fazzan, but the potential for other researchers to carry out their own studies is enormous. Additional questions that might be pursued include: relationships between settlements and environmental resources; settlement density analyses; distributional studies of site types, tomb types, ceramics, and lithics. For every period and category of material there are further questions to ask of the data included here.

For anyone who wishes to learn about the Fazzan in detail, a piece of practical advice can be offered. One’s understanding will be greatly enhanced with both The Archaeology of Fazzan. Volume 1. Synthesis and Volume 2 open on the table at the same time.1 For instance, Volume 1 discusses Garamantian settlements, positing a shift in power over time from the early hill-fort at Zinkekra to the larger and longer-occupied oasis at Jarma. The conclusion depends on 11 AMS Radiocarbon dates from Zinkekra and 51 from Jarma; a detailed presentation of the evidence for these dates appears in Volume 2, indicating that the main cultural phase at the former lasted c. 1000-400 BCE while the latter has been occupied from c. 400 BCE until the present day. In the broader picture gained from both volumes, the adoption of settled urban centers at an early date here has significant implications for the Garamantes’ abilities to control the central Sahara through a combination of raiding and trading. Similar observations could be made about parallels between other sections of both volumes; cross-referencing is frequent and explicit, and they complement each other very well.

The landscape of the Sahara is a fragile one, and is being transformed by petroleum extraction, tourism, and modern development in addition to environmental change. There is no doubt that Volume 2 of the Fazzan Project stands as an important achievement documenting and therefore preserving a record of its history. Indeed, the first two volumes of the Fazzan Project greatly improve our knowledge of the central Sahara and deserve a place in every research library. Volume 3 (in press) will publish in detail for the first time the excavations conducted by Daniels, and Volume 4 will consist of the Fazzan Project’s excavations of the Garamantian capital, Jarma. We can hope, and reasonably expect, that they will be of similarly high quality and offer similarly stimulating opportunities for researchers.


1. Volume 1, which appeared in 2003, did not receive a review in the BMCR, but readers may consult the following for discussions of its contents: K. Sadr, Journal of African History 45.3 (2004): 492-493
M. Liverani, Libyan Studies 35, (2004): 191-200
M. Cremaschi, Libyan Studies 35, (2004): 201-204
R. B. Hitchner, Journal of Roman Archaeology 18, (2005): 717
S. Roskams, Antiquity 80 n.308, (2006): 467.