Uan Muhuggiag

Uan Muhuggiag is an archaeological site in Libya. It was occupied by pastoralists during the early- to mid-Holocene. The site is where the Tashwinat Mummy was found, which was dated to around 5600 BP. It now resides in the Assaraya Alhamra Museum in Tripoli.[1]


Uan Muhuggiag is a rock shelter in southwestern Libya in what is now the Sahara Desert. It is located on the bank of the Wadi Teshuinat, sitting on a plateau in the Tadrart Acacus at almost 3000 feet above sea level.[2] The site is about 1500 miles west of the Nile Valley.[3]


Uan Muhuggiag was first excavated in 1950. The Tashwinat Mummy was discovered by University of Rome Professor Fabrizio Mori in 1958.[1] More recently, in 1982, the site was also excavated by Barbara Barich.[4]


Uan Muhuggiag appears to have been inhabited from at least the 6th millennium BC to about 2700 BC, although not necessarily continuously.[2] The stratigraphic sequence comprises seven distinct occupation levels. Layer 1 is the very top layer, followed by layer 1a. The middle level is labeled from 2a to 2d, with 2d being the oldest.[5] Finally, below that, there is also a layer 3, which is further subdivided into section A, at the top, and section B, at the bottom.[6]

Layer 1 has been dated as beginning around 3800 BP, and consists of loose aeolian sand at the very top, slightly cemented sand and dung below that, and hearths at the bottom. Further down, layer 2 has evidence of humified organic sand and lenses of fresh plant remains.[6] These two layers represent the period of human occupation of the shelter.[4] Layer 3 has even stronger humidified sand, as well as gypsum concretions.[6] The stratigraphic sequence suggests that the shelter was inhabited during a much wetter period than today.

The Tashwinat Mummy was found on the eastern side of a 160 by 80 cm. excavation, under the lowest layer of coals, where the sandstone floor showed a deliberate round excavation of about 25 cm. in diameter and 3 cm. deep. The mummy lay just beneath a layer of vegetable fibers.[7]


Tashwinat Mummy

The most noteworthy find at Uan Muhuggiag is the well-preserved mummy of a young boy of approximately 2 12 years old. The child was in a fetal position, then embalmed, then placed in a sack made of antelope skin, which was insulated by a layer of leaves.[3] The boy's organs were removed, as evidenced by incisions in his stomach and thorax, and an organic preservative was inserted to stop his body from decomposing.[7] An ostrich eggshell necklace was also found around his neck.[2] Radiocarbon dating determined the age of the mummy to be approximately 5600 years old, which makes it about 1000 years older than the earliest previously recorded mummy in ancient Egypt.[1] However of similar or older age Egyptian mummy is now the Turin mummy dated to 5,600 years [8]

In 1958-1959, an archaeological expedition led by Antonio Ascenzi conducted anthropological, radiological, histological and chemical analyses on the Uan Muhuggiag mummy. The specimen was determined to be that of a 30-month-old child of uncertain sex, who possessed Negroid features. A long incision on the specimen's abdominal wall also indicated that the body had been initially mummified by evisceration and later underwent natural desiccation.[9] One other individual, an adult, was found at Uan Muhuggiag, buried in a crouched position.[2] However, the body showed no evidence of evisceration or any other method of preservation.[10]

Rock art

Among other significant finds at Uan Muhuggiag are elaborate rock paintings, mostly attributed to the later occupation period of around 5000 BP. There are more than 100 rock paintings on the shelter's walls and ceiling.[7] The most notable of these are the Round Head paintings.[2] They were named as such because the heads depicted were quite large, out of proportion to the rest of the body, and also very round with a distinct lack of features.[11] Additionally, there was a painting depicting these figures inside a boat, which may have had a ritual or religious significance.[11] One particular figure inside the boat was upside-down, whom Mori had interpreted as being dead.[12] Some rock art depicted cattle with herders and running hunters.[11] There was also a painting of two oxen that was found on a rock which had detached from the wall above. The stratigraphic layer confirmed the painting to date from about 4700 BP.[10] This provided conclusive evidence that the inhabitants of Uan Muhuggiag at that time were pastoralists.

Animal and plant remains

Animal remains found at the site include domestic cattle, sheep or goat, wild cat, wild donkey, warthog, gazelle, hare, baboon, and turtle.[11] Domestic cattle bones were also found in the lowest layers and perhaps date from the 8th millennium BP, providing some of the earliest known evidence of pastoralism in the Sahara.[12] Sheep and goats appear more frequently among the faunal remains in the middle layers, dated to be roughly between 5300 and 6000 BP. It has been surmised that this was probably the time period when the shelter was most actively occupied.[12] Fruits and plant seeds were also found. There were over 30 different species of plant seeds found during the 1982 excavations by Barich, including millet and wild melon. The seeds spanned a long period of time, with the most recent being 3 date seeds that were radiocarbon dated to 2130 BP, suggesting that the shelter continued to be intermittently inhabited even after the period of main occupation and subsequent drought.[4]

Other finds

The pottery at Uan Muhuggiag was found mainly in the top layers. It is of the dotted wavy-line variety, as was common in the region during that period. There is evidence that a two-toothed tool was used in order to create equal spacing between the dots, known as the "return" technique.[11] Other finds at Uan Muhuggiag include two hemispherical hollows dug out of the rock, measuring approximately 30 to 40 centimeters, called "kettles". These were found completely covered by deposits and are estimated to be from at least 7500 BP.[2] Several pieces of charcoal were also found, the oldest of which were determined to be 7800 years old.[2] They were probably used in large fireplace pits.[4] The lower levels also uncovered backed and microlithic tools, while lithics such as flakes and arrowheads were found in the upper layers.[13] A total of 406 stone tool fragments were found in level 2a, and 77 in the earliest occupation level of 2d.[5]


Uan Muhuggiag was inhabited during the early- to mid-Holocene in what has been termed as the African Aqualithic culture complex, or "Green Sahara" period. Analysis of pollen found at the base levels of the site dating to between 7500 and 5000 BC indicate a wet savannah.[6] Extensive samples from a number of sites indicate that tropical humid plants began to expand northward around 12,000 years ago after a lengthy dry period, eventually reaching deep into what is today the Sahara Desert.[14]

Recently, NASA satellites have been able to detect a vast network of ancient river beds and paleolakes underneath the sand dunes around Uan Muhuggiag.[15] Rock art findings depicting elephants, giraffes, and crocodiles were discovered at sites surrounding Uan Muhuggiag. Furthermore, fish bones, fish hooks and harpoons were found at several sites in the Sahara region.[4] It is speculated that the dry period that continues into the present day began around 5000 BP, which led to the abandonment of the site.[12]


Antonio Ascenzi, a pathologist, believes that Uan Muhuggiag and the surrounding area became inhabited around 10,000 BP by Negroid peoples, who followed the monsoon north.[9] Some time later, around 7000 BP, it has been suggested that people from Mesopotamia and the Middle East arrived, introducing pastoralism to the region.[3] There is strong evidence that domestic livestock, principally cattle, played an important role in the lives of the inhabitants of Uan Muhuggiag. This is supported by the number of cattle bones found at the site itself, as well as evidence of a cattle cult and ritual sacrifice at a location in the Messak plateau, just 60 miles away.[3]

The Tashwinat Mummy found at Uan Muhuggiag was 1000 years older than the oldest known Egyptian mummy, and its sophisticated form of evisceration indicates a highly advanced society.[15] Some scholars argue that the sub-Saharan African population living there could have had an influence on the later process of mummification of Ancient Egypt. There is also considerable debate about whether the rock art found at Uan Muhuggiag, along with the two dead bodies, signify that the shelter was a burial place or otherwise sacred. Mori himself had been a strong advocate of this theory and believed that the site was a place where a cult of the dead took place.[2]


  1. "Wan Muhuggiag". Archived from the original on October 16, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  2. Mori, F. (1998). The Great Civilisations of the ancient Sahara: Neolithisation and the earliest evidence of anthropomorphic religions. Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider. ISBN 88-7062-971-6.
  3. Hooke, C. (Director), & Mosely, G. (Producer) (2003). Black Mummy of the Green Sahara (Discovery Channel).
  4. Van Der Meer, M. (1995). "Ancient Agriculture in Libya: A Review of the Evidence". Acta Palaeobot. 35 (1): 85–98. hdl:2381/4671.
  5. Holl, Augustin (1998). "The Dawn of African Pastoralisms: An Introductory Note". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 17 (2): 81–96. doi:10.1006/jaar.1998.0318.
  6. Cremaschi, M.; Di Lernia, S. (1999). "Holocene Climactic Changes and Cultural Dynamics in the Libyan Sahara". The African Archaeological Review. 16 (4): 211–238. doi:10.1023/A:1021609623737.
  7. Cockburn, A. (1980). Mummies, Disease and Ancient Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23020-9.
  8. Redmond, Caroline (2018-08-16). "5,600-Year-Old Mummy Reveals Oldest Egyptian Embalming Recipe Ever Found". All That's Interesting. Archived from the original on 2020-03-01. Retrieved 2020-03-01.
  9. V. Giuffra; et al. (2010). "Antonio Ascenzi (1915-2000), a Pathologist devoted to Anthropology and Paleopathology" (PDF). Pathologica. 102: 1–5. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 November 2016. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  10. Soukopova, J. (2012). Round Heads: The Earliest Rock Paintings in the Sahara. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-4007-1.
  11. Berney, K.; Ring, T. (1996). International Dictionary of Historic Places: Middle East and Africa. Volume 4. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 1-884964-03-6.
  12. Barich, B. (1998). People, Water, and Grain: The Beginnings of Domestication in the Sahara and the Nile Valley. Roma: L'Erma Di Bretschneider. ISBN 88-8265-017-0.
  13. Garcea, Elena (1995). "New investigations in the Tadrart Acacus, Libyan Sahara" (PDF). Nyame Akuma. 44: 35–37.
  14. Watrin, J.; Lézine, A.; Hély, C. (2009). "Plant migration and plant communities at the time of the "green Sahara"". Comptes Rendus Geoscience: 656–670.
  15. Malkowski, E. (2006). Before the Pharaohs: Egypt's Mysterious Prehistory. Rochester, VT: Bear & Co. ISBN 1-59143-048-8.

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