Rhafas is a small cave located at 900m elevation in the Oujda Mountains of northeast Morocco approximately 50km from the coast. The site, which was first excavated in the 1980s by L. Wengler, contains over 4.5m of deposits. Wengler has described, at the base of the sequence, a deep series of Middle Paleolithic or Middle Stone Age levels. Overlying this are a couple levels of Aterian, and at the top of the sequence is thin Neolithic deposit. In 2007, N. Mercier and colleagues published TL and OSL dates from a portion of the sequence. Their data suggest that the Middle Stone Age levels mostly date prior to 100 ka, that the latest Middle Stone Age dates to between 90-80 ka, and that the transition to the Aterian occurred between 80-70 ka.
In 2007, the Max Planck Institute began working with Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP, Rabat, Morocco) at the site of Rhafas. The goals of this project are focused primarily on the late Middle Stone Age and the transition to the Aterian. We are continuing the dating program begun by Mercier, and we are collecting new samples from the upper levels to better describe the lithic assemblages, to better understand the transition to Aterian, to do a zooarchaeological study of the associated fauna, to better understand the paleoenvironmental context, and to better understand the site formation processes.
Four seasons were completed. Currently the team is preparing papers based on the results. New OSL results are expected soon. Some of the shells were discussed in the following publication:
"Additional evidence on the use of personal ornaments in the Middle Paleolithic of North Africa" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(38):16051-16056. (Francesco d’Errico, Marian Vanhaeren, Nick Barton, Abdeljalil Bouzouggar, Henk Mienis, Daniel Richter, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Shannon P. McPherron, Pierre Lozouet) [pdf]