Skip to comments.Ancient lakes of the Sahara
Posted on 01/21/2006 4:14:03 AM PST by Tyche
The Sahara has not always been the arid, inhospitable place that it is today it was once a savannah teeming with life, according to researchers at the Universities of Reading and Leicester.
Eight years of studies in the Libyan desert area of Fazzan, now one of the harshest, most inaccessible spots on Earth, have revealed swings in its climate that have caused considerably wetter periods, lasting for thousands of years, when the desert turned to savannah and lakes provided water for people and animals.
This, in turn, has given us vital clues about the history of humans in the area and how these ancient inhabitants coped with climate change as the land began to dry up around them again.
In their article Ancient lakes of the Sahara, which appears in the January-February issue of American Scientist magazine, Dr Kevin White of the University of Reading and Professor David Mattingly of the University of Leicester explain how they used satellite technology and archaeological evidence to reveal new clues about both the past environment of the Sahara and of human prehistory in the area.
The climate of the Sahara has been highly variable over the millennia and we have been able to provide much more specific dating of these changes, said Dr White. Over the last 10,000 years, there have been two distinct humid phases, separated by an interval of highly variable but generally drying conditions between roughly 8,000 and 7,000 years ago. Another drying trend took place after about 5,000 years ago, leading to todays parched environment.
The researchers determined where surface water was once present by using radar images of the desert taken from space. These images showed rivers, lakes and springs now buried below shifting sand dunes. As these bodies dried out thousands of years ago, the resulting mineral deposits cemented the lake sediments together and these hardened layers are detectable by using radar images.
This information was essential because archaeologists need to focus their efforts near ancient rivers, lakes and springs, where people used to congregate due to their basic need for water, said Dr White. We found large quantities of stone tools around the ancient water sources, indicating at least two separate phases of human occupation.
The earliest humans in the area were Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, who lived in the Fazzan between about 400,000 and 70,000 years ago. They survived by hunting large and small game in a landscape that was considerably wetter and greener than it is now. A prolonged arid phase from about 70,000 to 12,000 years ago apparently drove humans out of the region, but then the rains returned along with the people.
Around 5,000 years ago the climate began to dry out again, but this time people adapted by developing an agricultural civilization with towns and villages based around oases. This process culminated with the emergence of the Garamantian society in the first millennium BC.
Professor Mattingly said: We have been given a completely new view of this elusive and remarkable society. The Garamantes were known to the ancient Romans as a race of desert warriors, but archaeology has shown they had agriculture, cities and a phenomenally advanced system of water extraction that kept their civilisation going for 1,000 years as the land was drying up around them.
They cultivated a variety of high-grade cereals, such as wheat and barley, and other crops such as date palms, vines, olives, cotton, vegetables and pulses.
As the Saharan climate began to dry out they drew their water from a large subterranean aquifer (an underground bed of rock that yields water) and transported it through a network of tunnels.
The fact that the Garamantes developed this ingenious irrigation system shows that our ability to apply engineering solutions to deal with climate change is by no means only a modern phenomenon, said Dr White. The gradual drying up of springs and dessication of the surrounding landscape must have seemed ominous , but they knew they had to develop sophisticated methods to cope with it.
But even this remarkably adaptable society one of the first urban civilisations built in a desert could not cope forever with a falling water table and intensifying aridity. Sometime around 500AD, the Garamantian society collapsed and their irrigation system fell into disuse.
Associated with this research, Readings School of Human and Environmental Sciences, in collaboration with the Department of Meteorology, are undertaking a major project, linking climate, water and civilization in the Middle East and North Africa, with a £1,240,000 grant from the Leverhulme Trust.
Beethoven and Hitler are two famous examples of this group. It is interesting to imagine Hitler's reaction to someone telling him he probably got his heavy, black hair from Black African ancestry.
Since this was so long ago, with population movement and inter-marriage, all Europeans must have some ancestry from these Black African soldiers.
In sixty generations, a person could leave 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 descendants with just two children per person each generation so long as no descendants married each other.
Obviously, after a time, many descendants will marry each other, but still it works out statistically that most people from that long ago who left descendants at all are ancestors of everyone in Europe today.
The tendency for people to stay in their own community explains why we can see the effects along the Danube and in the Black Forest in the people with black hair and dark eyes but do not see it far afield like Iceland.
The concentration is far greater at the point of origin, but the dispersion radiates out to everywhere given enough time.
The Garamante Family is now in Southern Italy? ;^)
Thanks for the further info.
Thanks for pointing out the Garamantes civilization. I would have missed it.
I think Sgt. Pepper had a microwave band. Somethin' like that. Hmm. Must be late, I'm lame.
"Histories"The sea-coast beyond the Lotophagi is occupied by the Machlyans, who use the lotus to some extent, though not so much as the people of whom we last spoke. The Machlyans reach as far as the great river called the Triton, which empties itself into the great lake Tritonis. Here, in this lake, is an island called Phla, which it is said the Lacedaemonians were to have colonised, according to an oracle.
Book IV "Melpomene"
tr by George Rawlinson
The following is the story as it is commonly told. When Jason had finished building the Argo at the foot of Mount Pelion, he took on board the usual hecatomb, and moreover a brazen tripod. Thus equipped, he set sail, intending to coast round the Peloponnese, and so to reach Delphi. The voyage was prosperous as far as Malea; but at that point a gale of wind from the north came on suddenly, and carried him out of his course to the coast of Libya; where, before he discovered the land, he got among the shallows of Lake Tritonis. As he was turning it in his mind how he should find his way out, Triton (they say) appeared to him, and offered to show him the channel, and secure him a safe retreat, if he would give him the tripod. Jason complying, was shown by Triton the passage through the shallows; after which the god took the tripod, and, carrying it to his own temple, seated himself upon it, and, filled with prophetic fury, delivered to Jason and his companions a long prediction. "When a descendant," he said, "of one of the Argo's crew should seize and carry off the brazen tripod, then by inevitable fate would a hundred Grecian cities be built around Lake Tritonis." The Libyans of that region, when they heard the words of this prophecy, took away the tripod and hid it.
The next tribe beyond the Machlyans is the tribe of the Auseans. Both these nations inhabit the borders of Lake Tritonis, being separated from one another by the river Triton. Both also wear their hair long, but the Machlyans let it grow at the back of the head, while the Auseans have it long in front. The Ausean maidens keep year by year a feast in honour of Minerva, whereat their custom is to draw up in two bodies, and fight with stones and clubs. They say that these are rites which have come down to them from their fathers, and that they honour with them their native goddess, who is the same as the Minerva (Athene) of the Grecians. If any of the maidens die of the wounds they receive, the Auseans declare that such are false maidens. Before the fight is suffered to begin, they have another ceremony. One of the virgins, the loveliest of the number, is selected from the rest; a Corinthian helmet and a complete suit of Greek armour are publicly put upon her; and, thus adorned, she is made to mount into a chariot, and led around the whole lake in a procession. What arms they used for the adornment of their damsels before the Greeks came to live in their country, I cannot say. I imagine they dressed them in Egyptian armour, for I maintain that both the shield and the helmet came into Greece from Egypt. The Auseans declare that Minerva is the daughter of Neptune and the Lake Tritonis -- they say she quarrelled with her father, and applied to Jupiter, who consented to let her be his child; and so she became his adopted daughter. These people do not marry or live in families, but dwell together like the gregarious beasts. When their children are full-grown, they are brought before the assembly of the men, which is held every third month, and assigned to those whom they most resemble...
Thus from Egypt as far as Lake Tritonis Libya is inhabited by wandering tribes, whose drink is milk and their food the flesh of animals. Cow's flesh, however, none of these tribes ever taste, but abstain from it for the same reason as the Egyptians, neither do they any of them breed swine. Even at Cyrene, the women think it wrong to eat the flesh of the cow, honouring in this Isis, the Egyptian goddess, whom they worship both with fasts and festivals. The Barcaean women abstain, not from cow's flesh only, but also from the flesh of swine.
West of Lake Tritonis the Libyans are no longer wanderers, nor do they practise the same customs as the wandering people, or treat their children in the same way. For the wandering Libyans, many of them at any rate, if not all -- concerning which I cannot speak with certainty -- when their children come to the age of four years, burn the veins at the top of their heads with a flock from the fleece of a sheep: others burn the veins about the temples. This they do to prevent them from being plagued in their after lives by a flow of rheum from the head; and such they declare is the reason why they are so much more healthy than other men. Certainly the Libyans are the healthiest men that I know; but whether this is what makes them so, or not, I cannot positively say -- the healthiest certainly they are. If when the children are being burnt convulsions come on, there is a remedy of which they have made discovery. It is to sprinkle goat's water upon the child, who thus treated, is sure to recover. In all this I only repeat what is said by the Libyans.
The rites which the wandering Libyans use in sacrificing are the following. They begin with the ear of the victim, which they cut off and throw over their house: this done, they kill the animal by twisting the neck. They sacrifice to the Sun and Moon, but not to any other god. This worship is common to all the Libyans. The inhabitants of the parts about Lake Tritonis worship in addition Triton, Neptune, and Minerva, the last especially.
Very interest ping!
I, like many, believe in God & Evolution.
Does that make you like me better?
Good, if I wait 5000 to 10,000 years the lakefront property I bought there will be worth millions.
Thanks for the ping. Very interesting.
Thanks for the ping. I found this especially interesting: "A prolonged arid phase from about 70,000 to 12,000 years ago apparently drove humans out of the region, but then the rains returned along with the people."
The prolonged arid phase from about 70,000 to 12,000 years ago corresponds to the last "ice age" in North America, and the return of the rains corresponds to the melting of the North American ice sheet.
The lack of ice in Africa at that time suggests it wasn't a global ice age, but an arctic ice cap centered on what is now Hudson Bay, Canada.
I've read that it collapsed/melted in the 7-8,000 year time frame.
The end of the Wisconsin Glaciation was about 10,000 years before present or 8,000 BC.
Yup. That's what I mean. There were three melt periods, this was the third and last.
Yes, there were three phases of Wisconsin Glaciation, but no total melt-down between them. More important for my point on this thread, there was no ice-age in Africa at any time during the period 70,000 to 10,000 BP which indicates that it wasn't a world-wide ice-age.