3. Sahara was inhabited

Africa is considered the cradle of humankind, because the remnant bones of a 1.5 million years old Australopithecus have been found in its centre on the shores of Lake Chad, as well as many carved stones. Rocks shaped to be used as grinding mills have been identified among erg boulders, which were utilised in order to grind edible plant seeds from picking (Fig. 10).

The expeditions of explorer H. Lhote in 1956-1957 identified and reproduced many rupestral drawings and paintings in Sahara, below the shelters under the sandstone rocks on plateau Tassili-n-Ajjer. These drawings have outlines that were incised into the rock and range from a few cm to 8 m, sometimes being painted with brown shades, red or white; they represent people usually with their arms away from their bodies, their legs exaggeratedly long compared to their arms, with feathers on their heads and leaves around their hips, next to water-loving animals such as buffaloes, hippopotamuses, elephants and other herbivores such as antelopes, giraffes, horses and dromedaries.

The discovery of carved stones and rock drawings means undoubted proof that Sahara had been inhabited by human communities. A diversified flora and fauna, as well as the dry river beds (oueds) make us understand that Sahara did not miss water. Researchers however have established that no sea was ever in Sahara in the proper sense of the word, but only small lakes and swamps in the depressions, with no leaking possibility.

African paintings when studied showed an original characteristic, with no influence or connection whatsoever to the rupestral ones in Europe. The first African drawings are more symbolical, but they certainly belong to a Negroid population; however more recent paintings are more realistic and show some Egyptian influence. European rupestral drawings are less expressive and feature state of facts that say too little about their authors, while the African ones show the habits and concerns of those inhabitants, the construction of their houses, cattle domesticating and breeding. Also the diversity of hunted or domesticated animals suggests the climatic conditions of those times as well as the stages of African desertification.

The study of Saharan rupestral drawings and paintings allowed their classification in terms of style, as well as their dating into the following characteristic intervals (Fig. 11):
  • Period of ‘boubal’ - Realistic colourless drawings strongly carved into the rock. ‘Boubal’ was a buffalo with large horns, a species extinct around 7,000 BC (Fig. 12);
  • Period of ‘round heads’ - This shows types of local people that were not all black, even white ones painted in red and wearing some sort of masks on their heads, adorned with feathers or with animal horns. These have been dated around 6,000 BC (Fig. 13);
  • Bovid or grazing’ period - Women and children stand before the huts represented by round outlines. Men drove the cattle into enclosures towards which other horned animals were heading as well. Dated around 3,000 BC (Fig. 14);
  • Period of the ‘horse’ - Such drawings show carts with two spoke wheels drawn by a pair of horses driven by a coachman. They betray the Egyptian influence; dated towards 1,200 BC (Fig. 15). The horse was introduced in Africa when Hyksos invaded Egypt (1650-1550 BC) and was used in the Egyptian army. The horse proves pastures could be found then in the Saharan region;
  • Period of the ‘camel’ (actually the dromedary, camel with only one hump) - Such drawings were dated after 100 BC (Fig. 16). Saharan desertification having reached this stage, respectively no more pastures or water sources, the horse had to be replaced by camels that were better adapted to the difficult desert life;

Another proof of Saharan desertification comes with the lowering of water beds in the last centuries. Thus in Egypt, 3,300 km south-west of Alexandria, there is an oasis Bahariya in the middle of the desert where, after current research studies, a great necropolis was found from the time of Lagyde pharaohs (around 300 BC), which allows believing in an oasis of over 10,000 inhabitants in those times. The necropolis has got mummies of local people placed in rock excavations, but never deeper than 2.5 m, which allows us thinking that around 3 m deep the water-bearing layers could have been found at that time, therefore these had to be avoided for a good preservation of mummies. Recent studies however have ascertained there aquifer layers about 14 m deep at present. Many other elements prove the worrisome desertification of Sahara and the need of measures to put an end to this process.

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