Prehistoric North Africa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
  Northern Africa (UN subregion)
  geographic, including above

The Prehistory of North Africa spans the period of earliest human presence in the region to the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt in c. 3100 BC. North Africa is defined by the United Nations to consist of the seven countries or territories situated between the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara.[1] Geographically, it can also be held to include the Saharan portions of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad. As modern humans are generally believed to originate in Africa, prehistoric North Africa may hold important clues in understanding the evolution and spread of the human race.

Saharan Climate and Human Migration[edit]

Main articles: Sahara pump theory and Green Sahara
Carvings of fauna common in the Sahara during the wet phase, found at Tassili in the central Sahara

Human habitation in North Africa has been greatly influenced by the climate of the Sahara, which has undergone enormous variations between wet and dry over the last few hundred thousand years.[2] This is due to a 41000 year cycle in which the tilt of the earth changes between 22° and 24.5°.[3] At present (2000 AD), we are in a dry period, but it is expected that the Sahara will become green again in 15000 years (17000 AD).

During the last glacial period, the Sahara was much larger than it is today, extending south beyond its current boundaries.[4] The end of the glacial period brought more rain to the Sahara, from about 8000 BC to 6000 BC, perhaps because of low pressure areas over the collapsing ice sheets to the north.[5] Once the ice sheets were gone, the northern Sahara dried out. In the southern Sahara, the drying trend was initially counteracted by the monsoon, which brought rain further north than it does today. By around 4200 BC, however, the monsoon retreated south to approximately where it is today,[6] leading to the gradual desertification of the Sahara.[7] The Sahara is now as dry as it was about 13,000 years ago.[2]

These conditions are responsible for what has been called the Sahara pump theory. During periods of a wet or "Green Sahara", the Sahara becomes a savanna grassland and various flora and fauna become more common. Following inter-pluvial arid periods, the Sahara area then reverts to desert conditions and the flora and fauna are forced to retreat northwards to the Atlas Mountains, southwards into West Africa, or eastwards into the Nile Valley. This separates populations of some of the species in areas with different climates, forcing them to adapt, possibly giving rise to allopatric speciation.

In terms of human evolution, the Saharan pump has been used to date four waves of human migration from Africa, namely:[8][not in citation given]

Early and middle Paleolithic[edit]

Dolmen at Roknia. Roknia is a necropolis in the Guelma region of north-east Algeria consisting of more than 7000 dolmens spread over an area of 2 km.[9]

The earliest inhabitants of central North Africa have left behind significant remains: early remnants of hominid occupation in North Africa, for example, were found in Ain el Hanech, near Saïda (c. 200,000 BCE); in fact, more recent investigations have found signs of Oldowan technology there, and indicate a date of up to 1.8 million BC.[10] Later, Neandertal tool makers produced hand axes in the Levalloisian and Mousterian styles (c. 43,000 BCE) similar to those in the Levant. Some studies have placed the earliest settlement of homo sapiens in North Africa to around 160,000 years ago[11] According to some sources,[who?] North Africa was the site of the highest state of development of Middle Paleolithic flake-tool techniques. Tools of this era, starting about 30,000 BCE, are called Aterian[citation needed](after the site Bir el Ater, south of Annaba) and are marked by a high standard of workmanship, great variety, and specialization.

Late Paleolithic and Mesolithic[edit]

Further information: Capsian culture

The earliest blade industries in North Africa are called Ibero-Maurusian or Oranian (after a site near Oran). The industry appears to have spread throughout the coastal regions of North Africa between 15,000 and 10,000 BC. Between about 9000 and 5000 BC, the Capsian culture made its appearance showing signs to belong to the Neolithic and began influencing the IberoMaurusian, and after about 3000 BC the remains of just one human culture can be found throughout the former region. Neolithic civilization (marked by animal domestication and subsistence agriculture) developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean North Africa after the Levante between 6000 and 2000 BC. This type of economy, so richly depicted in the Tassili n'Ajjer cave paintings, predominated in North Africa until the classical period.

Neolithic cave paintings found in Tassil-n-Ajjer (Plateau of the Chasms) region of the Sahara

The cave paintings found at Tassili n'Ajjer, north of Tamanrasset, Algeria, and at other locations depict vibrant and vivid scenes of everyday life in central North Africa during the Neolithic Subpluvial period (about 8000 to 4000 BC). They were executed by a hunting people in the Capsian period of the Neolithic age who lived in a savanna region teeming with giant buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus, animals that no longer exist in the now-desert area. The pictures provide the most complete record of a prehistoric African culture. Various populations of pastoralists have left paintings of abundant wildlife, domesticated animals, chariots, and a complex culture that dates back to at least 10,000 BC in Northern Niger and neighboring parts of Algeria and Libya. Several former northern Nigerien villages and archeological sites date from the Green Sahara period of 7500-7000 to 3500-3000 BC.[citation needed]

Neolithic and Bronze Age[edit]

Further information: Neolithic Subpluvial

Some parts of North Africa began to participate in the Neolithic revolution in the 6th millennium BC, just before the rapid desertification of the Sahara around 3500 B.C. due to a tilt in the Earth's orbit.[12]

Clement and fertile conditions during the Neolithic Subpluvial supported increased human settlement of the Nile Valley in Egypt, as well as neolithic societies in Sudan and throughout the present-day Sahara. Cultures producing rock art (notably that at Tassili n'Ajjer in southeastern Algeria) flourished during this period. In Prehistoric Egypt, Neolithic settlements appear from about 6000 BC.[13] Oher regions in Africa independently developed agriculture at about the same time: the Ethiopian highlands, the Sahel, and West Africa.[14]

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Egypt is conventionally identified as the Protodynastic Period, following the Neolithic Naqada culture about 3200 BC.

Iron Age[edit]

Further information: North Africa during Antiquity

By the Iron Age, the historic record demonstrated the existence of the Berbers in North Africa from at least 10,000 B.C. [15] While Egypt and Sudan had entered historicity since the Bronze Age, the Maghreb remained in the prehistoric period longer. Some Phoenician and Greek colonies were established along the Mediterranean coast during the 7th century BC.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to UN country classification here: http://millenniumindicators.un.org/unsd/methods/m49/m49regin.htm. The disputed territory of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) is mostly administered by Morocco; the Polisario Front claims the territory in militating for the establishment of an independent republic, and exercises limited control over rump border territories.
  2. ^ a b Kevin White and David J. Mattingly (2006). "Ancient Lakes of the Sahara" 94 (1). American Scientist. pp. 58–65. 
  3. ^ Orbit: Earth's Extraordinary Journey documentary
  4. ^ Christopher Ehret. The Civilizations of Africa. University Press of Virginia, 2002.
  5. ^ Fezzan Project — Palaeoclimate and environment. Retrieved March 15, 2006.[dead link]
  6. ^ Sahara's Abrupt Desertification Started by Changes in Earth's Orbit, Accelerated by Atmospheric and Vegetation Feedbacks.
  7. ^ Kröpelin, Stefan; et al. (2008). "Climate-Driven Ecosystem Succession in the Sahara: The Past 6000 Years". Science 320 (5877): 765–768. doi:10.1126/science.1154913. PMID 18467583. 
  8. ^ Stephen, Stokes. "Chronology, Adaptation and Environment of the Middle Palaeolithic in Northern Africa". Human Evolution, Cambridge University. 
  9. ^ http://www.geneawiki.com/index.php/Alg%C3%A9rie_-_Roknia
  10. ^ Sahnouni 1998
  11. ^ http://www.pnas.org/content/104/15/6128.long
  12. ^ Sahara's Abrupt Desertification Started by Changes in Earth's Orbit, Accelerated by Atmospheric and Vegetation Feedbacks, Science Daily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/07/990712080500.ht
  13. ^ Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 6.
  14. ^ Diamond, Jared (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton Press. ISBN 0-393-31755-2. 
  15. ^ Hsain Ilahiane, Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen)(2006), p. 112, books.google.com/books?isbn=0810864908

References[edit]