Humans Did Not Speed up Desertification of Sahara but Rather Delayed This Process


According to a new study, conducted by a group of archaeologists and geographers from UCL and King’s College London, humans that inhabited Sahara during its “green” period not only did not contribute to the desertification of North Africa, but could have helped to delay this process by up to 500 years.

Early inhabitants of Sahara helped to preserve the vegetation

The study, published in Nature Communications, does not agree with earlier theories, which were pointing at the over-exploitation of the environment by humans as a factor that accelerated the process of turning Green Sahara into a desert. In fact, it suggests that the early pastoralists developed a way to manage the delicate environment using innovative methods, such as selective grazing and seasonal movement, which might have delayed the desertification of Sahara by even 500 years.

How was the study conducted

In their research, the scientists created a climate-vegetation model, which was supposed to establish the time when the African Humid Period should have ended, taking into consideration various variables, such as rainfall, sun energy, carbon dioxide levels and vegetation. The study shows that this process should have started much earlier than it did, clearly pointing at early pastoralists and their techniques of adaptation as a factor that prolonged the existence of green Sahara.

Sahara used to be full of vegetation

The African Humid Period, widely known as Green Sahara, started some 8,000 years ago, turning a dry landscape into a grassland full of vegetation. However, a gradual change in Earth’s orbit reduced the amount of rain, which in turn caused a decline of vegetation. Finally, around 5,500 years ago Green Sahara collapsed, becoming the desert that we can still see today. The study shows that it was a natural process and its human inhabitants did all they could to prolong North Africa’s rapidly disappearing greenery.


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