Majestic in its sandy beauty, the Sahara Desert has always been an iconic image of the beauty and power of nature.
Even though difficult to imagine, just a mere 12,000 years ago, the endless heat and lifeless sands were a vibrant resort filled with lakes, grassland and rain.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that scientists have been asking the question of what exactly happened and what shaped Sahara transforming it into a desert in such a short time. However, what’s surprising is that a new study shows that early humans may be the answer.
According to archeologist David K. Wright of the Seoul National University, the balance shift in the moisture levels experienced around 8,000 years ago in Northern and Eastern Africa may be caused by early humans. Once thought to be passive agents in the change, early humans are hypothesized by Wright to be, in fact, the active agents.
Basing his hypothesis on the long established theories of the extreme changes to the landscape made by Neolithic people, Wright states that such a phenomenon may have occurred in the formation of the Sahara desert as well.
“For instance, the air could have been warmed from sunlight bouncing off exposed soil, and this atmospheric change could have led to reduced rainfall, ultimately causing the Sahara’s desertification,” stated Wright in a piece for the Frontiers Communications in Environmental Sustainability science magazine.
The archeologist tested his hypothesis by comparing records of the spread of scrub vegetation with the initial sightings of pastoralism across the Saharan region. What he found is that the data backs up his theory, as about 8,000 years ago, early humans formed communities around the Nile River and then continued to branch out westward increasing the scrub vegetation each time.
Nevertheless, to be more scientifically accurate, Wright’s theory must be backed up by other evidence as well. To prove his theory, he must perform a broader picture of the changing vegetation of the Sahara desert throughout the years.
“The implications of how we change ecological systems have a direct impact on whether humans will be able to survive indefinitely in arid environments,”
Wright further stated.
The archeologist is set to advance his theory by doing new excavations and drilling in the Sahara desert region, to get the vegetation records and compare it to the archaeology records of what early humans were doing in those regions, to be able to make better models of his theory.
If the theory proves to be a plausible one, it will provide us with deeper insights about the ecological and environmental impact people as a society have on their surroundings and could further help us better predict such changes in the future.