Did ancient people help to create the Sahara Desert thousands of years ago?


Ten thousand years ago, the Sahara desert was a green landscape with lush vegetation – but then something turned it into the arid desert we know today.

Previous studies have suggested that changes in Earth’s orbit might have driven the change – but a new paper suggests another culprit: ancient human beings.

Dr. David Wright, from Seoul National University, says, ‘In East Asia there are long established theories of how Neolithic populations changed the landscape so profoundly that monsoons stopped penetrating so far inland.

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Dr Wright says that evidence of agriculture in the area coincides with an increase in scrub vegetation – an indicator of a shift towards desert-like conditions.

Growing agricultural addiction had a severe effect on the region’s ecology. – increasing the amount of sunlight which reflected off the land, and reducing monsoon rainfall.

Geoff Robinson Photography/REX/

Wright says, ‘There were lakes everywhere in the Sahara at this time, and they will have the records of the changing vegetation.

‘We need to drill down into these former lake beds to get the vegetation records, look at the archaeology, and see what people were doing there. It is very difficult to model the effect of vegetation on climate systems. It is our job as archaeologists and ecologists to go out and get the data, to help to make more sophisticated model.

‘The implications for how we change ecological systems have a direct impact on whether humans will be able to survive indefinitely in arid environments.