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The Sahara Desert

The Sahara is the world’s greatest hot desert with a size more than 8 million km². The Sahara is a truly endless sea of sand, stone and clay, which is not only sun-scorched, but also enlivened by a few patches of green oases and the only permanent river. Thus, the main purpose of this essay is to discuss the topic concerning the Sahara desert.

Historical evidences show that the Sahara desert have already existed in prehistoric times. However, the history of the Sahara encountered times when it was covered with grasslands or forests. At the last glacial period the climate in the Sahara was wetter than now. It is assumed that more than thousand years ago there were extensive shallow silty lakes, which may be surrounded by reeds, and where water lilies may grow. Fish were splashing in the warm water, and coastal thickets of mimosa were hiding various animals resembling to wild animals in tropical Africa today. The man of lithic age may fish and hunt far away from the own home, he was not connected with sources of water such as a modern oasis. Into the acknowledgement of this fact Foley, et al stated that “geological data show that wet environmental conditions in this region – giving rise to extensive vegetation, lakes, and wetlands – came to an abrupt end about 5500 years ago” (Foley, et al, 2003). Thus, when the heat and lack of water became unbearable, a man and an animal left the desert.

In spite of the fact that the landscape of Africa is very diverse, population density is very small and amounts to 0.4 persons per km ² (only about 2.5 – 4 million) for such a large area. The huge spaces are really an absolutely deserted, and fully justify the desert’s name. In addition, as it was previously stated, the Sahara was inhabited denser in prehistoric times. The stone artifacts, fossils and rock paintings, which are widely distributed in the regions, now too dry for maintaining the life in the desert, but they still indicates the presence of humans and animals (Cloudsley-Thompson, 1984). Bone harpoons, a place of concentration of shells, the remains of fish, crocodiles and hippos suggest the existence of prehistoric settlements on the shores of ancient lakes.

Focusing on the Sahara’s interesting attributes, we can mention that famous caravans, known to us on many cultural and historical monuments, transported copper, slaves, ivories, cola nuts, feathers, leather and luxury goods. However, the main items of exchange were gold and salt, which cost was 1:1 at certain times. Goods were transported using camels-dromedaries, which were fattened for several months on the plains of the Maghreb and the Sahel before they were collected in a caravan. The average size of the caravan was about 1000 camels, and sometimes reached to 12 000. Caravans were accompanied by highly paid Berber guides who knew the desert and the tribes of Tuareg which inhabited the desert (Thomas, 1957). The complete survival of the caravan depended on the coordinated work of many its members.

Thinking about modern times, it is possible to mention that the Sahara desert may present contemporary tourists a big variety of beautiful landscapes, which are low pieces of rock, oddly changed over the time under the influence of sand and wind. In general, the surface of the desert are sand dunes (or ergs), as well as clay and rocky areas.

In conclusion, we have observed some interesting historical facts about the Sahara desert, presenting the information about its prehistoric climate and the way how people lived there many centuries ago.


Works cited:

Cloudsley-Thompson, J. L. Sahara Desert. Perhamon Press, Oxford, 1984.
Foley, et al. Regime Shifts in the Sahara and Sahel: Interactions between Ecological and Climatic Systems in Northern Africa. Ecosystems, Vol. 6, No. 6. September, 2003. pp. 524-539. Available at http://www.jstor.org/pss/3658995?searchUrl=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dsahara%2Bdesert%26acc%3Doff%26wc%3Don&Search=yes
Thomas, B. Trade Routes of Algeria and the Sahara. University of California Press, 1957.