Ancient watercourses and biogeography of the Sahara explain the peopling of the desert
Drake, N. A., Blench, R. M., Armitage, S. J., Bristow, C. S. and White, K. H. (2011) Ancient watercourses and biogeography of the Sahara explain the peopling of the desert. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 (2). pp. 458-462. ISSN 0027-8424
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To link to this item DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1012231108
Evidence increasingly suggests that sub-Saharan Africa is at the center of human evolution and understanding routes of dispersal “out of Africa” is thus becoming increasingly important. The Sahara Desert is considered by many to be an obstacle to these dispersals and a Nile corridor route has been proposed to cross it. Here we provide evidence that the Sahara was not an effective barrier and indicate how both animals and humans populated it during past humid phases. Analysis of the zoogeography of the Sahara shows that more animals crossed via this route than used the Nile corridor. Furthermore, many of these species are aquatic. This dispersal was possible because during the Holocene humid period the region contained a series of linked lakes, rivers, and inland deltas comprising a large interlinked waterway, channeling water and animals into and across the Sahara, thus facilitating these dispersals. This system was last active in the early Holocene when many species appear to have occupied the entire Sahara. However, species that require deep water did not reach northern regions because of weak hydrological connections. Human dispersals were influenced by this distribution; Nilo-Saharan speakers hunting aquatic fauna with barbed bone points occupied the southern Sahara, while people hunting Savannah fauna with the bow and arrow spread southward. The dating of lacustrine sediments show that the “green Sahara” also existed during the last interglacial (∼125 ka) and provided green corridors that could have formed dispersal routes at a likely time for the migration of modern humans out of Africa.