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Friday, April 23, 2021

Prehistoric North Africa – Neolithic Period

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The rock carvings of the Sahara, of which the most famous are the drawings from Tassilin-Adjer in Algeria, reflect living scenes of everyday life in central North Africa during the Neolithic subpluvial (about 8000 – 4000 B.C.). The authors of the drawings were hunters – carriers of the Neolithic Kapsi culture, who lived in the then Sahara savannah, where there were such animals as the African buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros and hippo. Currently, there is a desert on the site of the former savanna, and these animals live much more to the south.

Until the end of the Ice Age, a few more cold snaps and warmings occurred until the onset of the extremum of 12900 – 11500 years ago, known as the younger Drias. These fluctuations in temperature are reflected in the climate and humidity of the Sahara.

Holocene climatic phases played a decisive role in the settlement of North Africa; Sharp desertification in certain periods led to the fact that people retreated to more humid areas along the coast, in oases and in the Nile Valley. When the sea level rose again at the end of the dry period, the peoples who lived by hunting and gathering had a food crisis similar to that in Europe known as the Mesolithic, and which as a result of the depletion of the fauna killed by hunters, primarily in Western Asia and in eastern North Africa, led to the emergence of the Neolithic (early agricultural) economy.

It is noteworthy that outside of Europe, the Mesolithic with its typical large heaps of shells, which indicated a shortage of large meat food, is known only in North Africa and Western Asia, where it is in connection with Paleolithic remnants designated by the term epipaleolit , and in North Africa – mainly in the eastern part, but not in the rest of the African continent. The Neolithic in Africa also arose only in the northern part, and at first – in the northeast.

The Neolithic way of life is known not only for rock carvings, but also for finding very diverse tools, in particular, stone millstones and vessels for grinding grain, sickles, arrowheads, and also ground stone vessels, ceramics shards, etc. All these finds indicate that the territory of the modern Sahara desert was once very fertile, life was in full swing for thousands of years, and periodic crisis situations (including climatic variations) sooner or later led to the development of neolithic technologies and to the emergence of the ancient Egyptian civilization through the merger of several cultural complexes of Upper and Lower Nile. Rock paintings of the Sahara very picturesquely convey the local way of life.

By the time of the climatic optimum of the Early Holocene, Mesolithic finds with bone harpoons, microliths and stone graters are related. People of that time consumed fish, mollusks (including snails), crocodiles, freshwater turtles and hippos. Findings of the bones of antelope and wild cattle indicate that hunting was carried out in the savannah. In the Sahara, people gathered wild grasses, such as millet, and fruits and tubers at the northern tip of Africa. Pottery appears here quite early, and it is not yet associated with a complete transition to neolithic technologies.

Finds in the eastern part of Hoggar in Libya indicate the hunting of wild sheep during this period. Starting from 7 thousand B.C. Structures such as livestock pens and a wind curtain appear – they are known, for example, from finds in One-Afouda Cave, where ceramics decorated with wavy lines are also found. Sheep coprolites with seed residues indicate the purposeful rearing of sheep that were still morphologically wild. Wild species of millet (Panicum and Setaria) are also found. Starting from 5 thousand .BC. there is clear evidence of domesticated livestock (Ti-n-Torha, Uan Muhuggiag, Aures, Amekni and Meniet in Algeria, Adrar Bous and Arlit in Niger). Along with cattle breeding, the local population still hunts, gathers wild herbs, roots and tubers. This cattle is also depicted in the Sahara cave paintings. These drawings belong to the Middle Holocene epoch, when cattle breeding acquired an increasingly important role. Also, cave paintings depict people of the Negroid race, with rounded heads. Whether these people were the indigenous people of the Sahara, or whether they migrated there during this period, it is not yet clear.

JD Clark (JD Clark, 1962, 1964) refers the beginning of agriculture in North Africa to the migration of a relatively small number of people from the Middle East through the Nile Valley around 4000 B.C. The spread of agriculture in the Sahel zone, caused by the growing desertification, dates from about 2000 B.C. Morocco is famous for finds of the Neolithic culture of cardiac ceramics, which at that time also existed on the coast of Italy, Spain, the south of France and the extreme west of Greece.

Intensive plowing is known only from 1 thousand B.C. when in the oases of the south-west of Libya witnessed a higher population density. At this time, land improvement with the help of underground water channels ( foggara ) appears . These phenomena are associated by archaeologists with the garamants known from the works of Herodotus.

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