4,000-year-old rock paintings discovered in Sudan confirm that the desert looked very different not so long ago.

4,000-year-old rock paintings discovered in Sudan confirm that the desert looked very different not so long ago.

In one of the driest areas of the Sarrah Desert, scientists have made a remarkable discovery. In the cave they discovered petroglyphs of cattle. It confirms what researchers have known for some time: that the dry, virtually deserted desert must have been green, lush, and inhabited for several thousand years.

Archaeologists discovered the petroglyphs near the modern city of Wadi Halfa in Sudan. Today the region has a warm desert climate. The sun shines extremely brightly for an average of 4,300 hours per year, and it can sometimes take years for rain to fall. But things were different in the past, as confirmed by the rock carvings that have now been discovered in sixteen different places in the region.

Almost all petroglyphs show cattle. “It was puzzling to see cattle depicted in the rock walls in the desert,” says researcher Julian Cooper. “Because livestock need a lot of water and hectares of pasture and they would not be able to survive in the arid environment that the Sahara has today.”

Green desert
However, dating of the petroglyphs soon showed that they were about 4,000 years old. And with that, the pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place. Because previous research has already shown that there was a “green desert” several thousand years ago. The area at that time – also referred to as the “African Humid Period” – was wetter and greener than it is today. The rock drawings now found in Sudan confirm this. “The presence of cattle in ancient rock art is one of the most important pieces of evidence that the desert was once green,” Cooper said.

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African humid period
The African Humid Period began about 15,000 years ago. The monsoons in North Africa became stronger – perhaps due to differences in the Earth’s orbit – and as a result more rain fell in the Sahara. This led to an increase in vegetation – in the form of grasses, shrubs and trees – which turned the desert green. About 5,000 years ago, the African humid period ended, and the desert climate as we know it now slowly regained the upper hand.

Lakes and rivers
The unearthed drawings don’t just show livestock; The researchers also monitored grasslands containing lakes, rivers, swamps and wells. People are sometimes depicted alongside cattle, which may indicate that they milked the cattle. This means that this area was used by so-called herders, which are livestock breeders who let their domestic animals graze on natural grasslands or meadows, the researchers wrote in their article. Egyptian Antiquities Magazine. Researchers believe that these herders could have survived well in this region until about 3,000 or 2,000 years ago at most. After that the area became too dry to raise livestock.

It is therefore about a radical climate change that began in the Sahara several thousand years ago and put an end to the African humid period. Lakes and rivers began to dry up. Dry, brown grasslands were covered in sand, and most people left the once-green Sahara desert and settled near the Nile River. “The Atbai Desert around Wadi Halfa, where the new rock art was discovered, has been almost completely abandoned by humans,” Cooper says. “And those who stayed stopped raising livestock and switched to sheep and goats.”

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When you see the petroglyphs that literally paint a picture of life during the African Humid Period, it becomes clear that the end of that period had an enormous impact on the people who previously lived in the Green Desert. “These consequences must have been dire for almost all aspects of human life,” Cooper asserts. For example, the diet of people who previously always herded and milked livestock must have changed. Just like the migration routes along which pastoralists have led their livestock for thousands of years in a row. But climate change has also had consequences, for example, “on the identity and livelihoods of those who depend on their livestock,” Cooper believes.

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