The Sahara Desert covers over 3.5 million square miles and has only 2.5 million inhabitants - roughly 1 person per square mile (0.4 sq km)- which is one of the lowest population densities on earth. Wherever abundant food and water sources occur, one will find relatively large masses of people and wildlife. On the whole, the Sahara is one of the harshest environments known to man.
Many researchers have gone into the Sahara looking for clues as to how long ago humans began inhabiting the desert. According to archeologists, the Sahara was much more densely populated thousands of years ago when the desert's climate was not as harsh as it is today. Fossils, rock art, stone artifacts, bone harpoons, shells and many other items have been found in areas which today are considered too hot and dry to inhabit. This suggests that these areas were quite habitable thousands of years ago, but that the climate of the Sahara has since changed drastically. The artifacts found were located near remains of giraffe, elephant, buffalo, antelopes, rhinoceros, and warthog, as well as the remains of fish, crocodiles, hippopotamuses and other aquatic animals which suggests that thousands of years ago water was quite abundant in the Sahara.
The majority of the people living in the Sahara Desert are nomads, which means that these people continuously move from region to region in search of better living conditions. It is believed that the first nomadic peoples came to this region after domestic animals were introduced to the Sahara 7,000 years ago. Researchers believe that sheep and goats were introduced to the Sahara region by the Caspain culture of northern Africa.
Evidence suggests that the Sahara accumulated diverse groups which quickly formed dense populations throughout the region. The majority of the groups lived separately, but depended on each other for trade. External trade developed gradually and the mobility of the nomads certainly contributed to the growing success of trade with other countries and continents. For example, Mauritania contained valuable copper resources and as a result, this copper was traded to the Bronze Age Civilizations of the Mediterranean.
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