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What Was the Green Sahara?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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While modern humans think of the Sahara as a vast and forbidding desert, for a brief period in history, it was actually very pleasant. From around 10,000 BCE to 4,000 BCE, the Sahara was lush, green, and fertile, with a brief period of dryness from around 8,000 to 7,000 BCE. This period in the desert's history is sometimes known as the “Green Sahara” or “Green Period.”

Archaeologists have always been aware that the climate of the Sahara has changed radically throughout history. Mineral deposits in the desert indicated traces of lakes and rivers, for example, and remains of plant and animal life have also been found in the Sahara, indicating that the environment was once more hospitable. In 2000, a crew of archaeologists hunting for dinosaur bones stumbled across a graveyard in Niger, and realized that they had found traces of a civilization which had lived in the Green Sahara.

Several factors led to the formation of the Green Sahara. The Sahara has been a desert for a very long time, but around 10,000 BCE, the Earth's orbit wobbled slightly, causing a shift in weather patterns. The monsoons which drench Southern Africa today shifted up, pouring water onto the Sahara, where it formed bodies of water. Plants settled in, taking advantage of the moist environment, and they were followed by animals and humans who established lively civilizations. When weather patterns shifted again, the Sahara returned to a desert state briefly before greening once more. Around 4,000 BCE, the Sahara became a desert once more, and it is now rapidly expanding, due to a variety of factors.

Two separate human civilizations appear to have lived in the Green Sahara. The first lived from around 10,000 BCE to 8,000 BCE, during the first period of greening, and the second moved in during the second green period. When people lived in the Green Sahara, they left a number of legacies behind, such as hunting instruments, traces of textiles and artwork, and grave sites. Several grave sites carry high levels of pollen, suggesting that people were buried on beds of flowers.

Archaeologists continue to collect evidence about the Green Sahara and the people who live there, with much of this evidence coming from extremely isolated and severe areas of the desert. These finds illustrate how much the Earth's climate has changed, and how changes in climate can alter human civilization.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Nov 21, 2014

@pleonasm - I flew over the Sahara once, on the way to a country in West Africa and it was an amazing experience. It did take a very long time though, despite the fact that we were so high up and traveling at commercial airliner speeds, so I don't think it would be a piece of cake to map it out from closer to the ground.

By pleonasm — On Nov 20, 2014

@Mor - I think I read an article recently on how they were attempting to map the geological strata of the Sahara by using some kind of satellite to look at shapes under the sand and they discovered the remains of an ancient city. This was in the last few years, so they are definitely still discovering things, but I think that eventually our technology will increase to the point where most of what can be discovered, will be discovered.

The Sahara is huge and dangerous on foot, but it's not the same as mountains or the bottom of the ocean, because it's perfectly plausible to cross it by plane and most phenomenons like ruins can just as easily be spotted from the sky as they could from the ground.

I do think what they should be concentrating on is how to prevent the Sahara from spreading any further. It's still growing and there might be a time when our descendants are looking there for the ruins of cities that aren't even close to it now.

By Mor — On Nov 19, 2014

I find this so fascinating, because there is no way we have discovered even the tip of what there is to discover in the Sahara. Even today it's incredibly dangerous and difficult to mount any kind of expedition there, because it's so enormous and so deadly. And the sand drifts change day by day. There could be an entire ancient Atlantis underneath there and modern day humans might never discover it.

Or maybe tomorrow they will stumble on it and we could be given an entire chunk of history on a silver platter.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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