John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
 2.1  The Prehistoric Era : 064-069
Click for full-size images.
.064. Beds of shells bear witness to the fact that at various times in the past large parts of the Sahara were under water. In recent geological time the Sahara has in fact experienced a succession of climate cycles each lasting about 100,000 years. The first 90,000 years of each cycle was marked by increasing aridity, cold and wind ... followed by a rapid but short-lived return to milder and wetter conditions. (Shell-rich strata near Bir Wahed in Libyan Sand Sea)
.065. The last such dry cycle ended 12,000 years ago, and for the next 6,000 years the Sahara was a land of lakes and flowing rivers (as it had been previously following the droughts). The rock paintings of the people who lived then around the Tassili massif show how their way of life changed in response to these changes in climatic conditions. (Site of the “Tassili Frescoes”)
.066. “Tassili n’Ajjer” in the language of the Tuareg means “Plateau of the Rivers” and 8,000 years ago the Neolithic people who lived there hunted giraffes and antelopes and other animals characteristic of the tropical savanna that covered the land then. (Hunters equipped with bows and arrows)
.067. Some 2000 years later they switched from hunting to pastoralism and, practicing transhumance, grazed immense herds of cattle -- which were clearly not zebu, as they had no humps. The colours used in these paintings were produced using earth ochres containing oxides of iron; also goat’s milk, and the rubbery sap of certain acacias. (Herding cattle) 
.068. The most recent pictures are between 2000 and 3000 years old and show camels, but after that the people here disappeared in the face of increasing aridity and military conquest. (Camel) 
.069. And elephants, lions, ostriches and crocodiles disappeared in the years that followed -- due at least in part to the expansion of the desert as a result of overgrazing by domestic animals, the felling of trees for fuel, and small-scale but poor agricultural practices that ruined the soil. (Elephant)


Text and photos by John Tyman unless otherwise indicated.
Intended for Educational Use Only.
Contact Dr. John Tyman at
for more information regarding licensing.
Photo processing, Web page layout, formatting and hosting by
William Hillman ~ Brandon, Manitoba ~ Canada