Sahara (Arabic: الصحراء الكبرى, aṣ-ṣaḥrāʼ
al-kubrá, 'the Great Desert') is the largest hot desert and the third
largest desert in the world after
Antarctica and the Arctic. Its
area of 9,200,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi) is
comparable to the area of
China or the United States. The name
'Sahara' is derived from dialectal Arabic word for "desert", ṣaḥra
The desert comprises much of North Africa, excluding the fertile
region on the
Mediterranean Sea coast, the
Atlas Mountains of the
Maghreb, and the
Nile Valley in
Egypt and Sudan. It stretches from the
Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the Atlantic
Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from desert
to coastal plains. To the south, it is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of
semi-arid tropical savanna around the
Niger River valley and the Sudan
Region of Sub-Saharan Africa. The
Sahara can be divided into several
regions including: the western Sahara, the central Ahaggar Mountains,
Tibesti Mountains, the Aïr Mountains, the
Ténéré desert, and
the Libyan Desert.
For several hundred thousand years, the
Sahara has alternated between
desert and savanna grassland in a 41,000 year cycle caused by changes
("precession") in the Earth's axis as it rotates around the sun, which
change the location of the North African Monsoon. It is next expected
to become green in about 15,000 years (17,000 AD).
Desertification and prehistoric climate
2.3.1 Evidence for cycles
4 Flora and fauna
5.3 Tashwinat Mummy
5.8 Urban civilization
5.10 Islamic expansion
5.11 Ottoman Turkish era
5.12 European colonialism
5.13 Breakup of the empires and afterwards
6 People and languages
7 See also
10 External links
A geographical map of Africa, showing the ecological break that
defines the Saharan area.
An oasis in the Ahaggar Mountains. Oases support some life forms in
extremely arid deserts.
An intense Saharan dust storm sent a massive dust plume northwestward
Atlantic Ocean on 2 March 2003
Butte naturally sculpted by the wind
Sahara covers large parts of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali,
Mauritania, Niger, Western Sahara,
Sudan and Tunisia. It covers
9 million square kilometres (3,500,000 sq mi),
amounting to 31% of Africa. If all areas with a mean annual
precipitation of less than 250 mm were included, the
be 11 million square kilometres (4,200,000 sq mi). It
is one of three distinct physiographic provinces of the African
massive physiographic division.
Sahara is mainly rocky hamada (stone plateaus), Ergs (sand seas -
large areas covered with sand dunes) form only a minor part, but many
of the sand dunes are over 180 metres (590 ft) high. Wind or
rare rainfall shape the desert features: sand dunes, dune fields, sand
seas, stone plateaus, gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadi), dry
lakes (oued), and salt flats (shatt or chott). Unusual landforms
Richat Structure in Mauritania.
Several deeply dissected mountains, many volcanic, rise from the
desert, including the Aïr Mountains, Ahaggar Mountains, Saharan
Tibesti Mountains, Adrar des Iforas, and the
Red Sea hills. The
highest peak in the
Sahara is Emi Koussi, a shield volcano in the
Tibesti range of northern Chad.
Sahara is hyperarid, with sparse vegetation. The northern
and southern reaches of the desert, along with the highlands, have
areas of sparse grassland and desert shrub, with trees and taller
shrubs in wadis, where moisture collects. In the central, hyperarid
region, there are many subdivisions of the great desert: Tanezrouft,
the Ténéré, the Libyan Desert, the Eastern Desert, the Nubian
Desert and others. These extremely arid areas often receive no rain
To the north, the
Sahara skirts the
Mediterranean Sea in
portions of Libya, but in
Cyrenaica and the Maghreb, the Sahara
Mediterranean forest, woodland, and scrub
Mediterranean forest, woodland, and scrub eco-regions of
northern Africa, all of which have a Mediterranean climate
characterized by hot summers and cool and rainy winters. According to
the botanical criteria of Frank White and geographer Robert
Capot-Rey, the northern limit of the
Sahara corresponds to the
northern limit of date palm cultivation and the southern limit of the
range of esparto, a grass typical of the
Mediterranean climate portion
Maghreb and Iberia. The northern limit also corresponds to the
100 mm (3.9 in) isohyet of annual precipitation.
To the south, the
Sahara is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of dry
tropical savanna with a summer rainy season that extends across Africa
from east to west. The southern limit of the
Sahara is indicated
botanically by the southern limit of
Cornulaca monacantha (a
drought-tolerant member of the Chenopodiaceae), or northern limit of
Cenchrus biflorus, a grass typical of the Sahel. According to
climatic criteria, the southern limit of the
Sahara corresponds to the
150 mm (5.9 in) isohyet of annual precipitation (this is a
long-term average, since precipitation varies annually).
Important cities located in the
Sahara include Nouakchott, the capital
of Mauritania; Tamanrasset, Ouargla, Béchar, Hassi Messaoud,
El Oued in Algeria;
Timbuktu in Mali;
Agadez in Niger;
Ghat in Libya; and
Faya-Largeau in Chad.
Sahara is the world's largest low-latitude hot desert. The area is
located in the horse latitudes under the subtropical ridge, a
significant belt of semi-permanent subtropical warm-core high pressure
where the air from upper levels of the troposphere tends to sink
towards the ground. This steady descending airflow causes a warming
and a drying effect in the upper troposphere. The sinking air prevents
evaporating water from rising and, therefore, prevents the adiabatic
cooling, which makes cloud formation extremely difficult to nearly
The permanent dissolution of clouds allows unhindered light and
thermal radiation. The stability of the atmosphere above the desert
prevents any convective overturning, thus making rainfall virtually
non-existent. As a consequence, the weather tends to be sunny, dry and
stable with a minimal risk of rainfall. Subsiding, diverging, dry air
masses associated with subtropical high-pressure systems are extremely
unfavorable for the development of convectional showers. The
subtropical ridge is the predominant factor that explains the hot
desert climate (
Köppen climate classification
Köppen climate classification BWh) of this vast
region. The lowering of air is the strongest and the most effective
over the eastern part of the Great Desert, in the Libyan
is the sunniest, driest and the most nearly "rain-less" place on the
planet rivaling the Atacama Desert, lying in
Chile and Peru.
The rainfall inhibition and the dissipation of cloud cover are most
accentuated over the eastern section of the
Sahara rather than the
western. The prevailing air mass lying above the
Sahara is the
continental tropical (cT) air mass, which is hot and dry. Hot, dry air
masses primarily form over the North-African desert from the heating
of the vast continental land area, and it affects the whole desert
during most of the year. Because of this extreme heating process, a
thermal low is usually noticed near the surface, and is the strongest
and the most developed during the summertime. The
represents the eastern continental extension of the Azores
High, centered over the North Atlantic Ocean. The
subsidence of the
Sahara High nearly reaches the ground during the
coolest part of the year while it is confined to the upper troposphere
during the hottest periods.
The effects of local surface low pressure are extremely limited
because upper-level subsidence still continues to block any form of
air ascent. Also, to be protected against rain-bearing weather systems
by the atmospheric circulation itself, the desert is made even drier
by his geographical configuration and location. Indeed, the extreme
aridity of the
Sahara can not be only explained by the subtropical
high pressure. The Atlas Mountains, found in Algeria,
Tunisia also help to enhance the aridity of the northern part of the
desert. These major mountain ranges act as a barrier causing a strong
rain shadow effect on the leeward side by dropping much of the
humidity brought by atmospheric disturbances along the polar front
which affects the surrounding Mediterranean climates.
The primary source of rain in the
Sahara is the Intertropical
Convergence Zone, a continuous belt of low-pressure systems near the
equator which bring the brief, short and irregular rainy season to the
Sahel and southern Sahara. Rainfall in this giant desert has to
overcome the physical and atmospheric barriers that normally prevent
the production of precipitation. The harsh climate of the
characterized by: extremely low, unreliable, highly erratic rainfall;
extremely high sunshine duration values; high temperatures year-round;
negligible rates of relative humidity; a significant diurnal
temperature variation; and extremely high levels of potential
evaporation which are the highest recorded worldwide.
The sky is usually clear above the desert and the sunshine duration is
extremely high everywhere in the Sahara. Most of the desert enjoys
more than 3,600 h of bright sunshine annually or over 82% of the time,
and a wide area in the eastern part experiences in excess of 4,000 h
of bright sunshine a year or over 91% of the time. The highest values
are very close to the theoretical maximum value. A value of 4,300 h or
98% of the time would be recorded in Upper
Egypt (Aswan, Luxor) and in
Wadi Halfa). The annual average direct solar
irradiation is around 2,800 kWh/(m2 year) in the Great Desert. The
Sahara has a huge potential for solar energy production.
The constantly high position of the sun, the extremely low relative
humidity, and the lack of vegetation and rainfall make the Great
Desert the hottest continuously large area worldwide, and the hottest
place on Earth during summer in some spots. The average high
temperature exceeds 38 to 40 °C or 100.4 to 104.0 °F
during the hottest month nearly everywhere in the desert except at
very high altitudes. The highest officially recorded average high
temperature[clarification needed] was 47 °C or 116.6 °F in
a remote desert town in the Algerian
Bou Bernous with an
elevation of 378 metres (1,240 ft) meters above sea level. It
is the world’s highest recorded average high
temperature[clarification needed] and only Death Valley, California
rivals it. Other hot spots in
Algeria such as Adrar, Timimoun, In
Salah, Ouallene, Aoulef,
Reggane with an elevation between 200 and 400
metres (660 and 1,310 ft) above sea level get slightly lower
summer average highs around 46 °C or 114.8 °F during the
hottest months of the year. Salah, well known in
Algeria for its
extreme heat, has average high temperatures of 43.8 °C or
110.8 °F, 46.4 °C or 115.5 °F, 45.5 °C or
113.9 °F and 41.9 °C or 107.4 °F in June, July,
August and September respectively. There are even hotter spots in the
Sahara, but they are located in extremely remote areas, especially in
the Azalai, lying in northern Mali. The major part of the desert
experiences around three to five months when the average high strictly
exceeds 40 °C or 104 °F. The southern central part of the
desert experiences up to six or seven months when the average high
temperature strictly exceeds 40 °C or 104 °F which shows
the constancy and the length of the really hot season in the Sahara.
Some examples of this are: Bilma,
Niger and Faya-Largeau, Chad. The
annual average daily temperature exceeds 20 °C or 68 °F
everywhere and can approach 30 °C or 86 °F in the hottest
regions year-round. However, most of the desert has a value in excess
of 25 °C or 77 °F.
Sand and ground temperatures are even more extreme. During daytime,
the sand temperature is extremely high as it can easily reach
80 °C or 176 °F or more. A sand temperature of
83.5 °C (182.3 °F) has been recorded in Port Sudan.
Ground temperatures of 72 °C or 161.6 °F have been
recorded in the Adrar of
Mauritania and a value of 75 °C
(167 °F) has been measured in Borkou, northern Chad.
Due to lack of cloud cover and very low humidity, the desert usually
features high diurnal temperature variations between days and nights.
However, it is a myth that the nights are cold after extremely hot
days in the Sahara. The average diurnal temperature range is typically
between 13 and 20 °C or 23.4 and 36.0 °F. The lowest
values are found along the coastal regions due to high humidity and
are often even lower than 10 °C or 18 °F, while the
highest values are found in inland desert areas where the humidity is
the lowest, mainly in the southern Sahara. Still, it is true that
winter nights can be cold as it can drop to the freezing point and
even below, especially in high-elevation areas. The frequency of
subfreezing winter nights in the
Sahara is strongly influenced by the
North Atlantic Oscillation
North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), with warmer winter temperatures
during negative NAO events and cooler winters with more frosts when
the NAO is positive. This is because the weaker clockwise flow
around the eastern side of the subtropical anticyclone during negative
NAO winters, although too dry to produce more than negligible
precipitation, does reduce the flow of dry, cold air from higher
latitudes of Eurasia into the
The average annual rainfall ranges from very low in the northern and
southern fringes of the desert to nearly non-existent over the central
and the eastern part. The thin northern fringe of the desert receives
more winter cloudiness and rainfall due to the arrival of low pressure
systems over the
Mediterranean Sea along the polar front, although
very attenuated by the rain shadow effects of the mountains and the
annual average rainfall ranges from 100 millimetres (4 in) to 250
millimetres (10 in). For example, Biskra,
Algeria and Ouarzazate,
Morocco are found in this zone. The southern fringe of the desert
along the border with the
Sahel receives summer cloudiness and
rainfall due to the arrival of the
Intertropical Convergence Zone
Intertropical Convergence Zone from
the south and the annual average rainfall ranges from 100 millimetres
(4 in) to 250 millimetres (10 in). For example, Timbuktu,
Mali and Agadez,
Niger are found in this zone. The vast central
hyper-arid core of the desert is virtually never affected by northerly
or southerly atmospheric disturbances and permanently remains under
the influence of the strongest anticyclonic weather regime, and the
annual average rainfall can drop to less than 1 millimetre
(0.04 in). In fact, most of the
Sahara receives less than 20
millimetres (0.8 in). Of the 9,000,000 square kilometres
(3,500,000 sq mi) of desert land in the Sahara, an area of
about 2,800,000 square kilometres (1,100,000 sq mi) (about
31% of the total area) receives an annual average rainfall amount of
10 millimetres (0.4 in) or less, while some 1,500,000 square
kilometres (580,000 sq mi) (about 17% of the total area)
receives an average of 5 millimetres (0.2 in) or less. The
annual average rainfall is virtually zero over a wide area of some
1,000,000 square kilometres (390,000 sq mi) in the eastern
Sahara comprising deserts of: Libya,
Sudan (Tazirbu, Kufra,
Dakhla, Kharga, Farafra, Siwa, Asyut, Sohag, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel,
Wadi Halfa) where the long-term mean approximates 0.5 millimetres
(0.02 in) per year. Rainfall is very unreliable and erratic
Sahara as it may vary considerably year by year. In full
contrast to the negligible annual rainfall amounts, the annual rates
of potential evaporation are extraordinarily high, roughly ranging
from 2,500 millimetres (100 in) per year to more than 6,000
millimetres (240 in) per year in the whole desert. Nowhere
else on Earth has air been found as dry and evaporative as in the
Sahara region. However, at least two instances of snowfall have been
recorded in Sahara, in February 1979 and December 2016, both in the
town of Ain Sefra.
Desertification and prehistoric climate
Sahara pump theory, Green Sahara, Prehistoric North
Africa, and North African climate cycles
The climate of the
Sahara has undergone enormous variations between
wet and dry over the last few hundred thousand years, believed to
be caused by long-term changes in the
North African climate cycle that
alters the path of the
North African Monsoon
North African Monsoon - usually southward. The
cycle is caused by a 41000-year cycle in which the tilt of the earth
changes between 22° and 24.5°. At present (2000 AD), we are in a
dry period, but it is expected that the
Sahara will become green again
in 15000 years (17000 AD). When the North African monsoon is at its
strongest annual precipitation and subsequent vegetation in the Sahara
region increase, resulting in conditions commonly referred to as the
"green Sahara". For a relatively weak North African monsoon, the
opposite is true, with decreased annual precipitation and less
vegetation resulting in a phase of the
Sahara climate cycle known as
the "desert Sahara".
The idea that changes in insolation (solar heating) caused by
long-term changes in the Earth's orbit are a controlling factor for
the long-term variations in the strength of monsoon patterns across
the globe was first suggested by Rudolf Spitaler in the late
nineteenth century, The hypothesis was later formally proposed and
tested by the meteorologist John Kutzbach in 1981. Kutzbach's
ideas about the impacts of insolation on global monsoonal patterns
have become widely accepted today as the underlying driver of long
term monsoonal cycles. Kutzbach never formally named his hypothesis
and as such it is referred to here as the "Orbital
as suggested by Ruddiman in 2001.
During the last glacial period, the
Sahara was much larger than it is
today, extending south beyond its current boundaries. The end of
the glacial period brought more rain to the Sahara, from about 8000 BC
to 6000 BC, perhaps because of low pressure areas over the collapsing
ice sheets to the north. Once the ice sheets were gone, the
Sahara dried out. In the southern Sahara, the drying trend
was initially counteracted by the monsoon, which brought rain further
north than it does today. By around 4200 BC, however, the monsoon
retreated south to approximately where it is today, leading to the
gradual desertification of the Sahara. The
Sahara is now as dry as
it was about 13,000 years ago.
Sahara pump theory
Sahara pump theory describes this cycle. During periods of a wet
or "Green Sahara", the
Sahara becomes a savanna grassland and various
flora and fauna become more common. Following inter-pluvial arid
Sahara area then reverts to desert conditions and the
flora and fauna are forced to retreat northwards to the Atlas
Mountains, southwards into West Africa, or eastwards into the Nile
Valley. This separates populations of some of the species in areas
with different climates, forcing them to adapt, possibly giving rise
to allopatric speciation.
It is also proposed that humans accelerated the drying out period from
6,000–2,500 BC by pastoralists overgrazing available grassland.
Evidence for cycles
The growth of speleothems (which requires rainwater) was detected in
Hol-Zakh, Ashalim, Even-Sid, Ma'ale-ha-Meyshar, Ktora Cracks, Nagev
Tzavoa Cave, and elsewhere, and has allowing tracking of prehistoric
Red Sea coastal route was extremely arid before 140 and
after 115 kya. Slightly wetter conditions appear at 90–87 kya, but
it still was just one tenth the rainfall around 125 kya. In the
Desert speleothems did not grow between 185–140 kya
(MIS 6), 110–90 (MIS 5.4–5.2), nor after 85 kya nor during most of
the interglacial period (MIS 5.1), the glacial period and Holocene.
This suggests that the southern
Negev was arid to hyper-arid in these
Last Glacial Maximum
Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) the
Sahara desert was more
extensive than it is now with the extent of the tropical forests being
greatly reduced, and the lower temperatures reduced the strength
of the Hadley Cell. This is a climate cell which causes rising
tropical air of the
Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone
Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) to bring
rain to the tropics, while dry descending air, at about 20 degrees
north, flows back to the equator and brings desert conditions to this
region. It is associated with high rates of wind-blown mineral dust,
and these dust levels are found as expected in marine cores from the
north tropical Atlantic. But around 12,500 BC the amount of dust in
the cores in the Bølling/Allerød phase suddenly plummets and shows a
period of much wetter conditions in the Sahara, indicating a
Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) event (a sudden warming followed by a slower
cooling of the climate). The moister Saharan conditions had begun
about 12,500 BC, with the extension of the ITCZ northward in the
northern hemisphere summer, bringing moist wet conditions and a
savanna climate to the Sahara, which (apart from a short dry spell
associated with the Younger Dryas) peaked during the
maximum climatic phase at 4000 BC when mid-latitude temperatures seem
to have been between 2 and 3 degrees warmer than in the recent past.
Nile River deposited sediments in the delta also shows
this period had a higher proportion of sediments coming from the Blue
Nile, suggesting higher rainfall also in the Ethiopian Highlands. This
was caused principally by a stronger monsoonal circulation throughout
the sub-tropical regions, affecting India, Arabia and the
Lake Victoria only recently became the source
White Nile and dried out almost completely around 15 kya.
The sudden subsequent movement of the ITCZ southwards with a Heinrich
event (a sudden cooling followed by a slower warming), linked to
changes with the
El Niño-Southern Oscillation
El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle, led to a rapid
drying out of the Saharan and Arabian regions, which quickly became
desert. This is linked to a marked decline in the scale of the Nile
floods between 2700 and 2100 BC.
The major topographic features of the Saharan region.
Sahara comprises several distinct ecoregions. With their
variations in temperature, rainfall, elevation, and soil, these
regions harbor distinct communities of plants and animals.
Atlantic coastal desert
Atlantic coastal desert is a narrow strip along the Atlantic coast
where fog generated offshore by the cool
Canary Current provides
sufficient moisture to sustain a variety of lichens, succulents, and
shrubs. It covers an area of 39,900 square kilometers
(15,400 sq mi) in the south of
Morocco and Mauritania.
North Saharan steppe and woodlands
North Saharan steppe and woodlands is along the northern desert,
next to the
Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub
Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub ecoregions of
Maghreb and Cyrenaica. Winter rains sustain shrublands
and dry woodlands that form a transition between the Mediterranean
climate regions to the north and the hyper-arid
Sahara proper to the
south. It covers 1,675,300 square kilometers (646,840 sq mi)
in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia.
Desert ecoregion covers the hyper-arid central portion of
Sahara where rainfall is minimal and sporadic.
Vegetation is rare,
and this ecoregion consists mostly of sand dunes (erg, chech, raoui),
stone plateaus (hamadas), gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadis),
and salt flats. It covers 4,639,900 square kilometres
(1,791,500 sq mi) of: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali,
Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan.
South Saharan steppe and woodlands ecoregion is a narrow band
running east and west between the hyper-arid
Sahara and the Sahel
savannas to the south. Movements of the equatorial Intertropical
Convergence Zone (ITCZ) bring summer rains during July and August
which average 100 to 200 mm (4 to 8 in) but vary greatly
from year to year. These rains sustain summer pastures of grasses and
herbs, with dry woodlands and shrublands along seasonal watercourses.
This ecoregion covers 1,101,700 square kilometres
(425,400 sq mi) in Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and
In the West Saharan montane xeric woodlands, several volcanic
highlands provide a cooler, moister environment that supports
Saharo-Mediterranean woodlands and shrublands. The ecoregion covers
258,100 square kilometres (99,650 sq mi), mostly in the
Tassili n'Ajjer of Algeria, with smaller enclaves in the Aïr of
Dhar Adrar of Mauritania, and the
Adrar des Iforas
Adrar des Iforas of Mali
Tibesti-Jebel Uweinat montane xeric woodlands
Tibesti-Jebel Uweinat montane xeric woodlands ecoregion consists
Jebel Uweinat highlands. Higher and more regular
rainfall and cooler temperatures support woodlands and shrublands of
Date palm, acacias, myrtle, oleander, tamarix, and several rare and
endemic plants. The ecoregion covers 82,200 square kilometres
(31,700 sq mi) in the
Chad and Libya, and Jebel
Uweinat on the border of Egypt, Libya, and Sudan.
The Saharan halophytics is an area of seasonally flooded saline
depressions which is home to halophytic (salt-adapted) plant
communities. The Saharan halophytics cover 54,000 square kilometres
(21,000 sq mi) including: the Qattara and Siwa depressions
in northern Egypt, the
Tunisian salt lakes
Tunisian salt lakes of central Tunisia, Chott
Melghir in Algeria, and smaller areas of Algeria, Mauritania, and the
southern part of Morocco.
Tanezrouft is one of the harshest regions on Earth as well as one
of the hottest and driest parts of the Sahara, with no vegetation and
very little life. It is along the borders of Algeria, Niger]] and
Mali, west of the
Flora and fauna
The flora of the
Sahara is highly diversified based on the
bio-geographical characteristics of this vast desert. Floristically,
Sahara has three zones based on the amount of rainfall received
– the Northern (Mediterranean), Central and Southern Zones. There
are two transitional zones – the Mediterranean-
Sahara transition and
Sahel transition zone.
The Saharan flora comprises around 2800 species of vascular plants.
Approximately a quarter of these are endemic. About half of these
species are common to the flora of the Arabian deserts.
Sahara is estimated to include five hundred species of
plants, which is extremely low considering the huge extent of the
area. Plants such as acacia trees, palms, succulents, spiny shrubs,
and grasses have adapted to the arid conditions, by growing lower to
avoid water loss by strong winds, by storing water in their thick
stems to use it in dry periods, by having long roots that travel
horizontally to reach the maximum area of water and to find any
surface moisture, and by having small thick leaves or needles to
prevent water loss by evapotranspiration. Plant leaves may dry out
totally and then recover.
Camels in the Guelta d'Archei, in north-eastern Chad.
Several species of fox live in the
Sahara including: the fennec fox,
pale fox and Rüppell's fox. The addax, a large white antelope, can go
nearly a year in the desert without drinking. The dorcas gazelle is a
north African gazelle that can also go for a long time without water.
Other notable gazelles include the rhim gazelle and dama gazelle.
The Saharan cheetah (northwest African cheetah) lives in Algeria,
Togo, Niger, Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso. There remain fewer than
250 mature cheetahs, which are very cautious, fleeing any human
presence. The cheetah avoids the sun from April to October, seeking
the shelter of shrubs such as balanites and acacias. They are
unusually pale. The other cheetah subspecies (northeast
African cheetah) lives in Chad,
Sudan and the eastern region of Niger.
However, it is currently extinct in the wild in
Egypt and Libya. There
are approximately 2000 mature individuals left in the wild.
Idehan Ubari oasis lake, with native grasses and date palms
Other animals include the monitor lizards, hyrax, sand vipers, and
small populations of African wild dog, in perhaps only 14
countries and red-necked ostrich. Other animals exist in the
Sahara (birds in particular) such as
African silverbill and
black-faced firefinch, among others. There are also small desert
Mauritania and the
Ennedi Plateau of Chad.
The deathstalker scorpion can be 10 cm (3.9 in) long. Its
venom contains large amounts of agitoxin and scyllatoxin and is very
dangerous; however, a sting from this scorpion rarely kills a healthy
Saharan silver ant
Saharan silver ant is unique in that due to the extreme
high temperatures of their habitat, and the threat of predators, the
ants are active outside their nest for only about ten minutes per
Dromedary camels and goats are the domesticated animals most commonly
found in the Sahara. Because of its qualities of endurance and speed,
the dromedary is the favourite animal used by nomads.
Human activities are more likely to affect the habitat in areas of
permanent water (oases) or where water comes close to the surface.
Here, the local pressure on natural resources can be intense. The
remaining populations of large mammals have been greatly reduced by
hunting for food and recreation. In recent years development projects
have started in the deserts of
Tunisia using irrigated
water pumped from underground aquifers. These schemes often lead to
soil degradation and salinization.
Hacettepe University (Yücekutlu, N. et al., 2011)
have reported that Saharan soil may have bio-available iron and also
some essential macro and micro nutrient elements suitable for use as
fertilizer for growing wheat.
People lived on the edge of the desert thousands of years ago
since the end of the last glacial period. The
Sahara was then a much
wetter place than it is today. Over 30,000 petroglyphs of river
animals such as crocodiles survive, with half found in the Tassili
n'Ajjer in southeast Algeria. Fossils of dinosaurs, including
Jobaria and Ouranosaurus, have also been found here. The
modern Sahara, though, is not lush in vegetation, except in the Nile
Valley, at a few oases, and in the northern highlands, where
Mediterranean plants such as the olive tree are found to grow. It was
long believed that the region had been this way since about 1600 BCE,
after shifts in the Earth's axis increased temperatures and decreased
precipitation, which led to the abrupt desertification of North Africa
about 5,400 years ago. However, this theory has recently been
called into dispute, when samples taken from several 7 million year
old sand deposits led scientists to reconsider the timeline for
Kiffian culture is a prehistoric industry, or domain, that existed
between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago in the Sahara, during the Neolithic
Subpluvial. Human remains from this culture were found in 2000 at a
site known as Gobero, located in
Niger in the
The site is known as the largest and earliest grave of Stone Age
people in the
Sahara desert. The Kiffians were skilled hunters.
Bones of many large savannah animals that were discovered in the same
area suggest that they lived on the shores of a lake that was present
Holocene Wet Phase, a period when the
Sahara was verdant
and wet. The Kiffian people were tall, standing over six feet in
height. Craniometric analysis indicates that this early Holocene
population was closely related to the
Late Pleistocene Iberomaurusians
Holocene Capsians of the Maghreb, as well as mid-Holocene
Mechta groups. Traces of the
Kiffian culture do not exist after
8,000 years ago, as the
Sahara went through a dry period for the next
thousand years. After this time, the
Tenerian culture colonized
Gobero was discovered in 2000 during an archaeological expedition led
by Paul Sereno, which sought dinosaur remains. Two distinct
prehistoric cultures were discovered at the site: the early Holocene
Kiffian culture, and the middle
Holocene Tenerian culture. The
Kiffians were a prehistoric people who preceded the Tenerians and
vanished approximately 8000 years ago, when the desert became very
dry. The desiccation lasted until around 4600 BC, when the earliest
artefacts associated with the Tenerians have been dated to. Some 200
skeletons have been discovered at Gobero. The Tenerians were
considerably shorter in height and less robust than the earlier
Kiffians. Craniometric analysis also indicates that they were
osteologically distinct. The Kiffian skulls are akin to those of the
Late Pleistocene Iberomaurusians, early
Holocene Capsians, and
Holocene Mechta groups, whereas the Tenerian crania are more like
those of Mediterranean groups. Graves show that the Tenerians
observed spiritual traditions, as they were buried with artifacts such
as jewelry made of hippo tusks and clay pots. The most interesting
find is a triple burial, dated to 5300 years ago, of an adult female
and two children, estimated through their teeth as being five and
eight years old, hugging each other. Pollen residue indicates they
were buried on a bed of flowers. The three are assumed to have died
within 24 hours of each other, but as their skeletons hold no apparent
trauma (they did not die violently) and they have been buried so
elaborately - unlikely if they had died of a plague - the cause of
their deaths is a mystery.
Uan Muhuggiag appears to have been inhabited from at least the 6th
millennium BC to about 2700 BC, although not necessarily
continuously. The most noteworthy find at
Uan Muhuggiag is the
well-preserved mummy of a young boy of approximately 2 1/2 years old.
The child was in a fetal position, then embalmed, then placed in a
sack made of antelope skin, which was insulated by a layer of
leaves. The boy's organs were removed, as evidenced by incisions
in his stomach and thorax, and an organic preservative was inserted to
stop his body from decomposing. An ostrich eggshell necklace was
also found around his neck.
Radiocarbon dating determined the age
of the mummy to be approximately 5600 years old, which makes it about
1000 years older than the earliest previously recorded mummy in
ancient Egypt. In 1958-1959, an archaeological expedition led by
Antonio Ascenzi conducted anthropological, radiological, histological
and chemical analyses on the
Uan Muhuggiag mummy. The specimen was
determined to be that of a 30-month old child of uncertain sex, who
Negroid features. A long incision on the specimen's
abdominal wall also indicated that the body had been initially
mummified by evisceration and later underwent natural desiccation.
One other individual, an adult, was found at Uan Muhuggiag, buried in
a crouched position. However, the body showed no evidence of
evisceration or any other method of preservation. The body was
estimated to date from about 7500 BP.
Sahara pump theory
Sahara pump theory and
Beni Isguen, a holy city surrounded by thick walls in the Algerian
Neolithic Era, before the onset of desertification around
9500 BCE, the central
Sudan had been a rich environment supporting a
large population ranging across what is now barren desert, like the
Wadi el-Qa'ab. By the 5th millennium BCE, the people who inhabited
what is now called Nubia, were full participants in the "agricultural
revolution", living a settled lifestyle with domesticated plants and
animals. Saharan rock art of cattle and herdsmen suggests the presence
of a cattle cult like those found in
Sudan and other pastoral
Africa today. Megaliths found at
Nabta Playa are
overt examples of probably the world's first known archaeoastronomy
Stonehenge by some 2,000 years. This
complexity, as observed at Nabta Playa, and as expressed by different
levels of authority within the society there, likely formed the basis
for the structure of both the
Neolithic society at Nabta and the Old
Kingdom of Egypt.
By 6000 BCE predynastic Egyptians in the southwestern corner of Egypt
were herding cattle and constructing large buildings. Subsistence in
organized and permanent settlements in predynastic
Egypt by the middle
of the 6th millennium BCE centered predominantly on cereal and animal
agriculture: cattle, goats, pigs and sheep. Metal objects replaced
prior ones of stone. Tanning of animal skins, pottery and weaving were
commonplace in this era also. There are indications of seasonal or
only temporary occupation of the
Al Fayyum in the 6th millennium BCE,
with food activities centering on fishing, hunting and food-gathering.
Stone arrowheads, knives and scrapers from the era are commonly
found. Burial items included pottery, jewelry, farming and hunting
equipment, and assorted foods including dried meat and fruit. Burial
in desert environments appears to enhance Egyptian preservation rites,
and the dead were buried facing due west.
By 3400 BCE, the
Sahara was as dry as it is today, due to reduced
precipitation and higher temperatures resulting from a shift in the
Earth's orbit. As a result of this aridification, it became a
largely impenetrable barrier to humans, with the remaining settlements
mainly being concentrated around the numerous oases that dot the
landscape. Little trade or commerce is known to have passed through
the interior in subsequent periods, the only major exception being the
Nile Valley. The Nile, however, was impassable at several cataracts,
making trade and contact by boat difficult.
Further information: History of Western Sahara
The people of Phoenicia, who flourished from 1200–800 BCE, created a
confederation of kingdoms across the entire
Sahara to Egypt. They
generally settled along the Mediterranean coast, as well as the
Sahara, among the people of ancient Libya, who were the ancestors of
people who speak
Berber languages in
North Africa and the Sahara
today, including the
Tuareg of the central Sahara.
Azalai salt caravan. The French reported that the 1906 caravan
numbered 20,000 camels.
The Phoenician alphabet seems to have been adopted by the ancient
Libyans of north Africa, and
Tifinagh is still used today by
Tuareg camel herders of the central Sahara.
Sometime between 633 BCE and 530 BCE,
Hanno the Navigator
Hanno the Navigator either
established or reinforced Phoenician colonies in Western Sahara, but
all ancient remains have vanished with virtually no trace.
By 500 BCE, Greeks arrived in the desert. Greek traders spread along
the eastern coast of the desert, establishing trading colonies along
the Red Sea. The Carthaginians explored the Atlantic coast of the
desert, but the turbulence of the waters and the lack of markets
caused a lack of presence further south than modern Morocco.
Centralized states thus surrounded the desert on the north and east;
it remained outside the control of these states. Raids from the
Berber people of the desert were of constant concern to those
living on the edge of the desert.
Market on the main square of
An urban civilization, the Garamantes, arose around 500 BCE in the
heart of the Sahara, in a valley that is now called the
in Fezzan, Libya. The
Garamantes achieved this development by
digging tunnels far into the mountains flanking the valley to tap
fossil water and bring it to their fields. The
populous and strong, conquering their neighbors and capturing many
slaves (who were put to work extending the tunnels). The ancient
Greeks and the Romans knew of the
Garamantes and regarded them as
uncivilized nomads. However, they traded with them, and a Roman bath
has been found in the Garamantes' capital of Garama. Archaeologists
have found eight major towns and many other important settlements in
the Garamantes' territory. The Garamantes' civilization eventually
collapsed after they had depleted available water in the aquifers and
could no longer sustain the effort to extend the tunnels further into
Zawiya at the entrance of Taghit, Algeria
Berber people occupied (and still occupy) much of the Sahara. The
Berbers built a prosperous empire in the heart of the
Tuareg nomads continue to inhabit and move across wide
Sahara surfaces to the present day.
Trans-Saharan trade and Islamization of Sudan
Byzantine Empire ruled the northern shores of the
Sahara from the
5th to the 7th centuries. After the Muslim conquest of Arabia,
specifically the Arabian peninsula, the Muslim conquest of North
Africa began in the mid-7th to early 8th centuries and Islamic
influence expanded rapidly on the Sahara. By the end of 641 all of
Egypt was in Muslim hands. Trade across the desert intensified, and a
significant slave trade crossed the desert. It has been estimated that
from the 10th to 19th centuries some 6,000 to 7,000 slaves were
transported north each year.
Tuareg once controlled the central
Sahara and its trade.
Ottoman Turkish era
In the 16th century the northern fringe of the Sahara, such as coastal
regencies in present-day
Algeria and Tunisia, as well as some parts of
present-day Libya, together with the semi-autonomous kingdom of Egypt,
were occupied by the Ottoman Empire. From 1517
Egypt was a valued part
of the Ottoman Empire, ownership of which provided the Ottomans with
control over the
Nile Valley, the east Mediterranean and North Africa.
The benefit of the
Ottoman Empire was the freedom of movement for
citizens and goods. Traders exploited the Ottoman land routes to
handle the spices, gold and silk from the East, manufactured goods
from Europe, and the slave and gold traffic from Africa. Arabic
continued as the local language and Islamic culture was much
Sahel and southern
Sahara regions were home to several
independent states or to roaming
European colonialism in the
Sahara began in the 19th century. France
conquered the regency of
Algiers from the Ottomans in 1830, and French
rule spread south from
Algeria and eastwards from
Senegal into the
Niger to include present-day Algeria, Chad,
Mali then French
Sudan including Timbuktu, Mauritania,
Morocco (1912), Niger, and
Tunisia (1881). By the beginning of the 20th century, the
trans-Saharan trade had clearly declined because goods were moved
through more modern and efficient means, such as airplanes, rather
than across the desert.
The French Colonial Empire was the dominant presence in the Sahara. It
established regular air links from
Toulouse (HQ of famed
Oran and over the
Timbuktu and West to
Bamako and Dakar, as well as trans-
Sahara bus services run by La
Companie Transsaharienne (est. 1927). A remarkable film shot by
famous aviator Captain René Wauthier documents the first crossing by
a large truck convoy from
Algiers to Tchad, across the Sahara.
Egypt, under Muhammad Ali and his successors, conquered
Khartoum in 1823, and conquered
Darfur in 1874.
Egypt, including the Sudan, became a British protectorate in 1882.
Egypt and Britain lost control of the
Sudan from 1882 to 1898 as a
result of the Mahdist War. After its capture by British troops in
Sudan became an Anglo-Egyptian condominium.
Spain captured present-day
Western Sahara after 1874, although Rio del
Oro remained largely under Sahrawi influence. In 1912, Italy captured
parts of what was to be named
Libya from the Ottomans. To promote the
Roman Catholic religion in the desert,
Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX appointed a
delegate Apostolic of the
Sahara and the
Sudan in 1868; later in the
19th century his jurisdiction was reorganized into the Vicariate
Apostolic of Sahara.
Breakup of the empires and afterwards
A natural rock arch in south western Libya
Egypt became independent of Britain in 1936, although the
Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936
Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 allowed Britain to keep troops in Egypt
and to maintain the British-Egyptian condominium in the Sudan. British
military forces were withdrawn in 1954.
Most of the Saharan states achieved independence after
World War II:
Libya in 1951; Morocco, Sudan, and
Tunisia in 1956; Chad, Mali,
Niger in 1960; and
Algeria in 1962. Spain withdrew
Western Sahara in 1975, and it was partitioned between Mauritania
Mauritania withdrew in 1979;
Morocco continues to hold
In the post-
World War II
World War II era, several mines and communities have
developed to utilize the desert's natural resources. These include
large deposits of oil and natural gas in
Algeria and Libya, and large
deposits of phosphates in
Morocco and Western Sahara.
A number of Trans-African highways have been proposed across the
Sahara, including the Cairo–
Dakar Highway along the Atlantic coast,
Trans-Sahara Highway from
Algiers on the Mediterranean to
Tripoli – Cape Town Highway
Tripoli – Cape Town Highway from
N'Djamena in Chad, and the
Cairo – Cape Town Highway
Cairo – Cape Town Highway which follows
the Nile. Each of these highways is partially complete, with
significant gaps and unpaved sections.
People and languages
A 19th-century engraving of an Arab slave-trading caravan transporting
black African slaves across the Sahara.
The people of the
Sahara are of various origins. Among them the
Amaziɣ including the Turūq, various
Arabized Amaziɣ groups such as
the Hassaniya-speaking Sahrawis, whose populations include the Znaga,
a tribe whose name is a remnant of the pre-historic Zenaga language.
Other major groups of people include the: Toubou, Nubians, Zaghawa,
Kanuri, Hausa, Songhai, Beja, and Fula/Fulani (French: Peul; Fula:
Arabic dialects are the most widely spoken languages in the Sahara.
Arabic, Berber and its variants now regrouped under the term Amazigh
(which includes the
Guanche language spoken by the original Berber
inhabitants of the Canary Islands) and Beja languages are part of the
Hamito-Semitic family. Unlike
West Africa and the central governments of the states that
comprise the Sahara, the
French language bears little relevance to
inter-personal discourse and commerce within the region, its people
retaining staunch ethnic and political affiliations with
Berber leaders and culture. The legacy of the French colonial era
administration is primarily manifested in the territorial
reorganization enacted by the Third and Fourth republics, which
engendered artificial political divisions within a hitherto isolated
and porous region. Diplomacy with local clients was conducted
primarily in Arabic, which was the traditional language of
bureaucratic affairs. Mediation of disputes and inter-agency
communication was served by interpreters contracted by the French
government, who, according to Keenan, "documented a space of
intercultural mediation," contributing much to preserving the
indigenous cultural identities in the region.
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Gulf of Aden
Gulf of Tadjoura
Indian Ocean islands
Cataracts of the Nile
Gulf of Aqaba
Gulf of Guinea
Guinean Forests of West Africa
Central Highlands (Madagascar)
Cape Floristic Region
East African montane forests
Greater Middle East
Islands of Africa
List of countries where Arabic is an official language
Portuguese-speaking African countries
Coordinates: 23°N 13°E / 23°N 13°E / 23; 13
BNF: cb12137606n (data)