A new study published in Scientific Advances Journal has confirmed what scientists and archaeologists have long suspected – the Sahara Desert was once a green and flourishing region of Earth that was inhabited by huge numbers of people.

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Researchers based at the University of Arizona have determined through detailed analysis of marine sediments collected all over West Africa that the region once experience ten times the amount of rainfall that it receives today. According to Jessica Tierney, who led the study, this would have meant that the vast Sahara Desert region would have looked very different and would have been far more hospitable to human and animal habitation. She said that this period, which she and her team have termed the ‘Green Sahara’ period occurred between 5000 and 11000 years ago.

The Sahara desert was once green and inhabited by human beings

Archaeological evidence has long suggested that this might be the case. There have been a large number of curious discoveries in the past which suggested that there were fairly large hunter-gatherer communities who once inhabited the now arid land. These people would have sustained themselves on the animals and plants that would have been present in the savannahs and woodland prairies in the region.

The archaeological evidence also suggests that human beings gradually withdrew from the region approximately 8,000 years ago. According to Tierney, this is absolutely consistent with the science. The marine sediments indicate that there was a thousand year dry period in the Sahara Desert at around the same time that human beings began to migrate away from the region. “It looks like this thousand-year dry period caused people to leave, ” she explained.

After the mass exodus from the Sahara Desert after the extreme climate change, some communities did return and settle in the region once again. According to Tierney and the archaeological evidence that has been uncovered, these people were not hunter-gatherers but were nomadic farmers who raised cattle. This means, says Tierney, that one can view the dry period as a separation mark between two vastly different cultures.