Although much is known of the ancient history of the eastern fringes of the great Sahara desert in Africa, where the Egyptian civilization rose and flourished, there are vast tracts of archaeologically unexplored regions of the Sahara itself. With good reason--the Sahara is made up of 3.5 million acres of deeply dissected mountains and vast seas of sand dunes, salt flats and stone plateaus. In west Africa, one of the most unfriendly places is the Ténéré Desert of Niger, the "Desert within a Desert", where extremely hot temperatures---summer days reach 108 degrees F---allow for virtually no vegetation.
But it was not always this way, as recent excavations at the site of Gobero in Niger indicate. Gobero is a cemetery site, including at least 200 human burials located on top of a ridge or set of ridges, sand dunes with a hard calcrete-fringe. These burials occurred in two periods of settlement: 7700-6200 BC (called Kiffian culture) and 5200-2500 BC (called Tenerean culture).
There, explorations by a team led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and University of Chicago paleontologist Paul C. Sereno, have illuminated some small part of the last 10,000 years of the Saharan ecosystem.
- Sereno, Paul C., et al. 2008 Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change. PLoS ONE 3(8):e2995. Free article download
- Green Sahara: National Geographic Magazine Special Feature. A paper version of this will appear in the NGM for September 2008.
- Green Sahara Video, on National Geographic