Paleorivers across Sahara may have supported ancient human migration routes

Sep 11, 2013

Three ancient river systems, now buried, may have created viable routes for human migration across the Sahara to the Mediterranean region about 100,000 years ago, according to research published September 11 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Tom Coulthard from the University of Hull, UK, and colleagues from other institutions.

Simulating paleoclimates in the region, the researchers found quantitative evidence of three major river systems that likely existed in North Africa 130,000-100,000 years ago, but are now largely buried by dune systems in the desert. When flowing, these rivers likely provided fertile habitats for animals and vegetation, creating 'green corridors' across the region. At least one river system is estimated to have been 100 km wide and largely perennial. The Irharhar river, westernmost of the three identified, may represent a likely route of human migration across the region. In addition to rivers, the researchers' simulations predict massive lagoons and wetlands in northeast Libya, some of which span over 70,000-square kilometers. "It's exciting to think that 100 000 years ago there were three huge rivers forcing their way across a 1000km of the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean—and that our ancestors could have walked alongside them" said Coulthard.

Previous studies have shown that people travelled across the Saharan mountains toward more fertile Mediterranean regions, but when, where and how they did so is a subject of debate. Existing evidence supports the possibilities of a single trans-Saharan migration, many migrations along one route, or multiple migrations along several different routes. The existence of 'green corridors' that provided water and were likely critical to these events, but their location and the amount of water they carried is not known. The simulations provided in this study aim to quantify the probability that these routes may have been viable for across the region.

Explore further: Museum to display 6,500-year-old human skeleton

More information: Coulthard TJ, Ramirez JA, Barton N, Rogerson M, BrĂ¼cher T (2013) Were Rivers Flowing across the Sahara During the Last Interglacial? Implications for Human Migration through Africa. PLoS ONE 8(9): e74834. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074834

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Snail genetic tracks reveal ancient human migration

Jun 19, 2013

Some snails in Ireland and the Pyrenees are genetically almost identical, perhaps because they were carried across the Atlantic during an 8000-year-old human migration. The snail genetics tie in with studies ...

Scientists track pronghorn by satellite

Apr 12, 2011

The pronghorn were captured in a helicopter netting operation on February 28, fitted with the collars, and released. The collars are scheduled to "drop off" of the animals at a future date through an automated ...

Puffins 'scout out' best migration route

Jul 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Individual Atlantic puffins 'scout out' their own migration routes rather than relying on genetic ‘programming’ or learning routes from a parent, a new study suggests.

Ancient Colorado river flowed backwards

Oct 04, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Geologists have found evidence that some 55 million years ago a river as big as the modern Colorado flowed through Arizona into Utah in the opposite direction from the present-day river. Writing in the October ...

Recommended for you

Oldest representative of a weird arthropod group

20 hours ago

Biologists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have assigned a number of 435-million-year-old fossils to a new genus of predatory arthropods. These animals lived in shallow marine habitats ...

Bronze Age wine cellar found

Aug 27, 2014

A Bronze Age palace excavation reveals an ancient wine cellar, according to a study published August 27, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Andrew Koh from Brandeis University and colleagues.

User comments : 0