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Chad - Prehistory

The territory now known as Chad possesses some of the richest archaeological sites in Africa. During the seventh millennium BC, the northern half of Chad was part of a broad expanse of land, stretching from the Indus River in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, in which ecological conditions favored early human settlement. Rock art of the "Round Head" style, found in the Ennedi region, has been dated to before the seventh millennium BC and, because of the tools with which the rocks were carved and the scenes they depict, may represent the oldest evidence in the Sahara of Neolithic industries. Many of the pottery-making and Neolithic activities in Ennedi date back further than any of those of the Nile Valley to the east.

In the prehistoric period, Chad was much wetter than it is today, as evidenced by large game animals depicted in rock paintings in the Tibesti and Borkou regions. Recent linguistic research suggests that all of Africa's languages south of the Sahara Desert (except Khoisan) originated in prehistoric times in a narrow band between Lake Chad and the Nile Valley. The origins of Chad's peoples, however, remain unclear. Several of the proven archaeological sites have been only partially studied, and other sites o great potential have yet to be mapped.

The Pleistocene Epoch is typically defined as the time period that began about 1.8 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. The most recent Ice Age occurred then, as glaciers covered huge parts of the Earth. Geological and geomorphological data indicate that the southern Lake Chad Basin was probably unoccupied by humans during the terminal Pleistocene hyper-arid period, with the complete disappearance of Lake Chad and the spread of dune fields acrossthe lakebed and south to the Mandara Mountains, while during the early Holocene, much of the area was under the waters of Lake Megachad. In addition, there is no significant archaeological evidence for occupation during the terminal Pleistocene, although taphonomic factors and issues of research emphasis probably play a role in this lack of knowledge for this period.

This implies that human settlement took place through the movement of immigrants into an unoccupied region, probably in two separate phases. A Lake Chad Basin empty of human occupation during the terminal Pleistocene implies that genetic and linguistic reconstructions need not be complicated by the existence of humans in the region earlier in the Pleistocene: communities inthe area today are descended from populations that immigrated at different times during approximately the last 12,000–10,000 years.

The Holocene is the name given to the last 11,700 years of the Earth's history — the time since the end of the last major glacial epoch. Archaeological evidence indicates a complex history of settlement of the southern Lake Chad Basin from the mid-Holocene onward, in parallel with the gradual desiccation of the Sahara and reduction of lake and river systems inthe region. These archaeological data can be compared with a growing body of data from historical linguistics and genetics, and the southern Lake Chad Basin is one of few areas in Africa where such comparisons can be undertaken.

Human settlement of the southern Lake Chad Basin probably took place in two stages from the end of the Pleistocene onward: first, during the early Holocene climatic amelioration, and second, during the mid-Holocene regression of Lake Megachad, which exposed wide expanses of sand and clay plains suitable for grazing andagriculture and seems to be associated with more intensive settlement. The first stage would have involved an initial colonisation of the region as the expanded terminal Pleistocene Sahara retreated northward, Lake Megachad and its surrounding hydrological networks expanded, and Sudanian woodland environments began to dominate the region. This phase would have extended from approximately 12,000 to 7,000 years ago and involved at least one cycle of decreasing and increasing aridity before the early Holocene lake highstand.

Much of the region was submerged under Lake Megachad during the early Holocene, and the grasslandsand river-lake networks of the modern southern Saharan and Sahelian zones would probably have been more attractive areas for settlement than the marshlands and woodlands south of Lake Megachad at that time.

The diversity and complex imbrication of languages from different families in the southern Lake Chad Basin, testifies to complex processes of language contact and population movement that have been going on in this area for millennia. But the paucity of archaeological data from the Benue Valley and Adamawa Plateau mean that even after 50 years of study, very little can be said about prehistoric cultural relations between the Lake Chad Basin and regions immediately to the south.

As hunter-gatherers adopted new subsistence activities in the humid environment, their manner of interaction with the habitat changed. The earliest known period of art in the Sahara is also sometimes known as the ‘Large Wild Fauna Period’. This period is characterized by large and sometimes life-size engravings of elephant, rhino, hippo, crocodile, giraffe and buffalo which lived here when the Sahara was green and fertile. Humans are normally shown as tiny figures dwarfed by the immensity of these animals.

The paintings from the Round Head Period - huge, fantastic images of elaborately attired human figures – are confined mainly to southern Algeria and southern Libya. These are some of the world’s largest rock paintings. One figure alone stands more than five and a half meters in height. The majority of Round Head paintings portray strange people with round featureless heads and formless bodies, sometimes appearing to float or swim through space as though experiencing out-of-body travel, suggesting a connection with shamanism.

Tassili n'Ajjer is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya, Niger and Mali, covering an area of 72,000 sq. km. The exceptional density of paintings and engravings, and the presence of many prehistoric vestiges, are remarkable testimonies to Prehistory. From 10,000 BC to the first centuries of our era, successive peoples left many archaeological remains, habitations, burial mounds and enclosures which have yielded abundant lithic and ceramic material. However, it is the rock art (engravings and paintings) that have made Tassili world famous as from 1933, the date of its discovery.

The Pastoral Period is thought to have lasted between 3,000 and 4,000 years. It seems to have declined after 4,000 BP but continued in some areas into the Horse Period. Dramatic climatic changes took place during these millennia and the art of the period reflects a changing attitude towards nature and property. Humans also become much more important, and human figures now play a central role in the art.

The oldest archaeological sites found in the vicinity of Lake Chad are thought to have been first occupied soon after the desiccation of Lake Megachad and date to about 4,000 BP. These settlement sites are found at an altitude of 298m along the margin of a once larger Lake Chad suggesting the retreat of Lake Megachad from the 305m shoreline before 4,000 BP.

Artifacts from hundreds of archeological sites from southern Chad to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Cameroon have turned up several surprises. The research was conducted between 1999 and 2004 as construction was underway on the underground petroleum pipeline. The pipeline is sponsored by the World Bank and runs from Chad to the port of Kribi, Cameroon. A total of 472 archeological sites along the area in both Cameroon and Chad were found, some dating back to as long ago as 100,000 years. Archeologists found sites where people had lived, where people had stored food, where people had made tools of iron. Before people in this area used iron, they made a whole variety of different kinds of tools including axes, arrow points, knives and fire scrapers from stone. Other artifacts excavated by the researchers include pottery and iron-smelting furnaces.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2016 19:20:41 ZULU