The Sahara desert may be a dry and unfavorable place now but 10,000 years ago, the place saw rich green vegetation. A study has found that early Africans had an important role to play in this and that they were cultivating and storing cereals in the region.
A study has found that people in Saharan Africa were cultivating and storing wild cereals 10,000 years ago. This could also lead to a lesson in the future, if global warming creates a necessity for alternative crops.
The Sahara is a desert now, but in the Holocene age, about 10,000 years ago, it was lush and green and wild cereals grew there, according to a new study.
The research group, from the University of Huddersfield, England, and the University of Modena & Reggio Emilia, Italy, have explored a prehistoric site in the Libyan Desert and found more than 200,000 ancient cereal seeds arranged in circular clusters.
Expert analysis has confirmed that this was not the work of insects such as ants which are also known for moving seeds into massive concentrations like these.
Researchers think that hunter-gatherers have visited the site named the Takarkori rock shelter, and taken part in an early form of farming which contributed to the rich green Saharan vegetation.
Seeds suitable for storage
Scientists also analyzed a selected sample of seeds, which consisted of various kinds of grass but also showed signs of threshing. These seeds have confirmed the theory of early farming.
Some seeds also had a different shape than normally seen. The seeds were mostly of a kind of seed which shows strong seed dormancy. That means they don't germinate until the following season and this makes them suitable for storage purposes. This is in direct contrast to domesticated crops. Domesticated crops usually have immensely reduced seed dormancy.
There was also further evidence of human activity from the ancient site. These included remains of root-woven baskets, pottery with chemical traces of cereal soup and cheese. These indicated that early Africans were storing cereals for future use as well as producing them.
Surviving climate change
Scientists also pointed out that the crops these early farmers grew were not like the crops grown today. These crops were weed-like wild plants or things that could grow anywhere.
They could grow in well-plowed or disturbed soil as well as quickly adapt to changing environmental conditions. The researchers said this would have helped the crops survive the impact of climate change.
"The same behavior that allowed these plants to survive in a changing environment in a remote past makes them some of the most likely possible candidates as staple resources in a coming future of global warming.”
They could even offer a good solution for the future generations to deal with global warming. “The same behavior that allowed these plants to survive in a changing environment in a remote past makes them some of the most likely possible candidates as staple resources in a coming future of global warming,” the researchers said.
"Our research suggests that, similarly to modern gatherers, we should pay renewed attention to these plants in the hope of finding innovative responses to tackle desertification and biodiversity loss."
Only recently, scientists from Princeton University have warned that a rise in global warming levels by even half a degree could cause over five million people being flooded out of their homes in the next century. This also includes residents of small island nations.