A 3,200-year interlude of tropical rains once transformed the eastern Sahara into a verdant savanna where seminomadic people thrived amid elephants, cattle and more than 30 species of fish, according to German researchers.
After collecting more than 500 radiocarbon dates at 150 sites in an area larger than Western Europe, University of Cologne researchers found that the sudden climate change 10,500 years ago coaxed thousands of people to move into the now desolate expanse.
The researchers based their dates on bone, charcoal and human artifacts found in the area.
The prehistoric settlements show evidence of the first attempts in Africa at raising cattle and fashioning ceramic pottery, said geo-archeologist Stefan Kroepelin, one of the authors of the paper, published Friday in the journal Science.
The ancient people of the Sahara also left artwork behind, including a depiction of swimmers on a cave wall in Gilf Kebir, an area that is only sand today.