How Old Is The Sahara Desert?

The Sahara Desert in Morocco.

The Sahara Desert is one of the world's most famous deserts due to the vast area it occupies which is roughly 3,600,000 square miles. The Sahara, apart from being Africa's most massive desert, also covers more territory than any other hot desert on earth. It ranks third among the world's deserts as the Arctic and Antarctica occupy more land than Sahara. The Sahara covers vast tracts of North African territory with significant sections in nations such as Egypt and Libya. Scientists have conducted several studies to determine the desert's age with some estimates ranging from 2 to 3 million years ago. Recent studies of the Sahara dunes, however, indicate that the desert may be older than initially anticipated with some scientists believing that the Sahara could be at least 7 million years old.

The Geography of the Sahara

The Sahara occupies approximately 31% of Africa's entire land area, making it one of the continent's largest geographic regions. Stone plateaus occupy the most significant portion of the Sahara with sand seas occupying the remainder of the territory. The sand seas primarily comprise of dunes with a large number being over 590 feet high. The features within the Sahara desert owe their formation to the wind and the occasional rainfall experienced within the desert. Some mountains can be found within the Sahara with notable examples being the Ahaggar Mountains and the Aïr Mountains. The highest point within the Sahara is situated within Chad in the Tibesti Mountains range and is referred to as Emi Koussi. Several important cities are located within the Sahara's borders with some of the most prominent being Nouakchott in Mauritania and Béchar in Algeria.

The Sahara's formation

According to research published by the Smithsonian, one of the factors that contributed to the drying of the Sahara was probably the movement of the earth's tectonic plates. The position of the earth's axis also changes gradually impacting the amount of heat that the region receives as well as altering the monsoon patterns. The amount of rainfall experienced in the area declined significantly contributing to the desertification.

Human Settlement in Sahara

Before the complete desertification of the Sahara, human habitation was widespread among communities able to thrive in some locations. Archaeological evidence indicates that one of the communities that lived in the Sahara was the Kiffians who lived approximately 8,000 years ago. The Kiffian community relied heavily on hunting to provide them with a source of food. The Kiffian culture died out due to the desertification of the Sahara. Years after the decline of the Kiffian culture, the Tenerians established themselves in the region. One of the earliest European groups to develop an interest in the Sahara was the Greeks as they set up trading centers in many areas. Sections of the Sahara fell under Ottoman rule before the onset of European colonization.

The Ecological Importance of the Sahara 

The Sahara is significant because it provides habitat to a wide range of plants and animals several of which are endemic. Several of the animals found in the Sahara include the fennec fox and the deathstalker scorpion. Much of the Sahara's wildlife is heavily dependent on the oases spread out across the desert.


More in World Facts