The Sahara Desert Is the Most Grueling Place on the Planet

Researching the Sahara can be quite dangerous given the arid weather and difficult landscape, but the research must be done in order to understand our ancestors. One would assume that living in the Sahara desert, the world’s largest desert, would be impossible to live on, but as a matter of fact the Sahara was once brimming with life thousands of years ago. In the American Scientist article “Ancient Lakes of the Sahara”, writers Kevin White and David J. Mattingly set out to explore how the climate of the Sahara changed and how people used to cope in this environment.

While studying the Sahara, White and Mattingly were able to learn about life in the Sahara in which a few complex societies, most notably the Garamantian society, were able to live in due to wet seasons in which lakes and vegetation were allowed to grow. Unfortunately for the Garamantian society, these wet seasons would be on and off. Eventually, the wet seasons stopped coming and the lakes dried up, leaving us with the Sahara we know today.

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Even though living in the Sahara proved to be unwise, it is important to understand how it would be possible to live in an environment like this.

One of the methods used to discover former bodies of water in the Sahara was through space-radar images. Looking at former bodies of water is vital to understanding how people lived, but finding what was once a lake or a river in the Sahara can be very difficult without satellite images.

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In 1982, NASA discovered that they could see a river network underneath the sand on the border of Egypt and Sudan. With this new way of exploring the desert, scientists were able to find former bodies of water in the Sahara by differentiating between sand and duricrust, a hardened layer that forms due to the precipitation of calcium carbonate and gypsum. Rather than navigating through the desert aimlessly, scientists could pinpoint where the duricrust was and plan their journey. From there, scientists could go to these sites and use methods such as radioactive dating, optically stimulated luminescence, and dating carbon to date shells and the sands beneath lakes. These would prove to be good starting points to determine how societies were able to live in the Sahara.

Although both radioactive dating, OSL, and dating carbon were used to try and date objects from the desert, only OSL ended up being successful as radioactive dating proved to be difficult. Ten shells from the lake deposit were used during the radioactive dating process, and the results varied from 56,000 years to 84,500 years. However, there were signs of recrystallization as the original calcium carbonate of these shells turned into calcite. This threw everything off as the isotopes began to change, making the fossils appear to be much older or much younger than they appeared. Because the Sahara has a good amount of quartz, OSL was used due to OSL’s efficiency with working with crystals with quartz in them. After dating the sand that once laid underneath the lakes, the results showed that the lake was around between 226,000 and 255,000 years ago.

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The Sahara Desert Is the Most Grueling Place on the Planet. (2022, Jan 11). Retrieved from

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