African Archaeological Review

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 301–333 | Cite as

Holocene Supra-Regional Environmental Changes as Trigger for Major Socio-Cultural Processes in Northeastern Africa and the Sahara

Original Article


This contribution presents the environmental changes that occurred over the last ten millennia in a vast region of North Africa, encompassing the Central Sahara, the Greater Nile Valley and the Horn of Africa. These areas are of particular significance in the continent because of the early socioeconomic transformations that occurred there. An up-to-date review of palaeoclimate research is proposed with the aim to highlight new theoretical approaches, analytical methods and innovative techniques. Results of recent research on high-resolution and well-dated palaeoenvironmental archives for proxy data have been used to understand the climatic variability at different scales of resolution. We trace the regional changes in Holocene palaeohydrology, mostly regulated by monsoonal precipitation, and their effects on the landscape, and highlight the occurrence of short-term climatic events, arid or humid that may have had disruptive consequences on human communities. The contribution also discusses the cultural dynamics that occurred in those regions because the latter were exploited by hunter/gatherer groups from the onset of the Holocene until historical times. A reconstruction of patterns of human adjustment to climatic variability is here presented, focusing on key processes such as the origin of food production, social complexity and power, and the rise and fall of complex polities and interregional networks.


Palaeoclimates Cultural dynamics Holocene Northeastern Africa Sahara 


Cette contribution présente les changements environnementaux survenus au cours des dix derniers millénaires dans une vaste région de l'Afrique du Nord, englobant le Sahara Central, la vallée du Nile, et la Corne de l'Afrique. Ces zones sont d'une importance particulière, car ce sont là que les processus de développement socio-économiques se sont initialement produits sur le continent. Une revue à jour de la recherche paléoclimatique est proposée dans le but de mettre en évidence de nouvelles approches théoriques, méthodes analytiques et techniques innovantes. Les résultats de recherches récentes sur des archives paléoenvironnementales à haute résolution et bien datées ont été utilisées pour comprendre la variabilité climatique à différentes échelles, traçant les changements régionaux dans la paléohydrologie de l’Holocène, principalement régis par les précipitations de mousson, et leurs effets sur le paysage et soulignant l'apparition de courts événements climatiques, aride ou humide, qui ont pu avoir des conséquences perturbatrices sur les communautés humaines. Cette contribution aborde également les dynamiques culturelles qui ont eu lieu dans ces régions depuis qu'elles ont été exploitées par des groupes de chasseurs/cueilleurs du début de l'Holocène aux périodes historiques. Une reconstruction des schémas d'adaptation humaine aux variations climatiques est présentée ici, en se concentrant sur des processus clés, tels que l'origine de la production alimentaire, la complexité sociale et le pouvoir; ainsi que sur l’essor et la chute de systèmes politiques complexes et de réseaux interrégionaux.



We would like to thank Rod McIntosh for inviting us to participate in this special issue of African Archaeological Review. M.C. Gatto wrote the introduction and the section on cultural changes; A. Zerboni wrote the section on palaeoclimatic reconstruction; both authors contributed to the conclusions. Warm acknowledgments to Martin Williams and Heiko Reimer for constructive comments which greatly improved the quality of the manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Archaeology and Ancient HistoryUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra “A. Desio”Università degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly

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