- Researchers have mapped the ice age landscape of Egypt's extremely dry Western Desert and found proof that it was covered with lakes and lush vegetation. This landscape may have provided early man a route of passage out of Africa into the Mediterranean.
Researchers Johanna Kieniewicz and Jennifer Smith of the Ohio-based Denison University (USA) made these discoveries while studying sediments in the currently hostile Western Desert of Egypt, publishing their study in the latest issue of the scientific journal 'GSA Bulletin'.
Around the Dakhleh Oasis, the researchers found evidence of a mid-Pleistocene pluvial lake, around 700,000 to 100,000 years old. Studying the sediments, Ms Kieniewicz and Ms Smith were able to reconstruct the climatic conditions, environment and water balance of what is now a desert.
During the mid-Pleistocene, most of Europe was covered with glaciers or tundra and also Africa was cooler and mostly drier. But in the Western Desert, water was much more abundant than now - sufficiently abundant to play a role in the development and spread of early man in this crucial era of our evolution.
"Mid-Pleistocene carbonate-rich lake sediments from the Dakhleh Oasis .. attest to the presence of a body of water that may have been as large as about 1,735 square kilometres," the researchers found.
Sediments found give indications to the ancient environment. Most were "indicative of fairly shallow, freshwater environments that were capable of supporting a savannah fauna requiring perennial fresh water." The ancient lake, termed "Lake Dakhleh", would have needed an average rainfall of between 410 and 670 mm a year, not unlike Africa's current savannahs.
"The modelled rainfall range is consistent with previous estimates from elsewhere in the Western Desert based upon faunal remains and global circulation model results, suggesting an environment resembling that of semi-Arid Africa today," the researchers conclude.
Ms Kieniewicz and Ms Smith suggest that the currently inhabitable majority of the Western Desert of Egypt may "have represented a considerably more favourable environment than that present today, ... with the presence of perennial water resources, such as large lakes, active drainages, and springs."
Such a climate "would have provided hominids with a favourable route of passage out of Africa into the Mediterranean, Levant, and beyond," the researchers hold.
In the evolution and spread of modern man, the dominant scientific theory maintains our species evolved in Africa. This is referred to the "Out-of-Africa" theory, which recently has been strengthened by the genetic mapping of mankind.
With the Gulf of Aden and the Sahara desert standing out as barriers, there is however a vivid dispute on how mankind left Africa around 60,000 to 100,000 years ago, to spread to the rest of the globe. If the savannah-like climate around Lake Dakhleh was maintained long enough, this could indeed have proved the most likely and easy passage out of Africa.
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