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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • rapid climate change
  • Sahara
  • geoarchaeology
  • Neolithic
  • playa lakes
  • Quaternary

Index Terms

  • 1605 Global Change: Abrupt/rapid climate change
  • 1809 Hydrology: Desertification
  • 1833 Hydrology: Hydroclimatology
  • 9305 Geographic Location: Africa



Geoarchaeological Perspectives on Holocene Climate Change as a Civilizing Factor in the Egyptian Sahara

Kathleen Nicoll

Department of Geography, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Throughout prehistory, rapid hydroclimatic changes (“wet-dry” cycles) played a key role in landscape habitability and resource availability in the Egyptian Sahara. As water sources waned during episodes of Holocene drought, people developed various subsistence strategies, including opportunistic hunting of small animals, and food production by gathering, transhumance, and livestock rearing. The geoarchaeological record of the Neolithic culture at Nabta Playa ∼100 km west of the Nile Valley suggests that Holocene droughts were a civilizing factor; migrations toward water-fostered acculturation and social complexity, which is evident in burials, ceremonial centers, and solar calendars built at Nabta. The ultimate resilience strategy of the desert dwellers was relocation to the Nile Valley and the transition to agriculture after 5300 calendar years B.P.

Citation: Nicoll, K. (2012), Geoarchaeological perspectives on Holocene climate change as a civilizing factor in the Egyptian Sahara, in Climates, Landscapes, and Civilizations, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 198, edited by L. Giosan et al. 157–162, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2012GM001219.


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