African Geography – Plains


A geographic plain is defined as an unobstructed section of land that, while being somewhat elevated above sea level, is relatively flat. Africa’s status as being the Cradle of Mankind was enriched by the intricate and varied landscape of this continent. The plains created unbroken stretches of land on which the first humans could settle, hunt and farm. Being elevated above sea level also served as a protection from being flooded in times of unexpected oceanic activity, as the land and tidal movements were relatively unknown at that time.

Between the coastal highlands that lie on both the east and west sides of the vast African continent are separate basins. These are divided by other sections of elevated land that run through these basins like ribbons. One of these sections actually forms a clear line through the middle of North Africa. This would, undoubtedly, have affected the way that ancient African civilisations moved around the continent and where they settled. It has also determined where researchers have been forced to search for relics of these, our ancient predecessors.

Image of a Lone Acacia Tree amongst a golden field of grass in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
Lone Acacia Tree amongst a golden field of grass in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

The biggest of these basins is known as the Congo Basin and is situated right on the equator. The Chambeshi, Uele, Ubangi, and Lualaba rivers all feed this sedimentary basin. This basin measures 3.7 million square kilometres and is second only to the Amazon River in size, certainly impressive in terms of geographic scale. It is believed that, at some time in Africa’s rich history, this was the site of an inland sea. It is perhaps for this reason that this basin is so clearly marked on the surface of the plain. Significantly, the basin is also home to some of the most impressive and important rain forests in the world. These would have provided ample vegetation, as well as ideal living conditions for early man. They continue to benefit modern man by providing a lush home to many of the world’s plant- and wildlife.

The Sahara Desert is the largest desert plain in the world and stretches for 9 million square kilometres between the Atlantic Sea and the Red Sea. South of the desert are the plains of Sahel, which stretch from Senegal to the Sudan and form the transitional area between the arid Sahara Desert and the tropical savannahs. There are some mountains in this plain, but these do not reach a height of more then 2 400 metres. The Atlas mountain range borders the plain on its north-westerly side, and a rocky plateau on its north-easterly side. This rocky plateau forms the separation between the mountain range and the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile River enters the desert without making any changes to its geographic character and, on the east, the Sahara eventually becomes the Nile delta. The Atlas mountain range stretches across North Africa through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Plains form some of the most fascinating and beautiful parts of the continent of Africa. They are also intriguing in terms of their historical and anthropological value, and research continues in a quest to discover more secrets of our ancient ancestors.


Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.