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.
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.