Station: [58] The Green Sahara

Sand that goes on forever and blazing heat – but the Sahara wasn’t always the largest desert on earth!

9,000 years ago, it was a vast green savannah. But over time, the African monsoon and the associated rain belt moved south. When the route taken by extratropical low-pressure areas also shifted, today’s huge desert area emerged within just a few centuries some 4,000 years ago. Geological and botanical findings show that this development occurred most rapidly in the western Sahara. Research on how it’s all connected is going on at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, among other places.

Rock carvings in the Central Sahara tell of a time when wild animals and cattle grazed there. The people living in the Aïr region tell the following story about what happened:

Back in the Aïr, at the beginning of the world, or at least not long after the world began, people had no worries. The Aïr was paradise on earth, a single fertile pasture where a she-camel called Fakrou grazed. Fakrou fed all the people. Anyone could come and milk her. Indeed, it is even said that the wadis, the dry river valleys, filled up with milk and people only had to dip their cups to have nourishment enough. Everyone lived on Fakrou's milk alone.

There was an old man who tended the she-camel. He sat on a mountain top and always kept her in view. But one day, a blacksmith had a great appetite for meat. But he couldn’t find any animal to eat, and so he decided to slaughter Fakrou. While he distracted the old man, his friends killed the she-camel. When a single drop of blood fell onto the ground, a sudden change swept over everything. There was meat lying around everywhere and everyone ate until they were full. Every day. For there was no longer any milk.

One day, a blacksmith's wife took a small bone and used it as a bone needle to mend her skirt, which her child had torn in play. When she’d finished, she threw the needle on to the ground, on to the meat that was lying everywhere. The moment the bone hit, all the meat turned to stone and pebbles. Meat, milk, pasture, everything was gone. From then on, the time of scarcity, hunger and suffering began among the desert peoples.