Raft in the Stone Age.

Did Ancient Humans Acquire Nautical Knowledge by Sailing the Prehistoric Megalakes of Africa?

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There is increasing evidence that anatomically modern humans (AMH) left Africa 100,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence indicates that AMH were in Arabia, China, Crete, and Brazil over 100,000 years ago. It has been shown that AMH left Africa before 60 thousand years ago.

The archaeological evidence from the Americas and Eurasia make it clear that people left Africa over 100,000 years ago to settle other parts of the world. The presence of AMH in Crete and Brazil suggests that some of these ancient AMH were skilled navigators who used some sort of sailing vessel to reach countries hundreds and/or thousands of miles away from the African continent.

Evidence of Early Migrations

There are no known books or records dating back to this archaic period, but there is archaeological and iconographic evidence from Africa that may help us to make inferences about the ancient sailing ability of AMHs in Africa.

Depictions of ancient sailing vessels.

Depictions of ancient sailing vessels. (Author provided)

In prehistoric times, there were megalakes connected by rivers that would have allowed ancient Africans to sail all the way from North Africa to South Africa. Axel Timmermann, a climate scientist at the University of Hawaii, Manoa claims that climate fluctuations made auspicious environmental conditions that promoted periodic human migration out of Africa every 20,000 years, starting around 100,000 plus years ago. Dr. Timmermann noted that “every 20,000 years or so Earth’s axis wobble caused shifts in climate and vegetation in tropical and subtropical regions,” which created green fertile zones and allowed man to migrate overland into Arabia, the Levant, and beyond.

According to Timmermann, AMH probably made at least four migrations out of Africa (106,000 to 94,000 years ago, 89,000 to 73,000 years ago, 59,000 to 47,000 years ago, and 45,000 to 29,000 years ago), he wrote that “Such shifts then opened up green corridors between Africa and the eastern Mediterranean and between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, thus enabling Homo sapiens to leave northeastern Africa and to embark on their grand journey into Asia, Europe, Australia, and eventually to the Americas.” These dates are interesting because they correspond to archaeological evidence for AMH in Brazil, Crete, and China (100,000 years ago); the rise of the Aurignacian culture from Africa to Iberia and thence Eastern Europe (44kya), and the spread of the Solutrean culture from Africa to Iberia and North America (21-17kya).

In addition to the climate shifts creating warm and wet periods in northern Africa that led to lush vegetation, there was also the creation of megalakes across Africa where hunter gatherers fished and communicated with their neighbors by boat.

Africans developed their nautical expertise as they migrated from Southern Africa to North Africa during the Green Sahara. This migration from Southern Africa to North Africa is supported by hominins leaving hearths as they moved.

The Sahara Desert was not always as it appears today.

The Sahara Desert was not always as it appears today. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

There is considerable archaeological evidence supporting this migration of hominins from the south to north. This evidence comes in the form of stone tools recovered from hearths along the Megalake basin dating from the Neolithic back to the Oldowan period. The stone tool inventories indicate that hominins lived in these areas for over 100,000 years.

Anatomically Modern Humans in the Levant

Africans were not able to migrate into Europe 100 kya. But hominin stone tools have a trans-Saharan distribution. This allowed them to be in a position to migrate into the Levant and Southern Europe.

Over 100kya AMH of Sub-Saharan African origin had made their way into North Africa. AMH inhabited the African Mediterranean coast between 110k-30kya. As early as 100kya Africans had settled in the Levant. The AMH Levantine settlement lasted between 70kya-20kya. The permanent settlement of AMH in the Levant probably ended 70kya.

There was sporadic settlement of the Levant between 70kya and 20kya due to Neanderthal occupation of the Near East. Trenton W. Holliday tested the hypothesis that if modern Africans had dispersed into the Levant from Africa, "tropically adapted hominids" would be represented in the archaeological history of the Levant, especially in relation to the Qafzeh-Skhul hominids. This researcher found that the Qafzeh-Skhul hominids (20kya-10kya), were assigned to the Sub-Saharan population, along with the Natufian samples (4000 BP). Holliday also found African fauna in the area.

Left: Es Skhul Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel (CC BY SA 3.0). Right: A skull found in the cave, which represents an archaic and anatomically modern human

Left: Es Skhul Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel ( CC BY SA 3.0 ). Right: A skull found in the cave, which represents an archaic and anatomically modern human. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )


I was happy to see a representation of the two mega lakes discussed in the article. However, they are superimposed on a modern representation of Africa. I'd like to see them in their context as they would have listed. I believe the Sahara would have been at least somewhat different in scale.

Clyde Winters's picture

I understand what you desire but, we can only use material created by the experts.

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