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Algeria

 
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Algeria

PREHISTORY OF CENTRAL NORTH AFRICA

[JPEG]

Neolithic cave paintings found in Tassil-n-Ajjer (Plateau of the Chasms) region of the Sahara
Courtesy LaVerle Berry

The cave paintings found at Tassili-n-Ajjer, north of Tamanrasset, and at other locations depict vibrant and vivid scenes of everyday life in the central Maghrib between about 8000 B.C. and 4000 B.C. They were executed by a hunting people in the Capsian period of the Neolithic age who lived in a savanna region teeming with giant buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus, animals that no longer exist in the now-desert area. The pictures provide the most complete record of a prehistoric African culture.

Earlier inhabitants of the central Maghrib have left behind equally significant remains. Early remnants of hominid occupation in North Africa, for example, were found in Ain el Hanech, near Saīda (ca. 200,000 B.C.). Later, Neanderthal tool makers produced hand axes in the Levalloisian and Mousterian styles (ca. 43,000 B.C.) similar to those in the Levant. According to some sources, North Africa was the site of the highest state of development of Middle Paleolithic flake-tool techniques. Tools of this era, starting about 30,000 B.C., are called Aterian (after the site Bir el Ater, south of Annaba) and are marked by a high standard of workmanship, great variety, and specialization.

The earliest blade industries in North Africa are called Ibero-Maurusian or Oranian (after a site near Oran). The industry appears to have spread throughout the coastal regions of the Maghrib between 15,000 and 10,000 B.C. Between about 9000 and 5000 B.C., the Capsian culture began influencing the IberoMaurusian , and after about 3000 B.C. the remains of just one human type can be found throughout the region. Neolithic civilization (marked by animal domestication and subsistence agriculture) developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean Maghrib between 6000 and 2000 B.C. This type of economy, so richly depicted in the Tassili-n-Ajjer cave paintings, predominated in the Maghrib until the classical period.

The amalgam of peoples of North Africa coalesced eventually into a distinct native population that came to be called Berbers. Distinguished primarily by cultural and linguistic attributes, the Berbers lacked a written language and hence tended to be overlooked or marginalized in historical accounts. Roman, Greek, Byzantine, and Arab Muslim chroniclers typically depicted the Berbers as "barbaric" enemies, troublesome nomads, or ignorant peasants. They were, however, to play a major role in the area's history.

Data as of December 1993


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