The Camel

Figure 1.--The Camel was indespensable in the Trans-Saharn trade riutes connecting Sub-Saharan Africa with the Mediterranean world. Without the camel, the STrans-Saharan slave trade would have been much more limited. This photo postcard shows an Arab boy with his camel, captioned "Jeune Chamelier". It was probably tken in Morocco or Algeria. Source: Sapjo, France, #23, Scenes et Types.

The Camel first appeared in North America. From North America they spread west across the Bearing Sea land bridge to East Asia and south into South America. The South Amerian caneloids became llamas and their more exotic related species, alpacas, and vicuñas. It is the western migration that developed into modern camels. The camels in East Asia gradually spread further west to Central Asia and Iran and Arabia. (and also south to South America where they became llamas and vicunas and alpacas). The camels in North Americawent extincr, probably during the Ice Age. They survived in Asia and were eventually brought to North Africa as domesticated animal. It was people in Central Asia who first domesticate camels. Camels had the ability to carry goods over long distances with little water. They proved very useful in crossing the Gobi Desert of Central Asia and it was here that they were first domesticated. This occured long after other livestock animals (cows, sheep, and pigs) were domsticated. Archeologists believe that this occurred about the same time horses from Central Asia were domesticated (3000 BC). Camels are not as tame as the earlier domesticated livestock animals. Camels were introduced to North Africa by Arab traders gradually moving west. Camels were so valuable that eventually wild camels weretracked down and caotured. As aesult domesticated camels were being used from China west to Morocco. They were critical in the fabeled Silk Road which crossed Central Asia as well as the trabhs-Sagaran trade routes connecting Sub-Saharan Africa with the Mediterranean World. Trade across the Sahara was at first conducted by horses and donkey, but this became increasingly difficult as the North Africa interior got dryer and the desert began to form and grow in area. This significantly limited trans-Saharamn commerce. The horse and donkey were not suited for long distance treks over such arrid teraine. Trahns-Saharan trade would have been limited had it not been for the Camel, The dromedary, or one-humped camel, is native to the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. They were introduced to the Sahara as part of trade caravans from the Arabian Peninsula (about 200 AD). Unlike the horses it replaced, the camel was perfectly suited to the harsh Sahara climate. Its soft feet also allowed it to easily move over sand. The camels of course did not carry the slaves, but the caravans with which they moved could not have crossed the Sahara without the camels. Even when the cammel first appeared in North Africa, its use was limited by the lack of a pack saddle accomodating heavy loads. As a result, ancient civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persians, Greeks, and Romans) made little use of the camel. The donkey was the most common pack animal in the ancient world, but they could not carry large loads or cross arid rerraine without water. An unknown individual in Central Asia finally invented an effective pack saddle (500 AD). This was the final piece in making the cammel an indespensable animal for people living in or near large deserts. Soon after this the Arab outburst from Arabia occured and the Caliphate was founded. The camel with its uniquiqe capabilities became strongly associated with the Arabs, especilly Arab traders. Trade routes developed between North Africa and the Sahel in ancient times. The Ghana Empire was the first great trading Empire (4th century AD). We are unsure to what extent they used camels, but subsequent empires did. One source believes that the cammel was being widely used in Sagaran trade routes (1000 AD). It could have been earlier. It is at this time that Muslim invaders brought camels into the Subcimtinet as the began the invasion of India.


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Created: 3:13 AM 5/29/2013
Last updated: 3:13 AM 5/29/2013