** Sub-Saharan oasis

Saharan Oases

Figure 1.--Here we see boys playing at the oasis of Bou Saada on the northern edge of the Sahra in Algeria we think in the late-19th century. It is situated in the northeast of the Saharan Atlas region between the Atlas Mountains and the Hodna depression and salt lake. A small town has developed around the oasis. In addition to the oasis, Bou Saadabeen is a pilgrimage town. Bou Saada is a true oasis in geological terms. It is on the left bank of the Bou Saada Wadi, an Arab term meaning valley but in Saharan terms means dry riverbed. The verdent green oasis contrasts starkly with the barren mountains and dry salt marsh which suround it. An important market place developed here selling to the caravans heading out into the Sahara. The artisans of Bou Saada became known for its jewelry, metalwork, carpet and bousaadi knife work.

An oasis is an isolated area where water appears to support vegetation surromded by desert. Oases are formed by underground rivers or aquifers where water can reach the surface even in vast desert areas. This is done by natural pressure or by man made wells. Substrata of impermeable rock can trap large volumes of water and retain it in vast pockets. Other structures like long faulting subsurface ridges or volcanic dikes water can collect water which percolate to the surface. Before the arrival of man, desert oasis were found by migrating birds who through their dropping deposit seeds allowing natural vegetation to develop. Sometimes there is only enough water to to sustain a small well. In other cases a small area of land can be irrigated to support a limited population. The location of these oases has been of vital importance for trade across the Sahara and other desert areas. Before the appearance of the camel, oasis were not common enough or close enough to allow trade to flow. As a result, the primary conduit for Sub-Saharan trade to reach Europe and the Middle East was the Nile. There are oases in the Sahara, but before the cammel caravans could not reach the scattered oasis, caravans had to travel for days to reach the scattered oasis. This changed with the introduction of the camel. The camel gave traders the capability of crossing vast tracts of desert by connecting the widely dispersed Sahran oasis. It is no accident that the great sub-Saharan African empires began to form after the camel made possible the development of trans-Sharan trade routes centerd around the desert oasis. Caravans must transit the Sahara via the oases so that neededsupplies of water and food can be replenished. Camels can travel long distances without water, but they need water like any animal. And of course humnan exhaust the awter carried by camels. Thus control of a desert oasis meant control of trade routes which was of vast econimic and political importance.


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Created: 8:46 PM 1/3/2014
Last updated: 8:46 PM 1/3/2014