Thousands of years ago, pastoralists of Mauritania pioneered communities built with only large stones

Stephen Nartey December 01, 2022
Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata (Mauritania). Photo: UNESCO/ © John Spooner

The Tichitt-Walata region of Mauritania is considered to be one of the most ancient archaeological sites in the Western part of Africa. It was home to over 500 stone settlements in the former Sahara Savannah region following an archaeological discovery of large stone villages dating back to 1100 BC.

The architectural technology employed by the inhabitants was to build their villages with large cut stones and link the pathways to the settlements in a circular shaped form, according to African History. Dhar Tichitt is situated in the southwestern Sahara desert area among Mauritania’s historical Stone Age sites. The sandstone cliffs were occupied by pastoralists between 2500 to 500 BCE. The Dhar Tichitt is one of the many settler community sites built with large stones.

Aside from rearing livestock, the dwellers were also into fishing, hunting, and gathering wild cereals such as grains and millet to meet their nutritional needs. It is one of the regions where the inhabitants are known to have transitioned from the hunter-gatherer culture of the Stone Age era to the pastoralist pattern of life with the growing changes in climate.

According to researchers, that possibly explains why over 4500 pastoralists were found to have settled in Dhar Tichitt. Due to the good climate conditions, the land offered adequate fodder for the pastoralists to feed their livestock. Many of the settlements were occupied during the rainy season, while other pastoralists visited there when it was the dry season.

The archaeologists were of the view that the reason the large stone structures were built on the plateau was to offer higher grounds during the rainy season. If there were any evidence of settlement in the low-lying areas, it was more for temporary reasons to tend to the animals.

The researchers found several stone-walled compounds with houses and storage facilities constructed within streets linking the various routes. Described as plateau villages, some of the compounds have stone-fenced walls built purposively for their livestock.

There were some sites where large stone walls had been built to circle the communities, presumably for outdoor events such as feasts and town hall durbars. The archaeologists sensed that the architecture was to encourage a sense of community and neighborliness among the people. It is believed that the ancestors of these pastoralists were the Soninke people.  

In modern times, the presence of livestock in the region mainly goats, sheep and cattle is due to the vegetation cover of the low-lying area. Historians indicate that the culture of the Dhar Tichitt people faded away with the expansion of the Sahara desert with the passage of time.

The people are assumed to have moved to other parts of Western Africa to enable them to sustain the life of their livestock and mounting pressure from desert nomads. The only place thought to possibly match Dhar Tichitt in terms of architecture and culture are the historical sites in the Koumbi Saleh.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 1, 2022


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