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UK Research and Innovations (2020)

OasCiv : Making Oasis Civilisation in the Moroccan Sahara

Oasis Civilisation Morocco

Titre : OasCiv : Making Oasis Civilisation in the Moroccan Sahara

Pays/Région : Morocco

Durée : mars 20 - févr. 25

Référence projet : AH/T002409/1
Catégorie : Research Grant

Saharan prehistory and Neolithic rock art has attracted considerable archaeological attention in recent decades, but the Protohistoric and Medieval phases of settlement and activity are neglected by comparison. Knowledge of the ancient populations of the Sahara remains constrained by lack of archaeological investigation, the biased testimonies of the ancient sources and the uncritical assumptions of modern scholarship about Berber (Amazigh) peoples. Apart from the PI’s work in S Libya on a people called the Garamantes, there has been an almost complete lack of field investigation of these societies, especially those of the W Sahara.

Our recent demonstration of pre-Islamic origins of the earliest oasis agriculture and sedentary settlements in the Wadi Draa in the Moroccan W Sahara challenges a long-held model that has characterised the pre-Islamic populations of the W Sahara as essentially nomadic pastoralists and denied the evolution of oases there before the early Medieval ’Arab’ conquest of N Morocco and Muslim investment in Saharan trade. This much earlier date for the establishment of first oases marks a major paradigm shift. Our proposed project seeks to investigate the character of the Protohistoric societies responsible for this transformation in the first millennium AD. The early Medieval story of the peoples of the Moroccan Sahara is also neglected, but of the highest significance to the emergence of the first Islamic states in N Africa (8th-10th centuries) and the great Medieval empires of the Almoravids and Almohads (11th-13th centuries). These began as revitalisation movements involving the oasis communities of S Morocco, but, for lack of robust archaeological data, the Saharan and Amazigh roots of Islamic civilisation have never been fully evaluated. This project thus seeks to re-evaluate the contribution of endogenous Amazigh groups to the emergence of sedentary farming and urbanised states in Morocco during the Roman/early Medieval eras.

This project will identify how and why complex societies emerged in the W Sahara by conducting the first scientific excavations of Protohistoric and Medieval settlements, cemeteries and farming landscapes recently discovered in the Wadi Draa. We argue that the emergence of oasis societies is critical to understanding how Saharan trading networks and Islamic empires such as the 11th-century Almoravids were subsequently established. The research potential has been demonstrated by our pilot survey, revealing well-preserved landscapes and hundreds of sedentary sites linked to precocious oasis development in the Draa. The next phase of work will investigate exactly how and more precisely when this occurred. It will put ’flesh on the bones’ of a new paradigm for understanding the ancient Saharan populations and provide a much needed counterbalance for the hitherto unique (and possibly exceptional) case study of the Garamantes as a precocious Saharan state-level society. By providing the first robust data-sets on the historic peoples of the Moroccan Sahara, this pioneering project will advance knowledge and understanding of both Protohistoric and Medieval phases, intersecting with wider debates about e.g. sedentarisation, urbanisation and state formation, migration, technologies, trade and connectivity in North Africa and well beyond. The work will draw out the Saharan particularities of these key societal developments.

Lead Research Organisation : University of Leicester

Financement : Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Budget  : £817 901

UK Research and Innovations

Page publiée le 3 septembre 2022