An Alternative Way Towards Food Production: The Perspective from the Libyan Sahara

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Food production originated in various ways in different parts of the world. Plant domestication with the adoption of agriculture has been successful in some areas, but not in others, where animal domestication with nomadic pastoralism proved to be more effective. Likewise, the preceding phases of pre-adaptation and development of a broad spectrum of wild resource exploitation followed different pathways, according to the locally available resources, climatic and geographic conditions, and social organizations. Northern Africa greatly contributed to the understanding of the origin of food production under preconditions that differed from those in the Fertile Crescent. Apart from a narrow strip along the Nile valley, northern African lands are arid and scarcely productive for agriculture. Nevertheless, early studies interpreted northern African archaeological records of the Early and Middle Holocene according to the traditional north-western Mediterranean and Near Eastern frames of reference. Consequently, terms such as “Epipalaeolithic,” “Mesolithic,” and “Neolithic” were uncritically applied to northern African contexts. This paper compares and discusses the evidence for food production in the Near East and northern Africa, considering the question of introduction or local breeds of domesticated animals in the Maghreb and the Sahara. It then reviews the relevant data for long-held diffusionist models of pastoralism into Africa to provide a different perspective and the proper means of interpretation of the northern African archaeological records. Finally, it examines some recent findings from the Tadrart Acacus, in the Libyan Sahara, which contribute to clarification of distinctive African pathways and propose an alternative model for the beginnings of food production.

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