Late Holocene Paleoclimate Reconstruction and Long-Term Human Response in the Region of Timbuktu, Mali (West Africa): Interdisciplinary collaboration in the study of the Lake Faguibine region and the drought-afflicted populations


The Timbuktu region has been chosen as a case study to research human response to late Holocene climate change for a number of reasons. We now understand that highly dense populations and an original urban civilization emerged in the first or even second millennium BC in this 170,000 km2 arid-lands floodplain without influence or stimulation from the Mediterranean or Egypt. The multiple urban societies we are only now discovering and excavating thrived, despite an overall decline in conditions, until a few centuries ago. However, there has been virtually no high-resolution climate research in the area, and in fact, there have been no lake core studies in the Middle Niger region, or indeed throughout the western Sahel. The targeted waterbodies of Lake Faguibine and its surrounding smaller lakes are located 60 km west of Timbuktu. Since the mid 1990’s, Lake Faguibine, once a major regional center of agriculture and aquaculture, has suffered a major drop in water levels. We believe that Faguibine and its surrounding smaller lakes are highly responsive to both fluctuations in the water volume of the Niger River, reflecting precipitation falling on the rainforest zone, far up river, and also geomorphological processes.

The modern and future implications of continuing droughts in the Sahel are of immediate concern since there is potential for heightened international conflict over scarce water resources in arid environments. However, understanding historical processes of human response to climate change provides insight into plausible social actions that can be implemented to mitigate population stresses caused by future long-term dry episodes. Understanding human response to climate change has been a recent focus of many archaeologists, earth scientists and various international organizations, and it is believed that such an understanding can come from a interdisciplinary and diachronic study spanning numerous episodes of climate variations and of human social response to those variations.


Coutros P, 2014:“Clustered settlements of the Gorbi Valley, Mali” in: Urbanization in Ancient Africa, Lippiello, Lauren and Douglas Park (eds.)  Yale University Publications in Anthropology: New Haven.

Coutros P, In preparation: “Survey in the Malian Lakes Region: Results and Initial Interpretations” [targeted for Azania]

Coutros P (with Peter Douglas) “Along a Dynamic River in a Changing Environment”, In McIntosh, R. et al. (eds.) African Palaeoclimate and Human Response, Special Issue of The African Archaeological Review (June 2014)

McIntosh RJ, in press. (end 2013), “Reactions to desertification (5,000-1,000 BCE)” , In (eds.) Joseph C. Miller and Kenneth Wachsberger. New Encyclopaedia of Africa. NY: Ch. Scribners

 McIntosh RJ, In press (end 2013) “Water management and water perception: understanding Middle Niger niche specialization”, in (ed. Vernon Scarborough), Water and Humanity: Historical Overview. Vol. 1 of UNESCO History of Water and Civilization.  Paris: UNESCO

 McIntosh RJ, Jean Maley and Robert Vernet. In Preparation: African Palaeoclimate and Human Response, to appear in Special Issue of The African Archaeological Review (June 2014)

 McIntosh RJ, Jean Maley and Robert Vernet. In Preparation. The African Anthopocene: New Research on Late Holocene Palaeoclimatic Reconstructions and Human Response to the End of the African Humid Period, to appear in Special Issue of The African Archaeological Review (June 2014).