Roderick J. McIntosh, Department of Anthropology
Ronald B. Smith, Department of Geology and Geophysics
Douglas Park, Department of Anthropology, Ph.D. Candidate
Courtney Warren, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Ph.D. Candidate
Peter Douglas, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Ph.D. Candidate
Peter Coutros, Council on Archaeological Studies, M.A Student
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.