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The Maghreb in Protohistory

Algerian Protohistory

Protohistory in North Africa is complexe in the matters of identifying its time period. Although the time periods that mark its beginning and end are clearly identified, as it starts from the prehistoric time and ends at the beginning of the historical period. However, most researchers agree that the beginning and the end of Protohistory remain uncertain in its many aspects due to the overlapping cultural eras. Despite the researchers’ efforts to date at multiple archaeological sites, the problem persists. However, the protohistory in North Africa, albeit ambiguous, has a characteristic that distinguishes it from the prehistoric period and the historical period and their cultural differences.                                                        

If the beginning and the end are clearly defined on the historic scale (the end of the Neolithic period - the beginning of the Punic period), there is a discrepancy in time in the entry into the various regions of the Maghreb in the historical period, at a time when the coasts of the Maghreb entered the historical period with the arrival of the Phoenicians and the beginning of the founding of villages and cities, the interior of the Maghreb's societies remained prehistoric until the Numidia's era. 

   Although the protohistory in The Maghreb in general, and Algeria in particular, include human activities that have touched all elements of the Maghreb's material and spiritual existence, scientific research in this time has mostly been limited to funerary monuments. Perhaps, it was due for two reasons. The first, its abundance, diversity, size and second, hardness of its construction material, in comparison to other aspects of civilization. Whereas the researchers regretfully omitted the study these monuments, which include residences, stone arts, pottery and mineral industries and agriculture, unlike the attention they have given funerary monuments.  

     It is noteworthy that these archaeological evidence are important for studying protohistory because it facilitates in identifying and enriching this period, as well as providing information on their way of life and the various daily activities of human societies that date back to this period, be it economic, social, or spiritual.

     Despite the diligence of researchers like J.Dechelette, who had the scope in setting the definition of Protohistory,  he was followed by M. Reygasse's attempt who termed this period “pre-Islamic” and then L. Balout Who had not been able to define the concept of the Prehistory until 1955.  P.Cintas followed who entered the Punic phases in the Prehistoric era, Which made G. Camps heavily criticize the latter researcher's definition of this period.

    In reality, although these researchers disagree, they aspire through these attempts to provide a precise concept of the protohistory in North Africa, although their views differ. 

     In conclusion, the protohistory in North Africa in general is a transition from the end of the Neolithic era. Some researchers track its beginning to 3,000 years BC, ending with the emergence of writing by some scholars to 1500 years BC. Whereas others associate it with the entry of Phoenicians into North Africa and their founding of the first cities. 

The Geography of the Maghreb

        The Maghreb extends from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Nile River east, and from the southern bank of the Mediterranean Sea north to the Sahara desert south. Despite the vast space occupied by the Sahara, including the Tassili and Hajar regions, it is nonetheless a part of the geographical area known as The Maghreb. The latter witnessed reconstruction through the distribution of human populations in multiple regions, including from the south during the Stone Age, some have preferred to settle in limited areas of desert oases due to the process of desertification caused by changing climatic conditions.

        Historical periods have shown that the region's geography has been a natural obstacle to Maghreb. The vast area of the Sahara South and the Mediterranean Sea North has been an obstacle to many centuries' of civilization. The challenge was great for the Maghrebi human being, and it served as a catalyst for his closure, which prompted him to innovate and interact with his surroundings. As a result, the nation has witnessed remarkable civilizations throughout the ages. In addition, we have in Aterian, Ibero-Maghrebi and the greatest example of that.  There were distinct civilizations whose bids were printed by the Maghreb and which guaranteed its place among human civilizations, despite the fact that the environmental conditions of changing climate caused by the drought limited the desert's status as an expulsion area towards a citizen more suitable for human activity than its development.

    These civilizations underlined the efforts of their descendants and their initiative to contribute to human civilization. It is additionally highlighted by the efforts of researchers through excavations and studies through which they reached the extraction of their remnants from a stone industry, rock drawings, various tombs, pottery tools and minerals and linking it all to the protohistory. 

North Africa's climate during the Protohistory era:

       If we take into account the studies on the Maghreb and Sahara region, the climate that prevails in the Sahara today does not correspond to the climate that the region knew during the Stone Ages, before desertification occurred. The desert environment was different, whether from climate or vegetation, which played an essential role in human spread or in terms of livestock.

       If the Sahara is as large, dry, and hot as this may seem, it would only seem normal that it becomes a natural communication barrier between the populations of the Maghreb and the rest of the peoples of Africa. However, it was not as such, three thousand years ago where climatic conditions were right for life. The Sahara was a link between the North and the South of the continent, and this caused the activation of the cultural interaction between the human communities that settled in the Maghreb and the Sahara. This cultural connection was interrupted only after the period of drought escalated, which severed all avenues of communication among the region's peoples. 

       The region's climate has changed since 2,500 years BC, according to specialists. After this date, the desert has entered a period of total desertification, while North Africa has a relatively dry climate period. The researchers note that the period prior to the historical period in which the North African and Saharan region's climate was cold and humid or what was termed the rainy climate, some geologists and prehistorists have argued that North Africa and the desert gradually entered 14,000 to 13,000 years BC - the end of the rainy period corresponding to Europe's Verme ice period in the current drought-characterized climate.  This climatic character continued during the period of Capsian civilization that began in 10,000 years and then during the neolithic era beginning in 4,000 years, The climate was initially characterized by extreme moisture, with forests covering large parts of the hill and upper plateaus, and neighboring desert areas were covered by savanna, a problem of a suitable environment roamed by zebra herds, buffalo and rhino. Gradually, the region's climate began to heat and drought, leading to the extinction of the aforementioned animal species The previous period, characterized by a hot and humid climate, coincided with the period when man knew the oldest stone industries.  The area was more suited to receiving creatures than it is now, and it was richer in its plants and animals, creating a fertile area for hunting and making of animals company.  

   Thus, the protohistory has emerged in all the art of sculpture, rock inscriptions and burial graves of various kinds, as evidenced by the archaeological remains of archaeological sites scattered here and there across all areas of Algerian soil.