Holocene freshwater carbonate structures in the hyper-arid Gebel Uweinat region of the Sahara Desert (Southwestern Egypt)
The eastern part of the Sahara is at present the driest region of the desert. Yet the extensive animal rock art in the area, presumed to depict real activities in the lives of the painters, suggests that environmental conditions were significantly different when the rock art was produced. Here we report on exploration of the area, which led to the discovery of morphologically-distinct carbonate structures that line the walls of two valleys in Gebel Uweinat, and were likely formed in standing water. The carbonate structures comprise what appear to be shoreline carbonate formations, and date back to 8100 and 9400 years BP. The chemical and morphological similarity of these formations to carbonate structures from modern lakes suggests that these lakes contained fresh, standing water suitable for human and animal use. However, the significant quartz content suggests that windblown sand was pervasive, and thus the vegetation cover may have been sparse. This discovery supports the possibility of grasslands in the area, which may have been able to support human habitation, and adds to the evidence for a wetter climate in the area in the early Holocene.