Dar Tilchtt: West Africa's stone settlements

Mar 2012
378
#1
Many historians tend to focus on the 3 kingdoms of Ghana, Songhai, and Mali as the start of West African history. While these kingdoms and empires were great and do deserve mention in any African historical narrative we must also point out that these Empires did not just spring out because of Islamic Trade or the coming of Arabs, there existed a civilization in old Ghana prior to Islam that is the origins of the 3 great West African Kingdoms.

Abstract

The sandstone escarpment of the Dhar Tichitt in South-Central Mauritania was inhabited by Neolithic agropastoral communities for approximately one and half millennium during the Late Holocene, from ca. 4000 to 2300 BP. The absence of prior evidence of human settlement points to the influx of mobile herders moving away from the “drying” Sahara towards more humid lower latitudes. These herders took advantage of the peculiarities of the local geology and environment and succeeded in domesticating bulrush millet – Pennisetum sp. The emerging agropastoral subsistence complex had conflicting and/or complementary requirements depending on circumstances. In the long run, the social adjustment to the new subsistence complex, shifting site location strategies, nested settlement patterns and the rise of more encompassing polities appear to have been used to cope with climatic hazards in this relatively circumscribed area. An intense arid spell in the middle of the first millennium BC triggered the collapse of the whole Neolithic agropastoral system and the abandonment of the areas. These regions, resettled by sparse oasis-dwellers populations and iron-using communities start

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Archaeological investigations in southern Mauretania have revealed a wealth of rather spectacular stone masonry villages which were occupied by prehistoric cultivators as early as 1000 B.C. It is argued that the inhabitants of these villages were Negro and very probably Soninke, and that the basic elements of their culture had developed without major influences from outside the area. The apparent sophistication and complexity of this cultural manifestation, combined with the close fit of developments in this area with Carneiro's theory of state formation, suggests that this prehistoric complex represented at least a powerful chiefdom which embodied many of the characteristics of subsequent West African states. The first demonstrable outside influences in the area began about 600 B.C. with the arrival of Libyco-Berbers from North Africa. Rather than causing still further cultural advances, the initial effect of this contact was the collapse of this sociopolitical organization. But with subsequent adjustment, plus the potential from trans-Saharan trade carried out by the North Africans, the basic, pre-existing pattern re-emerged, resulting eventually in a second and much more powerful African political organization in this area – the Ghana Empire.

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major trade route connected Ouadane with Oualata (Arabic: ولاته) (sometimes "Walata"), a ksar in the southeast part of the country. Oualata is believed to have been first settled by an agro-pastoral people akin to the Mandé Soninke who lived along the rocky promontories of the Tichitt-Oualata and Tagant cliffs of Mauritania. There, they built what are among the oldest stone settlements on the African continent.

The modern city was founded in the eleventh century, when it was part of the Ghana Empire. It was destroyed in 1076 but re-founded in 1224, and again became a major trading post for trans-Saharan trade and an important center of Islamic scholarship.

Oualata was a prosperous settlement, especially between the 14th and 18th centuries, such that it appeared on European maps. Trade was not its sole source of wealth; it had become a renowned intellectual center that attracted foreign students.

A century ago, this oasis was farmland that produced enough food to feed a population of several thousand inhabitants. Today, the few wind-battered palm trees are dying, half-buried in sand.[2]

Today, Oualata is home to a prized manuscript museum. Its buildings are trimmed with white drawings against a reddish-brown undercoat, making the city known for its highly decorative vernacular architecture. The designs on Oualata’s walls are the same as those still drawn on the hands and feet of Mauritanian women.

Tichit

Tichit (Arabic: تيشيت) sits at the foot of the Tagant plateau in south-central Mauritania on the route between Oualata and Ouadane.

It was founded c. 1150 and grew into a magnificent city, and was a major trading center for salt. Its multi-storied structures–with blind walls on the ground floor, a door for only opening to the outside and facades built of colored stones–are fragile remnants of typical Mauritanian architecture.

Its layout tells the history of the village. The northern section is the Shurfa quarter. This section was constructed in greenish stone, understood to be an expression of the tribe of the Shurfa's claim of decendancy to the Prophet Muhammad. The Masana tribe lived in the southern quarter, where red stone was used. This tribe was the largest in the settlement and known as good merchants. White stones were used for the larger buildings in this quarter.[3] While a variety of colored stones were used, each village section exists in polychrome.

Legend has it that seven towns have been superimposed on this site, and the one that has come down to us today is irretrievably sinking beneath the dunes. Many of the houses have been swallowed by sand, only the upper stories of tall structures are visible. In 1999, torrential rains destroyed 80 percent of the town. The mosque and its square minaret survived.[4]

Twenty to thirty houses remain in good condition, and are highly ornamented for the region. A few families reside in Tichit, where the main industry in Tichit is date farming.

Traces of Tichit's glorious past remain in its vernacular architecture, which is its main attraction. The town is also home to a small museum.



 
Mar 2012
378
#2
Al Bakri's description of the Town and outlaying area


The town inhabited by the king is six miles from the Muslim one and is called Al Ghana. The area between the two towns is covered with houses made of stone and wood. The king has a palace and conical huts, surrounded by a wall-like enclosure. In the king’s town, not far from the royal court of justice, is a mosque. The Muslims who come on missions to the king pray there. There is one great avenue, which crosses the town from east to west.






 

jehosafats

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
2,088
...
#4
Dar Tichitt and Garma were rivals prior to the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. I would say the Garamantes won. But the successors to Tichitt (Ghana, Mali and Songhai) turned out stronger than the likes of Kanem and Bornu which were by no means weak states.

But Tichitt actually wasn't that unique. Tichitt belonged to a wide-reaching network of similar stone villages dotted throughout the Sahel and savannahs.
 
Mar 2012
2,347
#5
Don't forget the stone cities at Chenguetti, Audoghost, Koumbi Saleh, etc. I know they were later, but they are very similar and equally impressive.

I have actually heard that Tichhit goes back to 1600 B.C. Your date of 1000 B.C. may be more correct...I don't know.

I'd be very curious if it could be proven that the Dar Tichitt people had some form of writing.
 
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Mar 2012
378
#6
True, but you have to understand that many people have no clue that West Africans have stone settlements going back to the B.C era, many assume Egypt is the sole African culture with Stone Settlements.

IMO Tichtt stems from the Green Sahara people who also influenced the development in the Nile Valley.

But Tichitt actually wasn't that unique. Tichitt belonged to a wide-reaching network of similar stone villages dotted throughout the Sahel and savannahs.
 
Mar 2012
378
#7
Thanks, yeah I did provide an Image from Chenguetti(The one with the Stone Miniret tower). I will proved more Images/Info on the cities you named, because they are important IMO to Pre-Middle Age West African History.

Don't forget the stone cities at Chenguetti, Audoghost, Koumbi Saleh, etc. I know they were later, but they are very similar and equally impressive.

I have actually heard that Tichhit goes back to 1600 B.C. Your date of 1000 B.C. may be more correct...I don't know.

I'd be very curious if it could be proven that the Dar Tichitt people had some form of writing.
 

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
#8
Nice pics. I remember reading somewhere that this settlement and its development was more or less a reaction against pressure from Northward Berberic Nomads. Settled agricultural populations--mostly Soninke--had no choice but to argansise to protect themselves from threats posed by these warlike nomads.
 
Dec 2008
764
Vancouver-by-the-Sea
#9
I see a picture of the Root of All Eco-Evil-a goat!

While unrelenting human habitation will scar a landscape goats are vermin of the lowest order.
 

jehosafats

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
2,088
...
#10
IMO Tichtt stems from the Green Sahara people who also influenced the development in the Nile Valley.
These were mainly specialized fishing communities similar to those in eastern Africa. I'd say Chad was a spiritual home of sorts. Lake Chad, especially. It was a place where early Nilo-Saharan/Niger-Congo/Afro-Asiatic speakers converged; they exchanged technology, goods, ideas, etc. Then dessication, of course, took hold of the Sahara.
 

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