Man and the drylands
1.C4T1 2.C4T2
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3. The Berkouchi of Kazakhstan are nomads that hunt with trained and
tamed eagles.
© Michel Le Berre


It appears that the history of humanity began in Africa more than one million years ago.
Successive periods of migration led progressively to the colonization of all Earth’s regions, including the harsh and unforgiving areas that are the drylands.

The drylands, the cradle of civilizations

The drylands societies have developed traditional systems of territorial planning and management in order to benefit as much as possible from the diversity of available resources. In the various drylands, this has become a question of survival. Since the dawn of humanity, drylands have been significant centres of societal development. The drylands of the Middle East has been the cradle of pastoralism since Neolithic times and the centre of agricultural development. Drylands such as Mesopotamia, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean demonstrate the earliest forms of urban civilization borne more than 8000 years ago, and from which the notion of a centralized state developed. Up until very recently the drylands have also preserved cultures of hunters and gatherers such as populations of Australian aborigines and Boschimans from Southern Africa.
These civilizations maintained their traditional lifestyles over a long period of time as they exercised only limited pressure on their environment.

Nomadism; a lifestyle adapted to the drylands

4. Camel caravans at Nouakchott in Mauritania:
pastoral nomadism provides the populations
with an effective means to manage natural resources
in the drylands. The caravan, a characteristic of
all drylands and in particular in Africa and Asia,
is at the origin of the great commercial exchange
routes that are known as the Silk Road in Asia and
the Trans-Saharan route in Africa.
© Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Earth from Above / UNESCO

Nomads are herders who migrate throughout the year looking for watering holes and pasture for their animals in a way that allows them to utilize the limited resources of their environment over several weeks or months.

Traditional nomadic societies are generally associated with pastoralism or transhumance. Herds are made up of animals that are adapted to the drylands: dromedaries, camels, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, cows, llamas, alpaca, etc. These animals, who can endure thirst for several days, are unaffected by adverse and variable temperatures and do not need shelter against the wind or bad weather. Certain among them can also transform vegetation of low nutritive value (straw from grasses) into meat and milk and can store fat reserves in their tail or back.

They are used for the transport of goods, labour, the functioning of mills and norias and for the production of milk, meat and wool. They are also used to create craft goods from leather, wool, bone, fat, etc.
Nomads also cultivate land and set up small cultivation plots in hospitable areas.
In pre-Saharan areas they generally sow barley while in Central Asia, millet and watermelon are grown.

Nomadic knowledge and the development of commerce

Several nomadic societies have developed an important economic activity at a time when sedentary nomads were still farmers. This is particularly the case in northern Africa, the Mediterranean basin and Asia where nomadic pastoralism provided the population with resource management skills, important in the drylands and acquired through their ability to migrate to hostile areas. Their knowledge of geography and the workings of the natural environment allowed them to diversify their resources.
The caravan originates from the drylands and is characteristic of arid areas, particularly in Africa and Asia.
This commercial activity created the great exchange routes that became the Silk Road (linking South East Asia and the Mediterranean basin in Europe) and the Trans-Saharan route in Africa.

5. Wells between Kidal and Timbuctoo in Mali: in the drylands, good natural resource management,
particularly water, is a question of survival. Here, in the drylands, the nomads assemble together
with their herds around the well
Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Earth from Above / UNESCO



Imagine you are invited to visit a nomadic population. One of the children would like you to drive his herd.

Which animals would you take with you for two weeks and with very little water?


Make small paper cut-out walking figures to represent nomadic populations and sitting figures to represent sedentary populations and paste them to the world map in those areas where they are present.


Are there nomadic populations that live in your country?

What are the names of these populations?

Do you know how they live and the type of animals they rear?

Describe their way of life in your notebook. Estimate the distance covered by these nomadic populations.


Underline the following correct phrases:

• The opposite of a nomadic population is a sedentary population.
• Nomads are only found in Africa.
• Dromedaries, camels and alpacas are examples of the types of animals reared by nomads.
• The history of the Earth began in Europe.
• Nomads exercise limited pressure on their environment.

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