‘Saharan Waterscapes’: Traditional Knowledge and Historical Depth of Water Management in the Akakus Mountains (SW Libya)

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‘Saharan Waterscapes’: Traditional Knowledge and Historical Depth of Water Management in the Akakus Mountains (SW Libya)

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  󲀢 6 󲀢 ‘SAHARAN WAERSCAPES’: RADIIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND HISORICAL DEPH OF WAER MANAGEMEN IN HE AKAKUS MOUNAINS 󰀨SW LIBYA󰀩 Savino di Lernia, Isabella Massamba N’siala and Andrea Zerboni If the clouds come, they come together  Mohammed ‘Skorta’ Hammadani, Kel adrart ‘SAHARAN WAERSCAPES’: INRODUCING HE PROJEC On 22 March 2009 World Water Day, organised by the United Nations, reminded us that today   more than 800 million humans do not have regular access to drinkable water. wo and half billion do not have use of basic hygiene facilities. For these reasons, more than two million children die every year from illness connected to scarcity of water (http://www.worldwaterday.org/).Tis devastating calamity is largely due to a non-sustainable human pillaging of Earth resources, and not exclusively related to environmental or climate constraints. Rather, in hot deserts, such as the Sahara, water access and water exploitation have been environmental challenges for human groups, to be culturally managed (e.g., McAllister et al.  2011). It is interesting to study the courses of action and the choices – techno-logical, cultural or social – adopted today by human groups to cope with increasing environmental deterioration. Changes in the environment, and increasing uncertainty due to growing dryness, are major features of Holocene Sahara history (e.g. Brooks 2006, Kuper and Kröpelin 2006, Anderson et al. 2007) and human adaptations have usually been seen as responding more passively, with a few exceptions (e.g. di Lernia 2002, Brooks et al.  2006). Studying the interface between deteriorating environmental conditions and human perception is a difficult task (e.g. Hassan 2002, Brooks 2006) but is probably the only way to better understand the social organisation of groups living in fragile, marginal environments. Geo-ethnoarchaeological and ethnohistorical indications might greatly increase our capacity to deal with the delicate issues represented by the strategies and actions directed towards a sustainable use of water in marginal or even desert environments.  Savino di Lernia, Isabella Massamba N’Siala and Andrea Zerboni  102 In this chapter, we present the first phases of the project ‘Saharan Waterscapes’, a multi-disciplinary research programme based on geoarchaeological, ethnoarchaeological and ethnobotanical surveys, carried out in recent years in the Akakus Mts. (SW Libya), today inhabited by Kel adrart uareg (Figure 1). Tis sandstone massif is renowned for its majestic rock art and archaeological contexts: systematic Holocene human oc-cupation of the area dates back to the Pleistocene/Holocene transition and has been affected by several severe dry spells and environmental differences, easily traceable in the changing faunas depicted in the rock art of the region (e.g. Mori 1965, Barich 1987, Cremaschi and di Lernia 1998, di Lernia and Zampetti 2008).Te aims of the project are: i) analytically to assess the available water resources and their relations with seasonal rainfall; ii) to create an ethnographic record of ac-cess, exploitation and forms of water storage adopted by the uareg Kel adrart; iii) to explore in an ethnoarchaeological perspective the relations between water and people in the later phases of the Holocene – with a focus from the end of the Neolithic until the Garamantian age – especially as regards cultivation systems.Te ethnographic work has been the basis for the assessment of water resources today – as they are embedded in the uareg ‘social memory’ – in order to provide the first repertory of natural and artificial water features in the study region. Tis evidence has been matched against settlement distribution of the Kel adrart, recently investi-gated (Biagetti 2008, Biagetti and Chalcraft, In press), to better understand physical constraints and adopted strategies of adjustment.Te local and traditional knowledge of Kel adrart herders might have benefited from a kind of ancient legacy, possibly rooted in late prehistoric times, as evident in the main water reservoir, where rock markings – signs, rock art, inscriptions –date back to the Late Pastoral (from around 5,000 uncalibrated years 󰁢󰁰 onward). During the fieldwork, a particular focus was directed towards the etaghas  , specific areas suit-able for flood-recession cultivation, in fact practiced by the Kel adrart until recently.  We present the initial data on these water-related features, unknown until today and totally unexpected in this area. Even if the etaghas   are known in other Saharan areas by different names (e.g. Dubief 1953, Bernus 1979, urri 1983) and quoted in colonial ethnohistorical sources (e.g. Bourbon del Monte di Santa Maria 1912, Zoli 1926, Scarin 1934), their presence and their relevance in the food security strategies of uaregs – and much further back in time, according to associated materials and rock art – open a new perspective on the relations between mountains and lowlands. Another aim of the project, surely difficult to explore and test against hard data, is the attempt to understand how the relations between rainfall and water resources are today apparently incorporated in the individual and social memory of the uaregs. Te interviews reveal a quite complex pattern but some overlapping does exist: this is the case with the ‘ awatei wamshin’  , the ‘hard period’, roughly corresponding to the droughts of the 1970s. Rainfall, quantity and distribution of water resources, mecha-nisms of perception, individual agency and social memory are all parts of a dramatic competition: that for survival in arid, nearly rainless regions, where resilient behaviours
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