Satellite Photos Show Ancient Saharan Fortresses of a Lost Empire

By Valerie Ross | November 17, 2011 4:05 pm

New satellite images have revealed more than a hundred ancient fortified settlements still standing in the Sahara. The settlements, located in what today is southern Libya, were built by the Garamantes, a people who ruled much of the area for nearly a thousand years until their empire fragmented around 700 AD. Information about the Garamantes is relatively scarce: Other than the accounts of classical historians (who aren’t known for careful accuracy) and excavations of the Garamantian capital city in the 1960s, archaeologists haven’t had a lot to go on. During the decades-long reign of Muammar Gadhafi, antiquities and archaeology weren’t exactly a national priority; the fortresses were largely ignored. As David Mattingly, the British archaeologist who led the project, said to OurAmazingPlanet of the discoveries: “It is like someone coming to England and suddenly discovering all the medieval castles.”

Through previous archaeological excavations—including a dig earlier this year that was cut short by the start of Libya’s civil war—Mattingly and others have “built up a picture of [the Garamantes] as being a very sophisticated, high-level civilization,” he told National Geographic. The Garamantes had a writing system, practiced metallurgy, organized vast trading caravans, and developed a complicated water-extraction system that let them create oases in the arid Sahara. It’s still a mystery what triggered the empire’s decline; researchers suggest scarce water resources, plus trade disruptions, may be to blame.

Read more at National Geographic and the Guardian.

Image courtesy of University of Leicester / Google Earth

  •!/GreatHogo Hogo

    The link for “complicated water-extraction system” leads to a page with MalWare. or so my Avast antivirus says… Sounds quite interesting though so I am a bit disappointed.

  • Valerie Ross

    @Hogo — Hmm, not sure what the trouble is. The link should lead you to a 2004 article from Archaeology magazine, “Kingdom of the Sands”:

  • allahallahoxenfree

    Around 700 AD huh? No one knows why it collapsed, couldn’t be the rise of the caliphate could it?? That wouldn’t be politically correct though!

  • Paul

    If you read the water extraction link, it says that they outgrew their resources and mined all the water out. THAT’s why their civilization collapsed.

  • Brian Too

    @3. allahallahoxenfree,

    You might be on to something there. I’ve found references that Islam arrived in Morocco circa 685, and the path of conquest was certainly East to West. 7th century was definitely the happening time for Islam in North Africa.

  • Adriana

    The coordinates?

  • MeMe

    Around 700 AD is when North Africa fell to the invading Arabs. Many Berber Nations were slaughtered. Google “Queen Kahina”, a Berber Queen who united all the Berbers to hold off the Arab invaders from North Africa for 10 years. She was betrayed and well over 50,000 Berbers slaughtered. So yes it is likely a result of two or more different actions, the Arab muslim invasion and limited water resouces.

  • Lyle

    Hugo is correct. There is a malware issue at We tracked it to some advertisements from OpenX. Thanks for the reading tips.

  • Archaeology Magazine

    Please note that is safe to use. We have resolved any problems (feel free to confirm with antivirus software).

    If problems are detected, please contact us immediately at Thanks!


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