Johannesburg - An exhibition that sees the Sahara through the lens of archaeology and explores the many different facets of the largest land space in Africa opened at the Origins Centre at Wits University.

Covering just over 9 million square kilometres – making it slightly bigger than North America – the Sahara was not always the dry and hot desert it is today. About 1.8 million years ago the Sahara was a savannah filled with grass, animals and water.

“We can do all sorts of things and try control the elements, but the Sahara hasn’t been tamed,” curator Scott Mallen said.

Co-curator Lara Mallen said the desert used to be a seabed. It was because of the tilt of the earth’s axis that the climate was affected and caused multiple phases of change from savannah to desert.

“In the next 15 000 years the Sahara will be green again, but for now it’s still a massive sea of sand.”

The exhibition will take you on a journey through the beginning of the desert to the culture and domestication of the people and the trade routes that are still popular today.

People will get a chance to see the rock art paintings and drawings, the skulls of animals such as elephants, hippos and giraffes that used to populate the desert, including some which still do.

They will also find out about animals like crocodiles living in a 20m pond inside a cave and a tiny population of wild dogs that have had to adapt to living in the desert.

Exhibition visitors will also be able to view the clothes, jewellery and materials used for the camels and homes of the nomadic Tuareg people.

“They were known as the blue people because of the deep indigo dye that would rub off on their skin from the veils worn mostly by the men,” Lara said.

The veils were used to protect them from the harsh weather conditions, especially the heavy winds. The artefacts and objects on display for the exhibition have been borrowed from the Wits Art Museum and the Kim Sacks Gallery in Joburg.

The curators hope the experience will allow people to escape their everyday lives and discover the depth of the Sahara.

“This is your chance to plunge into this extraordinary realm of endless horizons and harsh beauty where, you may just find, reality can go beyond imagination,” Scott said.

The exhibition runs until October 15.

The Star