Skip to main content

The Pleistocene sediments of the Palaeoatbara in eastern Sudan as an archive for the evolution of the Nile river system

Geological evidence and geodynamic modelling suggest that the Nile river system has been largely stable since its origins ~30 Ma. The Nile could have provided a long-term migration route for vertebrates including hominins between Eastern and Northern Africa. However, other geological data contradict such an old stabilisation of the course of the Nile. Fieldwork along the middle stretches of the Atbara River, the last tributary to the Nile before it crosses the Sahara, provides evidence for a complex fluvial history during the last 450 ka, with several periods of fluvial re-establishment that differ markedly in their fluvial style and hydrodynamics. While some rivers were dominated by gravelly and sandy braid bars, others had prominent fine-grained point bars, and some were perennial, while others showed high discharge variance, with significantly varying catchment areas. The fine-grained floodplain deposits contain different types of paleosols, but predominantly evidence seasonal and semi-arid conditions. The changes in river style, discharge dynamics and catchments can be attributed to Pleistocene climatic changes and to tectonic processes. The riverine landscapes of the Palaeoatbara were colonised by a diverse fauna including hominins which are represented by fossils and stone tool remains. The study of the sediments, fossils and archaeology along the middle Atbara, together with high-resolution age dating, provide new insights into the history of the Nile river system, and has implications for our understanding of early hominin migrations and the formation of modern ecosystems in Africa.


Robert Bussert1, Mosab Mohammednoor1,2, Faysal Bibi2, Anne Delagnes3, Sumiko Tsukamoto4, Omar Bedri5, Brian Kraatz6, Ignacio Lazagabaster2, Johannes Müller2, Khalaf Salih7, Ali Eisawi7
1Institute of Applied Geosciences, Technische Universität Berlin, Ernst-Reuter-Platz 1, 10587 Berlin, Germany; 2Museum für Naturkunde, Invalidenstrasse 43, 10115 Berlin, Germany; 3PACEA, CNRS/Université de Bordeaux, Allée Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 33615 Pessac CEDEX, France; 4Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics, Stilleweg 2, 30655 Hannover, Germany; 5Faculty of Minerals and Oil, International University of Africa, 11121 Khartoum, Sudan; 6Department of Anatomy, Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, CA 91711, USA; 7Faculty of Petroleum and Minerals, Al Neelain University, 11121 Khartoum, Sudan
GeoKarlsruhe 2021