Did you know that the vast desert occupying much of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula used to be lush jungles?

Several chapters of the Quran narrate anecdotes of lands that turned from lush gardens with rivers into arid deserts after its people sinned. 

It turns out that these stories are not as metaphorical as we thought.

Early human communities lived in the congested area of the Nile valley almost 6000 BCE. At one point, many of those inhabitants moved to Asia and from there into the rest of the world.

Saudi Arabia, desert beauty, the empty quarter, the Arabian desert
The Empty Quarter, Arabian Desert Source: Omantravel.co.uk

What attracted those communities to come to Arabia, recent research points out, is a change in the weather of the arid desert caused by a sudden burst of monsoon rains. 

Within the span of just a few centuries, the rain changed the arid landscape into a lush savannah-type environment.

The study titled 'Alluvial fan records from southeast Arabia reveal multiple windows for human dispersal' was conducted mainly by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and Oxford University’s School of Archaeology.

Prior to inviting foreign researchers, the kingdom carried out a national archaeological survey in the 1980s.

arabian desert, sahara desert, saudi arabia, egypt, climate change
The deserts of Arabia and North Africa used to be lush gardens Source: fitandbusy.com

The lush vegetation and fresh water pools - located in what we call today the Empty Quarter, or Rubh' Al Khali, the world's largest desert enclaved by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the UAE - started attracting animals like elephants, rhinos, hippos, and crocodiles.

The monsoon rains that rejuvenated the once-arid soil persisted for a couple of millennia until it seized about 7,300 to 5,500 years ago, coinciding with the beginning of the Ancient Egyptian civilization, to which most of the desert inhabitants returned.

The rain stopped relatively abruptly within the span of about 300 years, so the soil started drying slowly. It wasn’t until around 1,100 years later that it reached its current arid state.

arabian desert, sahara desert, saudi arabia, egypt, climate change
Bouts of monsoon rain occasionally visit the deserts of Arabia and North Africa Source: sufdesertecology.weebly.com

Scientists from NASA believe that the monsoon rains retreated due to a change in the Earth’s axis from 24.1 degrees to the current 23.5 degrees, exposing the region’s land to more direct sunlight.

The wobble occurred in response to gravitational forces from other bodies in the solar system and is likely to happen again as the tilt continues on changing about 22 and 25 degrees every 41,000 years, according to scientific estimates.

Scientists predict that climate cycles that turn the desert green are bound to happen again in the region.