The Makgadikgadi Pans complex is located in Botswana and was once part of a huge lake, the Makgadikgadi Lake, located in the Kalahari basin and estimated to have an area of 80,000 sq. Km and a depth of 40 meters.
Little is known about the origins of this huge lake, it seems to have formed over 5 million years ago and it is thought that 800,000 years ago, the various telluric movements changed the inclination of the soil, preventing the rivers, feeding it, to continue their journey to the ocean; a bit like it happened in the Okavango Delta.
10,000 years ago, the lake began to dry up as its tributaries began not to regularly carry water anymore; perhaps the cause was a further rise in the ground, that changed the slope again, and caused the rivers to divert their course; others argue that the cause could have been a major climate change.
It seems that the lake was filled with water again between 4,000 and 2,000 years ago and it seems that the last flood occurred 1,500 years ago.
This was deduced from the fossil remains of molluscs and diatomas on the surface of the immense pan and the fossilized pebble beaches that were found on Kubu Island, Kukome Island and around other granite outcrops in the Sua Pan; Kubu Island, on the granite rocks, there is fossil guano, this means that in the past this island was used by aquatic birds as a breeding site.
As a result of the drainage of the large lake, a series of surfaces have been covered almost all year round by a white crust made up of salt, sand and other minerals that, during the rainy season, are filled with water, but the level never exceeds 50 cm, creating so many salty water pools where animals gather.
Considering the surface of the entire salt lakes network, the Makgadikgadi Pans, with its 16,058 sq. Km, is the world's most extended salty area; the larger pans are the Nxai Pan, the Ntwetwe Pan and the Sua Pan.
The San have been the ancient inhabitants of these places for millennia; in some places archaeologists have found several stone objects and some traps to capture the animals they used in the past; the culture of the San, or Bushmen, is considered one of the oldest in the world.
Several finds have been made on Kubu Island: on the Southern part of the island there is a rounded wall built with stones, some believe it was a building built by the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom and that this was the South-Western boundary of that kingdom; others believe that this building was erected by the Butua Kingdom between 1450 and 1830.
Almost certainly it was a building where circumcision rituals were being performed, yet boys of the nearby village of Tshwagong come here when they are 16 years old.
More than 400 stone cairns have been found, their meaning and function is unknown to date, it is assumed that they were realized precisely to celebrate the circumcision and passage of an individual to the adult age.
In the Northern part of Kubu Island, in the middle of some large granite formations, the remains of a village of the Iron Age were found; many objects have been found, including crockery and many beads made with ostrich eggshells.
Recently, the remains of an Iron Age village have also been found above the 40-meter high Gidikwe Ridge, that, as evidenced by the signs of water erosion, was once the shore of the Makgadikgadi Lake; it is becoming increasingly clear to the archaeologists that, near the Pan, about 1,000 years ago, there were many villages and the population was higher than it is here now.
Objects from the Indian Ocean, India, Persia and South-East Asia have been found in the remains of the ancient villages that were discovered in the South of the Sua Pan; probably these goods have been passed from hand to and, from village to village over the years, some of these have been found in Congo and West Africa, this testifies that in the pre-colonial era there were some trade routes within the African continent.
The Sua Pan was described to the Europeans for the first time by Dr David Livingstone when he explored this area of Botswana during one of his trips.
Thomas Baines as well traveled to these lands, during his two-year expedition from Namibia to the Victoria Falls, and painted the painting depicting the Baines Baobab; since then little has changed, only a branch of these wonderful trees has broken.
Soon the great baobabs in the pan, such as the Baines Baobab, the Chapman Baobab and the Green Baobab, became a reference point for explorers and European traders.
These gigantic and millennial trees were, and are, visible from a considerable distance and therefore it was easier to orient using them as a point of reference; on the trunks of some baobabs are still visible today the initials engraved by Livingstone, Baines and Selous.
The Chapman Baobab was used as if it was a mailbox, some explorers left inside messages for those who would pass there after them; unfortunately this wonderful baobab, that had a diameter of 25 meters, collapsed on January 7, 2016 under the weight of its age, its age was in fact estimated between 3,000 and 5,300 years.
In the ‘70s, the area of the Nxai Pan became a protected area and in 1992 gained the National Park status. In the same year its boundaries were extended to the Kudiakam Pan and the Baobabs of Baines; the total surface of the park today is 2,578 sq. km.
Also in 1992 was established the Makgadikgadi Pan National Park, located in the North-Western part of the Ntwetwe Pan.
This park borders North with the Nxai National Park, from which it is divided by the freeway A3, that connects Maun to Francistown; while its Western border is marked by the Boteti river, that in recent years has, since 2009, started to have water again during the dry season, after decades when it had only some waterholes, the locals claim that in the next few years it could go back to dry because it cyclically happens, a bit like for the Savuti.