Berber identification can be regional, cultural, linguistic or political, although in contemporary sociopolitics, it is more often linguistic. Self-identification tends to be more regional than the general term “Berber,” for example Shawi from the Aures Mountains or Setif province, Tuareg from Niger or Tuareg from Algeria, or Riffian from the Riff mountains in Morocco.
There are blond haired Berbers with blue or green eyes, black Berbers and everything in between Berbers. Berbers who look like other Mediterranean or West African peoples. Berbers were the first peoples to be called Africans (Ifriqiya).
There is a significant concentration of dolmens—megalithic burial monuments for the prominent dead—in northeast Algeria and the north of Tunisia; some date back to late Neolithic times This area is where Libyco-Berber writing originated, and it eventually became the nucleus of the Berber kingdom of Numidia. The Ancient Egyptians made several references to early battles with Libyan tribes (Berbers).
Further south in the Sahara, for thousands of years abundant rainfall replenished lakes and rivers. Human settlements with domesticated livestock clustered around water sources and lush green valleys. A dramatic climate change occurred during the fourth and early third millennium BC: global shifts in rainfall patterns initiated a gradual drying of the Sahara. Desertification was complete by 3000–2500 BC.
North Africa continued to be a part of Mediterranean trade and cultural exchange. In 1100 BC, seafaring people from Phoenicia (on the coast of modern-day Lebanon) began colonizing Berber settlements along coastal trade routes. The Phoenicians founded Carthage in the ninth century BC in what is now Tunisia. Berbers wrested control of Carthage from the Phoenicians in the sixth century BC. They established trading posts in Sicily, Spain, and on the southern coast of what is present-day France.
In 264 BC, Carthaginians intervened in a local dispute between Messena and Syracuse in Sicily. Rome, intent on empire expansion, objected to their presence in Sicily. The first Punic war was fought to establish strategic control of Corsica and Sicily, and then escalated into a clash of empires, which finally ended with the Third Punic War. Carthage was surrendered to Rome in 146 BC.
The same year, Romans established the province of Africa Proconsularis in Tunisia, northeastern Algeria, and the western coast of Libya. By middle of the first century AD, Roman hegemony of North Africa was firmly rooted. North Africa would become the breadbasket for Rome.
The kingdom of Numidia (west of Carthage, in present-day Algeria) and the kingdom of Mauritania in present-day Algeria and Morocco become Roman client states. The Romans called Numidians “Berbers” from barbara (or barbarians), a broad term for non-Latin-speaking peoples. The people of Mauritania were called “Maures,” from which the term Moors is derived.