The Canary Islands are said to display evidence of the some of the earliest European human settlements. Their location off the coast of North Africa fits in with theories that suggest the origins of human race can be traced back to Africa around 200,000 years ago. Most anthropologists agree the migration of humans out of Africa was to the east, through what we now know as the Yemen or further north around the Sinai Peninsula of what is now Egypt. The first movement of humans is said to have occurred up to 70,000 years ago. As far as Tenerife and the other Canary Islands are concerned, initial habitation could have come as a result of the desertification of the Sahara area 9,000 years ago, an event that took away food and water and made life there unsustainable, which in turn compelled the inhabitants to seek alternative locations to live.A short journey by sea, albeit a dangerous in those times, would have taken those people to the archipelago that we now know as the Canary Islands. This group of seven larger islands, together with numerous smaller ones, first emerged out of the Atlantic on the back of vollcanic activity over 20 million years ago.So the group of islands that were created up to 50 million years ago remained devoid of human inhabitants until possibly 200 BC, from when the earliest recorded traces of the Guanche inhabitants have been discovered. The Guanche were a very primitive race, with claims that their tools were even inferior to those found during the Stone Age which had ended at least 2000 years earlier. For 1700 years the Guanche and their descendents lived and thrived on the islands until the start of the Spanish conquests in the late 15th Century, which would see every island taken over under orders of the Spanish king at the time.Since then the Canary Islands have remained under Spanish rule, although there have been several attempts by other nations to take one or more of the islands since. At the end of the 15th Century over 12,000 Dutch sailors arrived and lay siege to the capital of Gran Canaria and the surrounding area until concerted retaliation by the Canarians forced them to leave. Even the British Navy, under the command of Nelson made an attempt to take Tenerife in 1797. Four hundred British sailors lost their lives and the attack was abandoned.It is interesting that there are some doubts as the origin of the name given to these islands. Islas Canarias is thought to derive from the Latin term meaning Island of Dogs, although these may have in fact been seals rather dogs. It all seems rather odd, but the origin has been accepted now, hence the two dogs seen on the island’s coat-of-arms.For many years the commercial activity of the islands has relied on agriculture, which used the geographical benefits of their location to grow a wide variety of crops. Those products included tomatoes, grapes, dates, oranges, almonds, lemons, figs, apricots and peaches. The islands were also a major producer of the crimson dye carmine, more commonly known as cochineal, the scaly insect from which it is created. That particular trade has almost stopped now that artificial equivalents have been created or users have switched to using products like alizarin, a compound made from the Madder plant.Tourism is now firmly the backbone of the economy on all the Canary Islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Las Palma, La Gomera and Fuerteventura. It makes up around a third of the Gross Domestic product with almost 10 million tourists visiting the islands each year, although there has been a slight dip in 2009 due to the worldwide recession and disadvantageous exchange rates that have impacted tourists from Britain who make up a third of the total. Peak visitor levels were recorded in 2001 when over 10 million tourists made the trip to the islands. This coincided with a period of strong foreign investment which saw hundreds of new hotels and other developments created on the islands.Mild, dry weather throughout the whole year is the main reason that the islands can sustain such a strong tourism sector. The Canaries are just one of only a few true winter sun destinations. The only other real choices for European tourists looking for a winter break are to travel to Egypt or perhaps North African countries such as Tunisia or Morocco. Favourable taxation rules also help by reducing the cost of good, but the strength of the Euro has negated any benefit there for British visitors. Professional and semi-professional sportsmen and women also favour the islands as warm-weather training locations, a trend that has seen a number of top-quality sports venues and training complexes developed on the islands, particularly on Lanzarote.
Source by Mark Bartley