Archaeobotanical investigations at the site of Sadia and their implications                                                                                                                               for the terminal Neolithic and Iron Age land use and environmental history of the Dogon Country (Mali)

  • Author: Barbara Eichhorn & Stefanie Kahlheber
  • Topic: 2000 to 10,000 BP,Environmental archaeology
  • Country: Mali
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

During the past decade, archaeobotanical and geoarchaeological
investigations at the site of Ounjougou on the Bandiagara Plateau in Mali
within the projects “Human populations and palaeoenvironment in West
Africa” and “Landscape archaeology in the Dogon Country” have largely
contributed to the understanding of the Late and Terminal Holocene
environmental history and the beginnings of food production in the Dogon
Country. A major result of this interdisciplinary research, comprising macroand
microbotanical, sedimentological and geomorphological studies, has
been that landscape and vegetation change during vast parts of this period
must be contributed to both, climatic change and anthropogenic influence.
However, due to the hiatus and to restricted organic preservation in the
Terminal Holocene layers of Ounjougou, the palaeoenvironmental and
archaeological sequence is incomplete during the past three millennia, a
period comprising important social, economic and environmental changes.
Charcoal analysis from iron metallurgy sites on the plateau highlights
changes in the woody vegetation during the past 1500 years, but does not
cover all hiatus and cannot provide evidence on possible changes of plant
foodT phreo duiscctoiovne.r y of the Sadia site complex, a group of settlement mounds
in the Séno Plain adjacent to the plateau (see contribution of Eric Huysecom)
enables us to reconstruct the development of plant food production as well as
vegetation and landscape changes during the past three millennia and thus to
close gaps present in the Ounjougou succession. A first archaeobotanical
sequence reveals a plant food production based on pearl millet as starch
source supplemented by legumes rich in proteins, cow pea and bambara
groundnut. The only other domesticated plant identified so far is the roselle
Hibiscus cf. sabdariffa with multiple purposes. Diet was complemented by
intensive consumption of fruits and grains of wild trees characteristic for Sahelo-
Sudanian agro-forestry parklands. Furthermore, the presence of anthropogenic,
ruderal vegetation in the settlement is indicated by carpological
finds. Charcoal analysis points to distinct changes in the reconstructed
woody vegetation between the terminal Neolithic sandy layers preceding the
tell formation and the Iron Age loam layers of the settlement mound proper.
The first is dominated by trees indicating the presence of vegetation still little
affected by human action and the presence of Parinari, which today is
absent from the area, points toward precipitation higher than today. The
charcoal samples originating from the tell layers indicate diversified woody
vegetation with trees typical for agro-forestry parklands and the presence of
fallows. In future campaigns, systematic archaeobotanical sampling during
extensive excavations and subsequent analyses, also comprising phytolith
studies, will help us to understand the spatial organization of the settlement.

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