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The First Emergence of Ceramic Production in Africa

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Contribution to book (peer-reviewed)
Author HUYSECOMEric,
Project Peuplement humain et paléoenvironnement en Afrique de l'Ouest - Projet Falémé
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Contribution to book (peer-reviewed)

Book Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology
Editor , ALDENDERFER Mark S.
Publisher Oxford University Press, New York
Page(s) 1 - 14
ISBN 9780190854584
Title of proceedings Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology
DOI 10.1093/acrefore/9780190854584.013.66

Open Access

Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)


The discoveries at Ounjougou (Mali), an open-air site in the Dogon Country, shed new light on the “early Neolithic” in Africa. The stratigraphic sequence and a cluster of absolute dates established a terminus ante quem of 9400 cal bc for ceramic sherds associated with a small bifacial lithic industry. The emergence of this typo-technical complex corresponds to one of the wet phases of the Pleistocene–Holocene transition in West Africa, most probably that of the climatic upturn at the beginning of the Holocene, between 10,200 and 9,400 cal bc. Paleoenvironmental results, particularly archaeobotanical ones, indicate that the landscape was in a state of change and that, for several millennia, the surfaces covered by desert overlapped an open steppe with grasses, some of which were edible. This environmental situation allowed the dispersion of prehistoric groups over the continent and probably encouraged a new behavior: the practice of intensive selective gathering (i.e., the targeted and rational harvesting of wild grasses for their seeds). However, not only must seeds be kept dry and protected from rodents, they must also be processed through cooking or fermentation. This process helps the human body to assimilate the starch, as the digestive enzymes necessary for its digestion are not naturally present. Ceramics would have been particularly useful in this process. Ceramics emerged in sub-Saharan Africa and seem to have spread toward the central Sahara during the early Holocene at the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 9th millennium cal bc, while the desert zone became increasingly greener. It has yet to be understood whether the Nile Valley was an important corridor for the diffusion of this technology or if ceramics appeared as the result of a second independent process of innovation.