Back to overview

Diversification, Intensification and Specialization: Changing Land Use in Western Africa from 1800 BC to AD 1500

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Kay Andrea U., Fuller Dorian Q., Neumann Katharina, Eichhorn Barbara, Höhn Alexa, Morin-Rivat Julie, Champion Louis, Linseele Veerle, Huysecom Eric, Ozainne Sylvain, Lespez Laurent, Biagetti Stefano, Madella Marco, Salzmann Ulrich, Kaplan Jed O.,
Project Peuplement humain et paléoenvironnement en Afrique de l'Ouest - Projet Falémé
Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of World Prehistory
Volume (Issue) 32(2)
Page(s) 179 - 228
Title of proceedings Journal of World Prehistory
DOI 10.1007/s10963-019-09131-2

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Many societal and environmental changes occurred between the 2nd millennium BC and the middle of the 2nd millennium AD in western Africa. Key amongst these were changes in land use due to the spread and development of agricultural strategies, which may have had widespread consequences for the climate, hydrology, biodiversity, and ecosystem services of the region. Quantification of these land-use influences and potential feedbacks between human and natural systems is controversial, however, in part because the archaeological and historical record is highly fragmented in time and space. To improve our understanding of how humans contributed to the development of African landscapes, we developed an atlas of land-use practices in western Africa for nine time-windows over the period 1800 BC–AD 1500. The maps are based on a broad synthesis of archaeological, archaeobotanical, archaeozoological, historical, linguistic, genetic, and ethnographic data, and present land use in 12 basic categories. The main differences between categories is the relative reliance on, and variety of, domesticated plant and animal species utilized, and the energy invested in cultivating or keeping them. The maps highlight the irregular and frequently non-linear trajectory of land-use change in the prehistory of western Africa. Representing an original attempt to produce rigorous spatial synthesis from diverse sources, the atlas will be useful for a range of studies of human–environment interactions in the past, and highlight major spatial and temporal gaps in data that may guide future field studies.