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Diet variability among pre‐Dogon and early Dogon populations (Mali) from stable isotopes and dental diseases

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Dlamini Nonhlanhla, Sealy Judith, Mayor Anne,
Project Tracking Humans in Pre-colonial West Africa: Bio-Archaeological Study in the Dogon Country (Mali)
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume (Issue) 169
Page(s) 1 - 15
Title of proceedings American Journal of Physical Anthropology
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.23831

Open Access

Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)


Abstract Aims and Objectives This article reports on diet variability in the Dogon Country (Mali) through a bio‐archeological study of pre‐Dogon and early Dogon human remains (7th century to 19th century AD) from collective burial caves in the Bandiagara Escarpment. Materials and Methods Two hundred and twenty crania from collections curated in Leiden, Paris, and Bamako were studied for dental diseases. In a subset of teeth (n = 175), δ13C and δ15N were measured in bulk dentine samples. Results δ13C and δ15N values vary widely (−15.4 to −6.0‰ for δ13C, 6.0–14.8‰ for δ15N, n = 175), and indicate diets dominated by C4‐based foods with a focus on plants; animal products played a minor role. There are significant differences between the δ13C values from older (pre‐Dogon) and younger (Dogon) periods. Frequencies of caries, antemortem tooth loss, and abscesses increase significantly through time. Individuals from northern caves have more positive δ13C and δ15N values than southern ones. Discussion and Conclusions The temporal shifts are probably due to progressive diversification of foods, consistent with archeological evidence showing the addition of rice and vegetables to pearl millet. The geographical disparity is explained by a combination of climatic, environmental, and cultural factors. Last, intersite differences imply that different communities (or subsections thereof) disposed of their dead in different caves. Based on a large sample extending over a wider area and longer time frame than previous work, our study shows that diets in the Dogon Country were neither uniform nor continuous through time, as previously proposed. Our results attest to a complex history of settlement and foodways.