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Tracking Humans in Pre-colonial West Africa: Bio-Archaeological Study in the Dogon Country (Mali)

English title Tracking Humans in Pre-colonial West Africa: Bio-Archaeological Study in the Dogon Country (Mali)
Applicant Mayor Anne
Number 169403
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Unité d'anthropologie Département de génétique et évolution Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Archaeology
Start/End 01.10.2016 - 30.09.2019
Approved amount 293'390.00
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All Disciplines (5)

Discipline
Archaeology
Social geography and ecology
Anthropology, Primatology
Geochemistry
Prehistory

Keywords (12)

funerary practices; dental anthropology; African archaeology; chronology; stable isotopes; West Africa; ancient history; diet; economy; mobility of people; palaeomicrobiology; ancien DNA

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Dr Anne Mayor, maître d'enseignement et de recherche à l'université de Genève
Lay summary

Les questionnements sur l’histoire des populations anciennes, leurs relations avec les changements climatiques et environnementaux et l’émergence de la complexité sociale occupent actuellement une place importante dans l’étude de la préhistoire africaine. Cette recherche s’intéresse à l’histoire des sociétés pré-dogon et dogon du Mali. Elle s’inscrit dans le contexte des recherches menées depuis 1997 par le laboratoire « Archéologie et peuplement de l’Afrique » de l’Université de Genève.

Cette recherche adopte une approche nouvelle pour mieux comprendre la dynamique des modes de vie. Elle vise à analyser des données bio-anthropologiques, biochimiques et chronologiques issues du matériel ostéologique conservé dans divers musées et institutions, et à les comparer aux évidences archéologiques et paléobotaniques précédemment acquises. Nous revisiterons ainsi des thématiques comme les pratiques funéraires, la mobilité des communautés, les stratégies de subsistance, ainsi que les maladies présentes. Pour cela, nous emploierons différentes méthodes, dont l’anthropologie dentaire, les analyses d’isotopes stables (carbone, nitrogène, strontium) et la paléo-microbiologie. Les nombreuses dates radiocarbones prévues permettront d’établir le fonctionnement des grottes funéraires collectives.

L’intérêt de ce projet pluridisciplinaire réside dans le fait qu’il poursuit, à l’aide d’une méthodologie nouvelle, nos efforts menés depuis vingt ans pour reconstituer l’histoire des populations précoloniales ouest-africaines. Bien qu’ancré dans le passé, il aborde des sujets pertinents pour les sociétés actuelles du Mali, en corrigeant les vues souvent simplistes de leur histoire. Enfin, l’usage des collections de musée permet de surmonter l’actualité douloureuse de ce pays et de poursuivre les recherches hors de ses frontières.

Mots-clé: histoire ancienne, anthropologie biologique, isotopes stables, pratiques funéraires, diète alimentaire, mobilité, Dogon, Mali, Afrique de l’Ouest

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 30.09.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Agricultural diversification in West Africa: an archaeobotanical study of the site of Sadia (Dogon Country, Mali)
CHAMPIONLouis, FullerDorian, OZAINNESylvain, HUYSECOMEric, MAYORAnne (2021), Agricultural diversification in West Africa: an archaeobotanical study of the site of Sadia (Dogon Country, Mali), in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 13(60), 21 p.
Diet variability among pre‐Dogon and early Dogon populations (Mali) from stable isotopes and dental diseases
Dlamini Nonhlanhla, Sealy Judith, Mayor Anne (2019), Diet variability among pre‐Dogon and early Dogon populations (Mali) from stable isotopes and dental diseases, in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 169, 1-15.
Diet, health, mobility, and funerary practices in pre-colonial West Africa : a new bio-archaeological project in the Dogon Country
Mayor Anne, Dlamini Nonhlanhla, Hajdas Irka (2016), Diet, health, mobility, and funerary practices in pre-colonial West Africa : a new bio-archaeological project in the Dogon Country, in Nyame Akuma, Bulletin of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists, (86), 60-64.
Tracking Humans in Pre-colonial West Africa : a bio-archaeological study in the Dogon Country (Mali)
Mayor Anne, Dlamini Nonhlanhla, Hajdas Irka (2016), Tracking Humans in Pre-colonial West Africa : a bio-archaeological study in the Dogon Country (Mali), in Société suisse d'études africaines : Newsletter, 2016(2), 30-32.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Musée National, Bamako Mali (Africa)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
ETHZ, Laboratory of Ion Beam Physics, Zurich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel
Institut des Sciences Humaines, Bamako Mali (Africa)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
Stable Light Isotope laboratory, Archaeology Department, University of Cape Town South Africa (Africa)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel
Max Planck Institute for the science of human history Jena Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Museum of Ethnology, Leiden Netherlands (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
25th annual meeting of the European Archaeological Association (EAA) Talk given at a conference Subsistence, oral health, and interactions in central Mali during the 7th and 19th c. AD 04.09.2019 Bern : University of Bern, Switzerland DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla; Mayor Anne;
"Peopling History of Africa : a multidisciplinary perspective" international conference Talk given at a conference Genetics, bioarchaeology and archaeology tell a story of mobility, modes of subsistence and interactions in the Dogon Country (Mali) 06.06.2019 Genève : Université de Genève, Switzerland DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla; Mayor Anne;
Genev Seminar Series of the Department of Genetics & Evolution Individual talk Food stories: understanding past diets in central Mali through stable isotopes 15.03.2019 Geneva : University of Geneva, Switzerland DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla;
8th International Symposium on Biomecular Archaeology ISBA 2018 Poster Understanding individual dietary shifts in the Dogon Country (Mali) through δ13C and δ15N analysis of incremental dentine collagen. 18.09.2018 Jena, Conventus Congress management & Marketing GmbH, Germany Mayor Anne; DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla;
15th congress of the Panafrican Archaeological Association (PANAF) Poster Diet variability among Pre-dogon and early Dogon populations (Mali), 7-19th c. AD : Evidence from stable isotopes and dental diseases. 10.09.2018 Rabat, Université Mohammed V, Morocco Mayor Anne; DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla;
African Archaeology Research Day – AARD Talk given at a conference Food and agricultural evolution in the Seno Plain in Mali: an archaeobotanical study of the site of Sadia 25.11.2017 Department of Archaeology, University of York, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Mayor Anne; Champion Louis;
Seminars of the Department of Physics: Current topics from Accelerator Mass Spectrometry and its applications Individual talk Burial chronologies: understanding the funerary history of ancient Mali in the Dogon region 22.11.2017 Zurich : ETH, Department of Physics, Switzerland DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla;
15e colloque annuel of the West African Archaeological Association : Archaeology of West Africa without Borders: Connecting and Integrating Heritage Knowledge Systems Talk given at a conference Tracking Humans: A bio-archaeological approach to the history of pre-historic populations in the Dogon Country (Mali) 10.07.2017 Accra (Ghana) : University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana Mayor Anne; DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla;
C14 and Diet 2 Talk given at a conference Tracking Humans : a bio-archaeological approach to the history of prehistoric populations in the Dogon Country, Republic of Mali 23.06.2017 Aarhus (Danemark): Aarhus University, Denmark Mayor Anne; DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla; Hajdas Irka;
Annual meeting of the UK Archaeological Society 2017 Talk given at a conference Tracking Humans : a bio-archaeological approach to the history of prehistoric populations in the Dogon Country, Republic of Mali 07.04.2017 London : University College London, Institute of Archaeology, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Hajdas Irka; DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla; Mayor Anne;
Monday Seminars of the Department of Archaeology Individual talk Tracking Humans : a bio-archaeological approach to the history of prehistoric populations in the Dogon Country, Republic of Mali 06.03.2017 Cape Town : University of Cape Town, Department of Archaeology, South Africa DLAMINI-STOLL Nonhlanhla;
Workshop international « Regards croisés sur l’Anthropocène. Paysages et récits » Talk given at a conference Variations environnementales et récits locaux dans la vallée du Yamé (Pays dogon, Mali) 18.11.2016 Angers : Université d’Angers, Maison de la recherche Germaine Tillon , France Mayor Anne;
5ème Midi de l’Afrique de l'université de Genève Individual talk Comment reconstruire l’histoire de l’Afrique ? l’exemple du Pays dogon (Mali) 07.11.2016 Genève: Université de Genève, Switzerland Mayor Anne;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Human osteology, principles and applications : from archaeology to forensics 10.07.2017 Accra (Ghana) : University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana

Knowledge transfer events



Self-organised

Title Date Place
Afrique: 300'000 ans de diversité humaine 12.06.2019 salle d'exposition de l'université de Genève / Museum d'histoire naturelle, Switzerland

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
112395 Evolution paléoclimatique et peuplement humain en Afrique de l'Ouest 01.04.2006 Project funding (special)
49472 Evolution paléoclimatique et peuplement humain en Afrique de l'Ouest. 01.04.1997 Project funding (Div. I-III)
59571 Evolution paléoclimatique et peuplement humain en Afrique de l'Ouest. 01.04.2000 Project funding (Div. I-III)
186511 Africa: 300'000 years of human diversity 01.04.2019 Agora
124657 Evolution paléoclimatique et peuplement humain en Afrique de l'Ouest 01.04.2009 Project funding (special)
186324 Foodways in West Africa: an integrated approach on pots, animals and plants 01.10.2019 Sinergia

Abstract

Over the last few decades, questions about the history of pre-colonial populations, their relations with climatic and environmental evolution and emergence of social complexity have been central to the archaeological study of later prehistory of sub-Saharan Africa. In parallel, biological anthropology has much evolved from classificatory analysis toward new methods aiming at understanding the dynamics of lives of past societies. The research proposed here focuses its attention these issues in the Western Sahel zone, in connection with the history of the pre-Dogon and Dogon societies in Mali. The work forms part of a large body of research, led by the Laboratory “Archaeology and Population in Africa” (APA) at the University of Geneva, supported by the SNF between 1997 and 2011, and concerned with the reconstruction of history of population and emergence of social complexity during the last two millennia. Our research plans to adopt a new approach combining bio-anthropological and archaeological data to understand questions such as population relatedness, geographic origin and mobility patterns of people, dietary continuity or change, economy, diseases and evolution of funerary practices. To do so, we will adopt different methods including dental anthropology, stable isotopes analysis (strontium, stable carbon and nitrogen), and search of pathogens like the one of bubonic pleague responsible of several wide epidemics during the Middle Age. Numerous AMS radiocarbon dates will also be processed on the human bone remains to get a clear picture of the use through time of the different burial caves of the Bandiagara Escarpment, to detect possible epidemic events and definitely challenge the chrono-cultural sequence referenced for more than 40 years by scholars. All analytical data will be confronted to archaeological and palaeo-environmental data collected in the framework of our previous research to participate in building a coherent picture of the dynamics of behaviours in pre-colonial West Africa. This multidisciplinary approach will open new perspectives for future studies about history of populations in Africa. Data and samples from cranial bone (84), dentin (214) and enamel (165) have already been collected in the Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako and Musée de l’Homme in Paris, and dental morphology and diseases examined. Stable isotope analysis of organic carbon and nitrogen are on going at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, as well as the first 10 AMS dates in ETH Zürich. Moreover, recent studies by colleagues in France have shown the excellent state of preservation in terms of mineralogy, geochemistry and organic elements of all pre-Dogon and Dogon bones from the caves. Then the feasibility of the project is not in question.This research is a great opportunity to go on with the collaboration with Nonhlanhla Dlamini, a South African post-doctoral student currently benefitting from an excellence grant of the Swiss confederation. It is also ideal to strengthen our inter-institutional links with the University of Cape Town, the best African university in international rankings, in the perspective of the foreseen signature of a privileged partnership between this university and the University of Geneva.Finally, outside peer-reviewed articles and scientific conferences in Europe, USA and Africa, a special feedback with vulgarisation is planned to disseminate results of this research in Mali, during a festival of Dogon culture and through conferences at the National Museum and Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako. Methods and results will also be brought to the knowledge of students at the University of Geneva through teachings in African Archaeology.
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