Towards an understanding of West-African peopling dynamics : material culture and environment

by Eric Huysecom & Katja Douze

Palaeolithic research efforts in the last fifteen years have remarkably improved our understanding of past peopling dynamics in West Africa, even if this region, out of habit, is still not sufficiently taken into account in transcontinental perspectives. The inlands of the Sahel-Soudanese climatic belt, in Mali and Senegal in particular, have provided major archaeological sequences offering a first robust and well-dated framework for human settlements in West Africa. The long archaeological and sedimentary records reveal different peopling dynamics through time, with patterns of intense population movements at the beginning of the Late Pleistocene, while the arid early Holocene conditions have led to population isolates. The Falémé Valley (Senegal) and Ounjougou (Mali) areas, investigated by the international and interdisciplinary research program « Human Population and Paleoenvironment in Africa », provide complementary information on these patterns. In a broader perspective, new insights are recently brought to light on the tempo of cultural transitions in this region leading to the emergence of the Middle Stone Age and the Later Stone Age respectively, which seem to occur late or over extended periods of time as compared to other regions. As a consequence, new data available for this region have the potential to contribute significantly to our perception of variability in human evolutionary dynamics, and to profoundly readjust the status of West Africa at a continental scale regarding the study of the Stone Age.