Diversification, Intensification, and Specialization: Changing land use in western Africa from 1800 BC to AD 1500

Andrea U. Kay, Dorian Q. Fuller, Katharina Neumann, Barbara Eichhorn, Alexa Höhn, Julie Morin-Rivat, Louis Champion, Veerle Linseele, Erich Huysecom, Sylvain Ozainne, Laurent Lespez, Stefano Biagetti, Marco Madella, Ulrich Salzmann, Jed O. Kaplan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
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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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-228
JournalJournal of World Prehistory
Issue number2
Early online date16 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


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