The Dahomey Gap, a savanna corridor interrupting the zonal West African rain forest, did not exist during the mid-Holocene. The pollen diagram from Lac Sélé (7°9'N, 2°26'E) indicates that in southern Benin a semi-evergreen rainforest prevailed between c. 8400 and 4500 cal. yr BP. The mid-Holocene marine transgression caused a spread of mangrove forest along the inland lagoons. Pollen analysis and geochemistry indicate that the Dahomey Gap became established at the onset of the late Holocene due to an abrupt climatic change between c. 4500 and 3400 cal. yr BP. Drier climatic conditions led to a rapid deterioration of the rain forest and subsequent spread of Sudano-Guinean savannas. A return to wetter climatic conditions between c. 3300 and 1100 cal. yr BP resulted in a rise in the lake level and a renewed spread of forests into the savanna. During this time the Dahomey Gap consisted of a forest-savanna mosaic with a high number of pioneer tree taxa including the oil palm Elaeis guineensis After c. 1100 cal. yr BP the lake level dropped again and the Lac Sélé profile indicates drier environmental conditions resulting in the establishment of an open savanna which persists until present. The palaeorecord from Lac Sélé suggests that the role of humans in shaping the West African savannas has been overestimated. The opening of the Dahomey Gap and spread of the oil palm E. guineensis can now be confidentially attributed to climatic change and was not initiated by humans.