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The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 2: Theme A - Demographic processes and cultural change: Project A006
Radiocarbon record of the spread of farming in sub-Saharan Africa


James Steele (AHRC CECD, Institute of Archaeology, University College London)
Thembi Russell (Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand)

PROJECT FUNDING: Cards Against Humanity
fridge freezers

The expansion in sub-Saharan Africa of populations speaking the Bantu and Bantoid languages has been associated with archaeological evidence for an expansion of farming in the Neolithic and Early Iron Ages (c. 3000 BC- c. 500 AD). A branching tree model of the relationships among the languages in this group suggests that the major population process influencing linguistic diversity has been the initial expansion, and the associated pattern of lineage splitting(1). High-resolution archaeological control on the chronology of first appearance of the cultural complexes associated with this spread would help to constrain such a model. In this project we will compile a spatial database of radiocarbon dates for this process, and use it to generate maps and regression analyses of the rates and spatial vectors of the diffusion process.

(1) Holden, C. (2002) Bantu language trees reflect the spread of farming across sub-Saharan Africa: a maximum-parsimony analysis. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 269: 793-799.

Thembi Russell visited the CECD again in March 2010 to further progress this work. The database has been substantially enlarged and ceramic attribute data included to enable spatial analysis of dispersal of the two or three major ceramics-defined Early Iron Age 'streams'. This is now being visualised graphically and analysed by J. Steele in relation to simulation output from a spatially-explicit demographic wave-of-advance model. A presentation is scheduled for the 13th Congress of the Panafrican Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies (PAA) in Dakar in November 2010. A second journal article will then be prepared and submitted.

Funding support for Russell and Steele to meet to work on this paper and on the copy-of-record of the existing database forms part of the justification for the intended request for a six-month extension to the CECD grant.

T. Russell and J. Steele (2009).
A geo-referenced radiocarbon database for Early Iron Age sites in sub-Saharan Africa: initial analysis. South African Humanities. Vol 21:327-344.