The View from West Africa
In terms of discoveries of human palaeontology and prehistory, West Africa seems to be the “poor relative”. No hominid anterior to our species has yet been found; only stone tools have been discovered, the only witnesses of an old settlement of this part of the continent.
The oldest lithic industries are included or related to Quaternary levels of the Middle Pleistocene. Some researchers have attributed to Oldowan culture to some pebbles discovered in unstratified levels, others have claimed Pre-Acheulean characteristicsfor tools on pebbles and flakes not accompanied by typological shapes characteristic of the Acheulean: the handaxe and the cleaver.
Archaeological discoveries show that ancient Paleolithic presence across West Africa. Two zones of concentration and dispersion of the old lithic industries are apparent:
In the North, in Saharan and sahelian regions (Mauretania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso) the desert environment favors discovery of artefacts. In the South, in Guinean and equatorial region, where the heavy vegetation complicates the discovery of stone tools, that are mostly found along riverbeds.
Since 1980, national and international research programs have begun to search for prehistoric settlements. These have allowed to
-to correlate geomorphological and stratigraphical observations associated with geological formations,
-to attribute lithic industries to better characterized sedimentary layers,
-to take different samples for analyses and interpretations to obtain relative datation (correlation between geomorphological observations and oxygen-isotope records (marine cores off the Mauritania and Senegal coasts by Camara and Duboscq, 1984, 1987) , or absolute datation (optically stimulated luminsecence, OSL dates) necessary for a stratigraphic and chronological framework of the Quaternary' formations.
This research, although localized, already allows a better vision of the prehistoric occupation in the different regions of West Africa during the Quaternary.