The View from West Africa

Session Date: 
May 31, 2019

Archeology in West Africa is constrained by its climate, the features of its landscapes, and the geology of its soils, all less favorable for the conservation of ancient remains. Additionally, limited resources have long hampered the local and international research initiatives in the region.  Since the early 20th century, archeological studies, mostly carried out by colonial administrators and military personnel, were limited to random surface finds. A first synthesis of the prehistory of French West Africa (Laforgue 1925) describes zones of paleolithic remains in the Saharan, Sahelian, and Sudanese regions. Starting in the last two decades of the 20th century, more systematic research has included site surveys and their individual sedimentary profiles in the Falémé valley (Senegal), the Adrar region (Mauretania), and at Ounjoungou (Mali). In the Falémé Valley, in absence of direct dating, geomorphological data correlated to oxygen isotope variation, have placed Acheulean tools found in a Sansandé clay layer to between 250,000 and 180,000 years before present (Camara Dubosq, 1984). Since 2011, new research in the context of the international research program (human settlement and paleoenvironment in Africa) has established a chronology via absolute dating using optical stimulation luminescence (OSL) technology.