Article (Scientific journals)
Climatic and cultural changes in the west Congo Basin forests over the past 5000 years
Oslisly, Richard; White, Lee; Bentaleb, Ilham et al.
2013In Philosophical Transactions. Biological Sciences, 368 (1625), p. 1-11
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Keywords :
Holocene; Archeology; palaeoenvironment; Congo–Ogooué basin; climatic change; vegetation
Abstract :
[en] Central Africa includes the world's second largest rainforest block. The ecology of the region remains poorly understood, as does its vegetation and archaeological history. However, over the past 20 years, multidisciplinary scientific programmes have enhanced knowledge of old human presence and palaeoenvironments in the forestry block of Central Africa. This first regional synthesis documents significant cultural changes over the past five millennia and describes how they are linked to climate. It is now well documented that climatic conditions in the African tropics underwent significant changes throughout this period and here we demonstrate that corresponding shifts in human demography have had a strong influence on the forests. The most influential event was the decline of the strong African monsoon in the Late Holocene, resulting in serious disturbance of the forest block around 3500 BP. During the same period, populations from the north settled in the forest zone; they mastered new technologies such as pottery and fabrication of polished stone tools, and seem to have practised agriculture. The opening up of forests from 2500 BP favoured the arrival of metallurgist populations that impacted the forest. During this long period (2500–1400 BP), a remarkable increase of archaeological sites is an indication of a demographic explosion of metallurgist populations. Paradoxically, we have found evidence of pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) cultivation in the forest around 2200 BP, implying a more arid context. While Early Iron Age sites (prior to 1400 BP) and recent pre-colonial sites (two to eight centuries BP) are abundant, the period between 1600 and 1000 BP is characterized by a sharp decrease in human settlements, with a population crash between 1300 and 1000 BP over a large part of Central Africa. It is only in the eleventh century that new populations of metallurgists settled into the forest block. In this paper, we analyse the spatial and temporal distribution of 328 archaeological sites that have been reliably radiocarbon dated. The results allow us to piece together changes in the relationships between human populations and the environments in which they lived. On this basis, we discuss interactions between humans, climate and vegetation during the past five millennia and the implications of the absence of people from the landscape over three centuries. We go on to discuss modern vegetation patterns and African forest conservation in the light of these events.
Disciplines :
Archaeology
Author, co-author :
Oslisly, Richard;  Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, UMR 208 IRD/MNHN, Patrimoines Locaux, Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, BP 20379 Libreville, Gabon
White, Lee;  Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, BP 20379 Libreville, Gabon
Bentaleb, Ilham;  Université de Montpellier 2, CNRS, ISEM, Place Eugene Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier, France
Favier, Charly;  Université de Montpellier 2, CNRS, ISEM, Place Eugene Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier, France
Fontugne, Michel;  Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, UMR 8212 CNRS/CEA/UVSQ, Domaine du CNRS, 91198 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France
Gillet, Jean-François ;  Université de Liège - ULiège > Doct. sc. agro. & ingé. biol.
Sebag, David;  Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, HydroSciences Montpellier, Université de Ngaoundéré, BP 454, Cameroon
Language :
English
Title :
Climatic and cultural changes in the west Congo Basin forests over the past 5000 years
Publication date :
22 July 2013
Journal title :
Philosophical Transactions. Biological Sciences
ISSN :
0962-8436
eISSN :
1471-2970
Publisher :
Royal Society of London, London, United Kingdom
Special issue title :
Change in African rainforests: past, present and future
Volume :
368
Issue :
1625
Pages :
1-11
Peer reviewed :
Peer Reviewed verified by ORBi
Name of the research project :
CoForChange
Funders :
ERA-Net Biodiversa
Commentary :
One contribution of 18 to a Theme Issue ‘Change in African rainforests: past, present and future’.
Available on ORBi :
since 18 December 2013

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