wood charcoal; anthracology; Central Africa; tropical forest; paleoecology; palaeoenvironment; archaeology; human impact; environmental reconstruction
[en] So as to document the past history of tropical forests, several palaeoenvironmental proxies have been used. For instance, charcoals from soil deposits provide a local signal of the evolution of the vegetation together with snapshots of human interactions with the environment. As charcoal analyses are rare in tropical contexts, here we aim at presenting the different aspects of charcoal studies through their pitfalls and successes as well as the needs for further research. Charcoal analysis (anthracology) is a discipline initially from archaeobotany that consists in the analysis of pieces of charred wood primarily found in archaeological contexts but also in natural soil layers. Its goal is to identified the species that burnt during the past through the observation of the charred wood structure. Indeed carbonization, as the incomplete combustion of the ligneous material, preserves the wood structure. The identifications obtained through microscopic observations allow assessing past uses of wood and human impacts on the forest landscape. However, issues typically tropical exist: difficulties related to fieldwork accessibility, to sampling, to soil processing so as to collect the charcoals, difficulties related to the taxonomic identification because of the huge number of species and of the limited number of anatomical descriptions. New developments are nonetheless emerging for Central Africa with original anatomical descriptions, identification protocols and visual keys.