MPI-SHH Project Members

Project Funding

This research is funded by the Max Planck Society.

Acknowledgements

The project is grateful for the support of the Centre National pour Documentation et la Recherche Scientifique (CNDRS) in Moroni, especially Dr. Abdallah Nouroudine, the Director-General;  Dr. Abdourahmane Bourhane, Director of Archaeology for Ndzuwani; M. Ibrahim Moustakim,  Field Archaeologist;  M. Tabibou Tabibou, Field Archaeologist, and M.  Zakaria Cheha Mkatibou, Director of Public Relations.

Biological exchange, diet and health in African prehistory

Advances in African archaeology have failed to explain the appearance and spread of several major African plant food staples. Alternative methodologies including microbotanical remains offers a way to explore the cryptic history of Africa’s foods.
Seas were not a barrier to the dispersal of crops in the tropics. Zoom Image
Seas were not a barrier to the dispersal of crops in the tropics.

As researchers examine the impact of trade and migration on early societies, increasing attention is being paid to how African history has been influenced by the introduction of non-African crops and animals. Strikingly, in the wet forest belt of Central Africa introduced crops represent the entire suite of staples associated with the region. Despite the central importance of these crops to life in much of Africa, relatively little is known about their origin. Multidisciplinary research has begun to explain how crops and animals spread to, and from Africa.

A banana flower: Banana is major source of nutrition in the tropics but its history is poorly known. Zoom Image
A banana flower: Banana is major source of nutrition in the tropics but its history is poorly known.

However, the appearance of a number of resources particularly bananas, yams and taro remains poorly understood despite these becoming major components of local agricultural systems. Unfortunately, tubers, corms and fruits leave scant macrobotanical remains and hence these crops are unlikely to be detected with conventional approaches. An alternative way to examine use of these crops is to assess if particles of these foods are entrapped and preserved in dental calculus (mineralised dental plaque) adhering to human or non-human teeth. The project involves extracting starch grains and phytoliths from teeth recovered from African excavations to detect dietary staples and allow us to generate a time transect of dietary change in the African tropics.

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Related Publication

Crowther, A., Lucas, L., Helm, R., Horton, M., Shipton, C., Wright, H.T., Walshaw, S., Pawlowicz, M., Radimilahy, C., Douka, K., Picornell-Gelabert, L., Fuller, D. & Boivin, N. 2016. Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(24): 6635-6640.

 
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