Biological Exchange, Diet and Health Project

Africa is one the world’s most varied regions for cultural and biological adaptations. Although Africa plays a central in our understanding of the human past, aspects of its prehistory remain poorly understood. This project will apply state of-the-art emerging methodologies to help address key questions relating to diets, subsistence strategies and population histories in African prehistory.

Africa’s rich prehistory has been relatively under-investigated from the point of modern archaeological science. While methods like archaeobotany and zooarchaeology are finding increasing, albeit uneven, application across the continent, novel and cutting-edge approaches involving the study of lipids, proteins and ancient DNA have seen only minimal application. Our project seeks to trial these methods more extensively in Africa, analysing ancient dental calculus and ceramics for dietary proteins, lipids, and microremains, and sampling human remains for aDNA, AMS dating, and stable isotope analysis.

The project will investigate the diversity of subsistence economies and strategies in Africa’s past with particular focus on milk consumption, milk processing and the use of different plant resources. Ancient genomic data will allow exploration of the link between these transformations in resource use on the one hand, and specific population movements and histories on the other, as well as gene-culture coevolutionary processes. We also seek to draw on information about diet and ancestry to inform on histories of migration and dispersal in Africa, bringing new perspectives to long-standing theories and debates.

Our project aims to liase closely with African collaborators, and to support capacity building and training in archaeological science sampling, analysis and interpretation, including as part of our International Application of Archaeological Science training programme.


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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