Workshop – Les Rasses 2015

ACACIA Workshop: Mapping Human Subsistence in West Africa (1000 BC-AD 1500)


A second ACACIA Workshop was held in Switzerland, 2-6 November 2015. This Workshop focused on the mapping in time and space of subsistence and land use throughout West Africa from 1000 BC to AD 1500.

West Africa case study area showing modern country borders and major rivers. Colors represent potential natural vegetation zones.

In the first stage of the project we described a series of societal subsistence categories to classify land use throughout sub-Saharan Africa during the study period (Kay and Kaplan, 2015). Each category encompasses the diet, technology, trade, and political organization of distinct societies that may be identified in archaeological and historical records. In the next step of the project, we will map the appearance of these categories in space and time. The maps will then be used as input to a model of human-environment interactions.

We are currently working on developing a time series of maps of these societal categories for a case study focusing on the central part of West Africa. West Africa is of particular interest during this period because of the strong environmental gradient, the early adoption of food production strategies, the irregular nature of the adoption of iron technology, and the existence of controversial theories relating to human-environment interactions in the region, e.g. human or natural causes for the opening of the Dahomey Gap.

The goal of this workshop was to assemble a group of experts in the fields of archaeology, archaeobotany, linguistics, and palaeoenvironmental studies in West Africa in order to critique and improve a prototype set of maps developed in advance. Through an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas, we were able to improve the confidence of our mapping of the distribution of various cultures, technologies, and subsistence strategies in time and space. Ultimately this will lead to validation of the general approach and maps developed for the ACACIA project, as well as promote international and interdisciplinary communication on the subject of West African subsistence and land cover change.

This workshop sought to address the following questions:

  1. What were the subsistence categories present in West Africa during the study period?
  2. How can these be best located in time and space?
  3. What are the data gaps in the archaeological, archaeobotanical, linguistic and palaeoenvironmental records?
  4. How can non-subsistence products (e.g. trade goods, or fiber crops) be better estimated/quantified?
  5. What questions about human-environment interaction in West Africa can modeling help to address?

A program for the workshop is available here.

Participants: Alexa Höhn, Andrea Kay, Barbara Eichhorn, Basil Davis, Carsten Lemmen, Dorian Fuller, Eric Huysecom, Jed Kaplan, John Shekeine, Julie Aleman, Julie Morin-Rivat, Katharina Neumann, Laurent Lespez, Leanne Phelps, Louis Champion, Marco Madella, Mats Widgren, Obianuju P. Umeji, Roger Blench, Ryan Hughes, Stefano Biagetti, Sylvain Ozainne, Ulrich Salzmann, and Veerle Linseele.

Partial funding for this workshop was provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation’s International Exploratory Workshop fund. PAGES provided financial support to enable early-career and African researchers to attend; this workshop supported the aims of the LandCover6k working group.