The Environmental Transition of the Iron Age in Africa

Start: Jun 17, 2014 09:45 AM
End: Jun 19, 2014 12:30 PM

Location: Room 612, Institute of Archaeology

Traditional farming in central Ethiopia

A workshop highlighting research of the ACACIA Project (University of Lausanne: ARVE) with the Institute's ComPAg project is being held at the Institute from 17-19 June.

The advent of the Iron Age in Africa marks the beginning one of the most important transformations of the Earth during the preindustrial Holocene. In contrast to Eurasia, where agriculture and metallurgy developed and spread slowly over thousands of years, the “Iron Age package” of domesticated plants and animals, ferrous metallurgy, and social organization expanded rapidly through sub-Saharan Africa over the period 2500 BC to AD 1000. This revolution in human lifestyles fundamentally altered Africans’ relationship with their environment.

Yet despite the large amount of research on the prehistory of Africa, the drivers of economic and societal development during the Iron Age continue to be the subject of vigorous debate. The role of environmental change, both as an exogenous factor, e.g., through large-scale climate change, and as an endogenous one, e.g., through the degradation of sensitive ecosystems as a result of anthropogenic deforestation and erosion is largely unquantified.

The Environmental Transition of the Iron Age in Africa

The ACACIA project tackles the problem of the co-evolution of society and environment in Iron Age Africa. We study the importance of environmental changes, both exogenous, e.g., climate change, and endogenous, e.g., human-induced soil erosion, on the potential for human modification of the landscape. In this project we ask the questions:

  1. Given their economy, technology, and subsistence strategies, how much impact would Iron Age Africans have had on their environment in terms of deforestation, erosion and depletion of soil nutrients?
  2. What does a large-scale synthesis of terrestrial paleo-records show in terms of the temporal and spatial trend of land cover change?
  3. How sensitive were the ecosystems they inhabited to exogenous and endogenous environmental change? Could these ecosystems recover from human disturbance? Over what timescale?

This project kick-off workshop will bring together experts on the history of human and environmental change in Africa. Through a series of presentations and discussion, we aim to stimulate interdisciplinary communication and better understand the current state of knowledge and approaches to addressing the project research questions.

The workshop is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation through the grant ACACIA, Jed O. Kaplan, Basil Davis, and Carsten Lemmen, PIs, and the UCL Institute of Archaeology’s ComPAg project. The workshop will also support the activities of at least three current European Research Council Projects: COEVOLVE (PI Jed O. Kaplan), ComPAg (PI Dorian Fuller) and SEALINKS (PI Nicole Boivin).

For those interested in participating in the workshop, who are not already signed up, please contact Chris Stevens.