Lower Tilemsi Valley Project

Fully articulated cow burial dating to 2600cal BC

Malian agro-pastoral systems

SEM image of chaff impression of earliest domesticated pearl millet (2400 cal BC)

The Lower Tilemsi Valley Project (2005-8), a collaborative project with the Direction National du Patrimoine Culturelle in Bamako, and the Direction Régional de la Jeunnesse in Gao, examined the emergence of agro-pastoral systems in the Lower Tilemsi Valley, Mali, focusing on the relationship between increasing aridification and pastoral mobility.

This research yielded a number of remarkable discoveries, pushing back the dates for emergent sedentism and social complexity in this part of the world. These finds include the earliest evidence for cereal domestication in sub-Saharan Africa (c.2200 cal BC), the earliest evidence for dental modification in Africa (c. 2500 cal. BC), and a foundational cattle burial/shrine representing the first appearance of domestic cattle south of the Sahara, c.2600 cal BC.

Over the course of two fieldwork seasons in 2005/2006 and 2007 a total of 86 multi-period sites were identified, and six of the Late Stone Age (LSA) settlement mounds were test excavated. All of these sites date to between 2600 and 2000 cal. BC.

Projectile points from Karkarichinkat Nord, Lower Tilemsi Valley

Stable isotope analysis was undertaken on the human remains, and Bayesian modeling of over 30 AMS and OSL dates has produced a robust chronological sequence for the region.

Analysis of the ceramics, faunal and palaeobotanical remains and small finds reveals a social system on the brink of major socio-economic change. At a time of increasing aridification along the Sahara-Sahel borderlands, the Tilemsi Valley continued as an optimal ecological zone, with abundant grazing territory, wild game, aquatic resources and raw materials of quartz and carnelian.

In this context, the Lower Tilemsi Valley represents a focal zone in the development of agro-pastoralism and increasing cultural complexity in the West African Sahel.

Related outputs

  • Manning, K. (2011 In Press). The first herders of the West African Sahel: inter-site comparative analysis of zooarchaeological data from the Lower Tilemsi Valley, Mali. Journal of African Archaeology Monograph Series
  • Manning, K. (2011). Potter Communities and Technological Tradition in the Lower Tilemsi Valley, Mali. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 46 (1): 70-87
  • Manning, K., Pelling, R., Higham, T., Schwenninger, J-L., and Fuller, D. (2011) 4500-year old Domesticated Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum) from the Tilemsi Valley, Mali: new insights into an alternative cereal domestication pathway in Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 312-322
  • Manning, K. (2010). A developmental history of West African agriculture. In P. Allsworth Jones (ed.) West African Archaeology: New Developments, New Perspectives. BAR International Series. Archaeopress: Oxford.
  • Manning, K. (2008) Mobility amongst LSA Sahelian pastoral groups. A view from the Lower Tilemsi Valley, Eastern Mali. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 23 (2): 125-145
  • Finucane, B., Manning, K. and Touré, M. (2008) Late Stone Age subsistence in the Tilemsi Valley, Mali. Stable isotope analysis of human and animal remains from the site of Karkarichinkat Nord (KN05) and Karkarichinkat Sud (KS05). Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27: 2-92
  • Finucane, B., Manning, K. and Touré, M. (2008) Prehistoric Dental Modification in West Africa: Early Evidence from Karkarichinkat Nord, Mali. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 18 (6): 632-640


The Lower Tilemsi Valley Project was funded by:

  • AHRC (Doctoral award)
  • University of Oxford Meyerstein award
  • British Institute in Eastern Africa
  • Emislie Horniman Research Grant (Royal Anthropological Institute)

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