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The Agricultural Revolution in PrehistoryWhy did Foragers become Farmers?$
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Graeme Barker

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199281091

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199281091.001.0001

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Africa: Afro-Asiatic Pastoralists and Bantu Farmers?

Africa: Afro-Asiatic Pastoralists and Bantu Farmers?

(p.273) 8 Africa: Afro-Asiatic Pastoralists and Bantu Farmers?
The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory

Graeme Barker

Oxford University Press

Africa, the cradle of humankind several million years ago, was also where anatomically modern humans first developed over 150,000 years ago. Yet our understanding of how these people eventually became farmers is still very limited. A generation ago Thurston Shaw commented that, in comparison with other parts of the world, ‘Africa lags behind. . . in relation to archaeological research and in knowledge about the beginnings of food production’ (Shaw, 1977: 108). Ann Stahl’s review of the topic a few years later made the same observation: ‘research into the origins of African agriculture lags ten to fifteen years behind studies of early agriculture elsewhere’ (Stahl, 1984: 19). In many regions, archaeologists in the 1970s and 1980s were still attempting to establish the most basic chronological framework of artefactual sequences, let alone recover the biological remains that could show when agricultural activities began (Hall, 1996). Many parts of the continent have endured decades of political unrest and military conflict, making archaeological fieldwork impossible for long periods. The equatorial forests are particularly under-researched because of the combination of political unrest, the difficulties of conducting fieldwork in forest, and poor preservation conditions of organic remains. Our understanding of the archaeological history of human settlement in these vast regions is still extremely rudimentary. For countries grappling with tremendous problems of underdevelopment, funding archaeologists in museums and universities can inevitably be a low priority. The number of professional archaeologists engaged in fieldwork on the African continent, indigenous Africans especially, is still extremely small. Distribution maps of archaeological sites are often primarily an indication of where archaeologists have been able to work. Despite these considerable challenges, however, recent studies have started to transformlong-standing ideas about when, how, and why people in Africa started to practise plant and animal husbandry (Fig. 8.1). The northern margins of the continent are Mediterranean in climate and environment, and the beginnings of farming there are best understood as part of the wider settlement history of the Mediterranean basin discussed in the next chapter. The Saharan desert in places reaches right to the coast, for example at Libya’s Gulf of Sirte, but elsewhere the Mediterranean zone can be up to 200 kilometres deep, notably in the mountainous region known as the Maghreb that embraces much of Morocco, northern Algeria, and northern Tunisia.

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