Hunter-Gatherer Interaction and Learning from the Pastoralist Past

This month, a news article in Science focussed on Jeff Leach’s latest research among the Hadza. Jeff’s previous positions, such as in the archaeology department at the University of Leicester might, at first glance, suggest a change of direction when compared with his current position at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine but in truth his research has always focussed on the effects of diet on an individual. Indeed, his research career is based on a very personal story and, however much the ‘palaeodiet’ fad may, to my cynical eyes, appear to be a direct descendent of the noble savage paradigm, his research may turn out to be important.

Part of me wonders at the way in which such projects are typically reported, however. ‘One of the few last remaining hunter-gatherer peoples’ can often be swallowed and spat back out by the media as ‘endangered’. Indeed, the Hadza are themselves often portrayed in this way (I chose that link not because of any exceptional reporting content but because it has some very good photographs!). The truth is probably rather more complex than that, however. The Hadza are, it is true, surrounded by modern life. The thing is, they always have been. Today it’s a disinterested (embarrassed? well-meaning?) government, before that it was farmers, but, before that, it was pastoralists. It’s only the nature of the ‘modern’ that changes in this story and we could perhaps place more emphasis on the cultural resistance of the Hadza.

image

Long-time readers of this ‘blog will be aware of our catchily named ‘Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania’ project, which focuses on identifying the spread of pastoralism in Sub-Saharan Africa. An important contextual area of study for that though is to understand the mechanism for spread and, therefore, herder/hunter-gatherer interactions (an important primary research interest for Mary Prendergast, one of the project’s co-directors). From a zooarchaeological point of view, for example, it’s probably overly simplistic to suggest that an assemblage containing domesticated animals from this period is necessarily produced by pastoralists – trading and raiding undoubtedly took place on both sides, just as they continue to do so today.

That said, the presence of domesticated animals clearly indicates that pastoralists, with their livestock, were in the area if not on the site, which does at least help us to identify the spread of the phenomenon. Understanding the nature of that spread is probably a topic which will continue to be debated for the rest of my lifetime. Following our fieldwork in 2012, we are now able to confidently assert that this spread was occurring in Northern Tanzania at least as early as 1023-846 BC. We published this date as part of an article in Azania last month, discussing the results of one part of our survey work that year. The full abstract for the paper is repeated after the break.

lion skeleton

www.zooarchaeology.co.uk

Pastoral Neolithic sites on the southern Mbulu Plateau, Tanzania

As part of a larger project examining the introduction of herding into northern Tanzania, surveys and excavations were conducted at the southern edge of the Mbulu Plateau, documenting the presence of Narosura ceramics dating to the early third millennium BP, as well as a Later Stone Age occupation dated via ostrich eggshell to the tenth millennium BP. This marks the southernmost extent of the Pastoral Neolithic in eastern Africa. The paucity of sites attributable to early herding in this area may be due to a lack of survey in landscapes likely to have been preferred by livestock owners and to extensive contemporary cultivation in those same areas. Links can be drawn between the study area and previously documented sites with Narosura materials near Lake Eyasi, and between the study area and obsidian sources in the Lake Naivasha area of the Rift Valley, making the plateau and its surroundings a potentially promising area for further research.


Season’s Greetings

This has been another very busy year for me: fieldwork for projects in Mongolia and Tanzania has been completed and post-excavation work has continued on the material from Nigeria, whilst my PhD research has been refined and refocused.  We decided from the beginning that the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project should involve only one year of fieldwork; we now begin the process of consolidating our research from that project and the Khanuy Valley Project, planning how best to develop knowledge and our interest in Mongolian Bronze and Iron Age cultures further.  The Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania, meanwhile, was envisaged as a pilot project and, having met our research goals for that project we await news to hear whether or not the project will enter its mature phase.

All in all, 2013 promises to provide significant new opportunities and, more pleasingly still, the fruition of the work of several previous years.  As I look forward to the new year I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues and clients for their help and support in the last year and to wish them A Very Happy Yule.

lion skeleton

www.zooarchaeology.co.uk


It’s December Already!

November flew by so fast I barely even noticed it had arrived, much less that I hadn’t posted an update here…

I do remember the month started with the AEA conference in Reading, where our paper “No Flies on Us: The Diffusion of the Neolithic in Africa” was rather well received.  Assuming that the audience contained few delegates with specific knowledge of African archaeology in this period, it was largely an introduction to our project in Tanzania: what we’re doing and why.  Some perceptive questions were asked in the wake of the paper, with many more being aired during the breaks over the rest of the weekend.  My report of the whole of the conference can be found in the latest AEA newsletter.

Beyond that, a couple of reports were finished and a lot of work on my PhD was accomplished.

I’ll be sure to be more prompt next month!


Anti-Diluvian

As the Biblical inundation began earlier this week, I had the unexpected pleasure of welcoming my colleague Akin Ogundiran to York.  It’s fortunate that we had much to discuss and that he hadn’t come to see the sights!

I, too, have been fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of work to do from home in the last week; not having to venture forth into the lake that used to be a city since seeing Akin safely back to the train station (from whence I can only hope he travelled safely).  The first fruit of that work is my assessment of the faunal remains from UVS40, a site we worked at in Tanzania this year as a part of the Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project.  This will shortly be available for download both from the publications page here and from my Mendeley profile.

lion skeleton

www.zooarchaeology.co.uk


Whatever Happened to August?

As regular visitors to this website will know, I spent almost the entirety of August in Tanzania as a member of the Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project team.  As a pilot project, the main aim of the field season was to try and find sites for future further investigation.  Accordingly, I spent most of my time conducting targeted foot IMG_1378survey in the Engaruka and Manyara basins, as well as in the Ufana River Valley.  Some promising sites were found and test excavations and/or shovel pit surveys were used to further explore some of these sites: we await C14 dating results to establish our success (or otherwise)!  A more detailed overview of the current state of play will be given at the AEA conference in Reading, in November, in our presentation entitled “No Flies on Us” (for more details on that see either the last post here or my Academia.edu profile.

From Tanzania, I flew directly (well, indirectly) to Helsinki for this year’s EAA conference.  There I co-presented a paper describing what investigation of ethnographic sites in Mongolia can reveal to us about burnt animal bones in the archaeological record (again, further details can be found on my Academia.edu page).  Our paper was well received and provoked a good deal of discussion throughout the rest of the day.  The day before that, meanwhile, I had co-chaired a session concerning the integration of artefactual and environmental approaches to understanding urban Mediaeval life in Europe.  This, too, was generally well received with some excellent papers provoking a good deal of debate which we were happy to make time for.  We’re currently in discussion with publishers about printing the proceedings of the session: based on what we’ve seen so far Ben, Idoia and I are very excited to see this through.

Finally, I was brought quickly back to “normal life” (whatever that is for an archaeologist) when, one day after arriving home in York, I spent the rest of the week teaching as a part of the Introduction to Zooarchaeology short course at the University of Sheffield.  This course went very well: there was broad agreement that it was the best one yet and we had a terrific group of students.  That was the fifth time we’ve run the course and it will return again in 2013 alongside a new advanced course – watch this space!  Of course, if you happen to live in Yorkshire and are interested in learning more about zooarchaeology, bookings are now open for both the Introduction to Zooarchaeology and Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology courses at the University of York.

lion skeleton

www.zooarchaeology.co.uk


All Quiet?

Things haven’t been quite so quiet around here as my silence would suggest.  We managed to gather some very useful ethnoarchaeological data on the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project, but while I was away my laptop broke: hence the deafening silence here.

In that time I’ve had copies of book reviews published of Living With Herds by Natasha Fijn (in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society) and Food, Craft and Status in Medieval Winchester by Dale Serjeantson and Helen Rees (in Hortulus).  Both are available now via my Academia.edu profile.

In terms of the dissemination of research, I also heard that a paper jointly presented with Mary Prendergast, Oula Seitsonen, Katherine Grillo and Audax Mabulla has been accepted for this year’s AEA conference in Reading, concerning the spread of Pastoralism in East Africa.  A full copy of the abstract for this is given after the break.

On the teaching front, the next Introduction to Zooarchaeology short course at the University of Sheffield has now been fully booked, dates about the next one will be published here when they are settled.  Bookings are now open though for both the Introduction to Zooarchaeology and Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology courses at the University of York.

After such a lightening round up it only remains for me to excuse myself for another absence.  My bag is now packed and I’m about to leave for more fieldwork as part of the Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project.  Before returning home and teaching in Sheffield I’ll be visiting Helsinki for the EAA conference; I may be able to access the internet and post something from there but otherwise I’ll be out of contact until the second week of September.

lion skeleton

www.zooarchaeology.co.uk

 

No Flies on Us: The Diffusion of the Neolithic in Africa

BRODERICK, Lee G.1; PRENDERGAST, Mary2; SEITSONEN, Oula3; GRILLO, Katherine4; MABULLA, Audax5

The emergence of the Neolithic in Sub-Saharan Africa was not accompanied by a move towards sedentism, as in many other parts of the world, but instead accompanied the diffusion of a nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. Although pastoralist Neolithic sites are known in both East and West Africa as well as in Southern Africa, the precise route, timing and method of this diffusion through a tropical environment which would require acclimatisation to different ecologies and diseases is still the subject of some conjecture but two competing models have gained wide support among archaeologists working in the area. The more favoured model supposes that livestock (and, therefore, pastoralists) could have moved relatively freely through a tse-tse fly free corridor in the eastern side of the continent stretching from modern day Kenya to South Africa.

The Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project was conceived to identify sites in the northern most part of this corridor in order to test this theory and to examine issues of Neolithic – Hunter-Gatherer interaction. This presentation aims to highlight the on-going work to answer some of these questions through the initial results of the zooarchaeological analysis of the sites identified thus far.

1, Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King’s Manor, York. YO1 7EP. UK. 2, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, St. Louis University in Madrid, Avenida del Valle, 34 28003 Madrid. Spain. 3, Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 64, FI-00014. Finland. 4, Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1114, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA. 5, Archaeology Unit, P.O. Box 35050, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam. Tanzania.