Morin-Rivat J._High spatial resolution of late-Holocene

Morin-Rivat J., Biwolé A., Gorel A.P., Vleminckx J., Gillet J.F., Bourland N., Hardy O.J., Livingstone Smith A., Daïnou K., Dedry L., Hans Beeckman H., Doucet J.L.

[2016] High spatial resolution of late-Holocene human activities in the moist forests of central Africa using soil charcoal and charred botanical remains. The Holocene 26(12) 1954–1967

Palaeoecological and archaeological studies have demonstrated that human populations have long inhabited the moist forests of central Africa. However, spatial and temporal patterns of human activities have hardly been investigated with satisfactory accuracy. In this study, we propose to characterize past human activities at local scale by using a systematic quantitative and qualitative methodology based on soil charcoal and charred botanical remains. A total of 88 equidistant test-pits were excavated along six transects in two contrasting forest types in southern Cameroon. Charred botanical remains were collected by water-sieving and sorted by type (wood charcoals, oil palm endocarps and unidentified seeds). A total of 50 Accelerator Mass Spectrometry 14C dates were also obtained. Results showed that charred macroremains were found at multiple places in the forest, suggesting scattered human activities, which were distributed into two main periods (Phase A: 2300–1300 BP; Phase B: 580 BP to the present). Charred botanical remains indicated two types of land-use: (1) domestic, with oil palm endocarps most often associated with potsherds (villages) and (2) agricultural, with charcoal as probable remnant of slash-and-burn cultivation (fields). Oil palm endocarp abundance decreased with distance from the identified human settlements. Our methodology allowed documenting, at high resolution, the spatial and temporal patterns of human activities in central African moist forests and could be applied to other tropical contexts.

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