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See detailRecords of human activity during the late-Holocene in the soils of the African dense humid forest
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Biwolé, Achille; Bourland, Nils ULg et al

Conference (2014, April 30)

Recently, several authors gathered data about the presence of past human populations in tropical regions covered by dense forest nowadays. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past ... [more ▼]

Recently, several authors gathered data about the presence of past human populations in tropical regions covered by dense forest nowadays. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past human settlements along the Atlantic coast, but very little information is available further inland. In this perspective, soil records seem to be the most appropriated so as to appraise the spatial and temporal extent of human activity in the African dense humid forest. In this paper, we thus aimed to present a synthesis of the archaeological and archaeobotanical data obtained during several fieldwork campaigns in an archaeologically unexplored area of 200,000 km² located in southern Cameroon and the northern Republic of Congo. A total of 275 test pits, among them 30 pedological pits up to 150 cm deep, were excavated in the study area. So as to get a long temporal scale as well as a fine resolution spatial scale, we quantified wood charcoal and charred endocarps in soil samples by layers of 10 cm taken for 100 pits located along transects of systematic sampling. Spatial projections were performed using statistics together with multivariate analyses. AMS radiocarbon dating allowed interpreting the temporal framework. Evidence of past human activities through either artifacts or charred botanical remains was observed in all pits, in particular with the ubiquitous presence of charcoal at each site. Main charcoal peaks were interpreted as fields (slash-and-burn agriculture) in the vicinity of ancient villages, the later marked by the presence of both potsherds and oil palm endocarps. The dichotomy of these kinds of activities may have impacted differentially the environment during the past. The set of 73 radiocarbon dates extending from 15,000 BP to the present time provided more dates in the late-Holocene showing a bimodal distribution which was interpreted as two phases of human expansion with an intermediate phase of population crash. The 2300–1300 BP phase is correlated with the migrations of supposed farming populations from northwestern Cameroon. Between 1300 and 670 BP, less material could be dated. Following that population collapse, the 670–20 BP phase corresponds to a new period of human expansion known as the Late Iron Age. The dates obtained support the established chronology reported for whole central Africa. This study underlines the necessity of fieldwork efforts and of the usefulness of archives sealed in soil records so as to bring new, extensive and precise evidence of human activities in the Congo Basin. [less ▲]

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See detailQuaternary rainforests of the Northern Congo Basin: contribution of charcoal analysis
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Bremond, Laurent; Gillet, Jean-François ULg et al

Conference (2014, March 27)

In comparison with the wood charcoals uncovered in the soils of the temperate regions, charcoals from the tropical regions remain little studied yet, in particular those from the dense humid forests of ... [more ▼]

In comparison with the wood charcoals uncovered in the soils of the temperate regions, charcoals from the tropical regions remain little studied yet, in particular those from the dense humid forests of Central Africa. Here we aim at showing the interest of the analysis of soil charcoals so as to understand the current environments through some examples of taxonomical identifications conducted on charcoals sampled in several soil pits in Cameroon and in the Republic of the Congo. These charcoals were hand-split then observed under an incident light microscope. The anatomical features that are hold in the charcoals and described according to a standard method were compared to wood samples from the reference collection of the RMCA. Results demonstrated that the identified species are still present in the vegetal environment today and that only limited changes occurred over the past two millennia. Charcoal analysis can thus allow a better understanding of the past history of the forests in relationship with the ancient disturbances. The temporal and spatial framework of human settlements as well as the impact of the colonial period on the evolution of the forest is also discussed. [less ▲]

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See detailThe end of roaming in the forest causes a loss of timber resources: the paradox of slash-and-burn agriculture
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Fayolle, Adeline ULg; Favier, Charly et al

Conference (2014, February 27)

Tropical forests are not believed as pristine anymore. Their structure and specific composition are induced by past climatic and human disturbances over years. In the African moist forests, the emergent ... [more ▼]

Tropical forests are not believed as pristine anymore. Their structure and specific composition are induced by past climatic and human disturbances over years. In the African moist forests, the emergent trees are mainly light-demanding. These trees are considered to derive from the recent disturbances of the last centuries. Most of them are exploited for their timber. However, several of these tree species are currently suffering from a lack of regeneration that threatens the specific diversity of the forests and the sustainability of timber exploitation. Through dendrometric and radiocarbon analyses we found that the majority of the trees of the Congo Basin are not older than 160 years. This corresponds to about the year 1850 when the Europeans colonized the inner regions of Central Africa. By reassembling people along the road axes, the colonial administration reduced the forest roaming. Former activities such as slash and burn agriculture created large openings in the canopy that allowed light-demanding tree species to establish. Currently we observed that timber logging does not provide openings large enough for the recruitment of these species. We thus anticipate that adjustments in forest management strategies shall be made to preserve the forest resources, for instance by recreating the conditions of slash and burn agriculture. [less ▲]

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See detailImprove the characterization of tropical forests to improve management: policy brief
Gourlet-Fleury, Sylvie; Aleman, Julie; Bayol, Nicolas et al

Report (2014)

CoForChange has shown that management plans based on timber stock recovery are not enough to ensure the sustainability of these production forests. The variability of forest characteristics and their ... [more ▼]

CoForChange has shown that management plans based on timber stock recovery are not enough to ensure the sustainability of these production forests. The variability of forest characteristics and their different responses to disturbance should be considered in management decisions. [less ▲]

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See detailNew Evidence of Human Activities during the Holocene in the Lowland Forests of the Northern Congo Basin
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Fayolle, Adeline ULg; Gillet, Jean-François et al

in Radiocarbon (2014), 56(1), 209-220

In the last decade, the myth of the pristine tropical forest has been seriously challenged. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past human settlements along the Atlantic forests ... [more ▼]

In the last decade, the myth of the pristine tropical forest has been seriously challenged. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past human settlements along the Atlantic forests, but very little information is available about human activities further inland. In this study, we aimed at determining the temporal and spatial patterns of human activities in an archaeologically unexplored area of 110,000 km² located in the northern Congo Basin and currently covered by dense forest. Fieldwork involving archaeology as well as archaeobotany was undertaken in 36 sites located in southeastern Cameroon and in the northern Republic of Congo. Evidence of past human activities through either artifacts or charred botanical remains was observed in all excavated test pits across the study area. The set of 43 radiocarbon dates extending from 15,000 BP to the present time showed a bimodal distribution in the Late Holocene which was interpreted as two phases of human expansion with an intermediate phase of depopulation. The 2300–1300 BP phase is correlated with the migrations of supposed farming populations from northwestern Cameroon. Between 1300 and 670 BP, less material could be dated. This is in agreement with the population collapse already reported for central Africa. Following this, the 670–20 BP phase corresponds to a new period of human expansion known as the Late Iron Age. These results bring new and extensive evidence of human activities in the northern Congo Basin and support the established chronology for human history in central Africa. [less ▲]

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See detailDe la paléoécologie à l'écologie actuelle : 2000 ans d'interaction homme-milieu dans le nord du Bassin du Congo
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Bentaleb, Ilham; Biwole, Achille ULg et al

Poster (2013, November 06)

La forêt tropicale africaine a longtemps été considérée comme vierge du passage de l’homme. Cependant, plusieurs études récentes en paléoécologie et archéologie ont démontré la présence d’activités ... [more ▼]

La forêt tropicale africaine a longtemps été considérée comme vierge du passage de l’homme. Cependant, plusieurs études récentes en paléoécologie et archéologie ont démontré la présence d’activités humaines anciennes à partir d’indices paléoenvironnementaux (i.e. pollens de plantes anthropophiles) et d’artefacts (i.e. tessons de céramique). Ces études sont toutefois trop rares en raison de difficultés de terrain pour repérer et accéder aux sites archéologiques (couvert végétale dense, absence de pistes). De grandes zones à l’intérieur des terres demeurent donc inexplorées. Par ailleurs, peu d’études se sont penchées sur la question de l’impact de ces activités anthropiques passées sur la structure et la composition de la végétation actuelle. Grâce à une approche multidisciplinaire à la frontière entre sciences humaines et sciences de l’environnement (archéologie, pédoanthracologie : charbons de bois des sols, écologie forestière), notre objectif est d’identifier des indices d’activités humaines anciennes, lesquels sont été mis en relation avec les patrons actuels de végétation. Nos trois zones d’étude sont localisées en forêt tropicale humide de type guinéo-congolais et sont réparties dans le sud-ouest et sud-est du Cameroun et le nord de la République du Congo. Le long d’une vingtaine de transects de plusieurs kilomètres, nous avons appliqué un protocole systématique de récolte de matériel archéologique et archéobotanique dans des fosses situées sur des parcelles d’inventaire botanique. Ceci nous a permis de récolter plus d’un millier d’échantillons contenant des macrorestes végétaux carbonisés ainsi que des artefacts inédits pour la région (pierre taillée et polie, tessons de céramique, scories de métallurgie) et d’inventorier la végétation dans l’environnement immédiat des découvertes. L’analyse spatiale et temporelle (chronologie relative et par datation radiocarbone) des macrorestes a permis d’identifier des villages entourés de probables champs agricoles (agriculture itinérante sur brûlis). Les 68 datations radiocarbones et les types céramiques obtenus suivent une chronologie archéologique en deux phases : un âge du Fer ancien entre 2300 et 1300 BP et un âge du Fer récent se poursuivant jusqu’à la période subactuelle, entre 670 et 20 BP. Entre ces deux phases d’occupation, les traces d’activités anthropiques sont rares. La première phase d’activités serait à mettre en relation avec une fragmentation de la forêt dense à la suite d’un épisode climatique aride autour de 2500 BP, permettant ainsi aux populations de pénétrer la forêt. Un épisode plus humide à partir de 800 BP, avec un retour d’un couvert plus dense, aurait fait reculer les populations humaines. Leur rétablissement dans les forêts se serait produit conjointement à des conditions plus sèches. Ces trois phases rejoignent la chronologie générale établie à l’échelle de l’Afrique centrale. Les premiers taxons identifiés parmi les macrorestes végétaux carbonisés, graines et charbons de bois, démontrent l’utilisation ancienne du palmier à huile et d’arbres fruitiers sauvages. Les espèces ligneuses identifiées sont présentes dans le cortège floristique actuel. L’identification taxonomique des charbons de bois devrait nous permettre de reconstituer l’environnement végétal au cours des deux derniers millénaires. Les différences observées dans les couverts forestiers passé et actuel en termes de composition floristique ainsi que la structure des peuplements actuels sont de bons indicateurs d’impacts récents de l’homme sur son milieu. [less ▲]

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See detailPerturbations récentes dans le Bassin du Congo : Contribution de l’anthracologie à une restitution paléoenvironnementale
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Hubau, Wannes; Gillet, Jean-François et al

Poster (2012, May 22)

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See detailRecent disturbances in the Congo Basin : an anthracological contribution to vegetation reconstructions
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Hubau, Wannes; Gillet, Jean-François ULg et al

Poster (2012, March 01)

In contrast to the well-known vegetation history of the northern hemisphere, few is known about past vegetation change in Central Africa. However, recent palaeoecological and biogeographical studies ... [more ▼]

In contrast to the well-known vegetation history of the northern hemisphere, few is known about past vegetation change in Central Africa. However, recent palaeoecological and biogeographical studies suggest that early human disturbances had a substantial influence on Central Africa vegetation patterns, particularly allowing the expansion of light-demanding species. This interesting hypothesis is the basis of one of the main research questions of the ERA-net BIODIVERSA CoForChange project: what was and is the relationship between (increasing) human activity and vegetation change? A recently developed protocol for the identification of ancient Central African charcoal fragments opened the door for vegetation reconstructions with a high spatial and taxonomical resolution. Therefore, we chose to study macro-charcoals from pedoanthracological profiles situated in N Congo and SE Camero0n. In total, 48 taxa were found in nine radiocarbon dated profiles. At the moment, three taxa have been identified down to species level. First, we found numerous fragments of Gilbertiodendron dewevrei under a current monodominant forest of G. dewevrei (40 cm depth, 1421-1327 cal. BP). This seems to confirm the presumption that monodominant forests of G. dewevrei, shade-bearer species, are relatively stable. Second, we evidenced the lack of Triplochiton scleroxylon charcoals under a T. scleroxylon stand, which could confirm the hypothesis of the recent nature of those stands. Finally, our results suggest that taxonomic diversity of charcoal findings in open canopy Marantaceae forests is greater than in dense forests. Pterocarpus soyauxii and Millettia drastica have been found under an open Marantaceae forest at 40 cm depth (1184-1055 cal. BP). The abundance of the light-demanding species P. soyauxii appears to be decreasing over time (levels 20 to 40 cm depth) to the benefit of giant herbs. Anthracology in Central Africa is on the rise and the first results of the CoForChange project are promising. More identifications will follow, resulting in a better understanding of the evolution of Central African forests. [less ▲]

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