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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 detailHistoire humaine des forêts tropicales du nord du Bassin du Congo durant les deux derniers millénaires
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Biwolé, Achille; Bourland, Nils ULg et al

Scientific conference (2014, March 26)

Identifier les indices d’activités humaines anciennes et les mettre en relation avec la composition floristique actuelle grâce à une approche multidisciplinaire.

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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 detailAnalyzing soil charcoals to assess the naturalness of tropical forest
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Gorel, Anaïs-Pasiphaé; Daïnou, Kasso ULg et al

Conference (2013, June 26)

For conservation biology and sustainable management, the natural character of tropical forest is a crucial issue. Its assessment is usually based on ecological proxies such as forest composition and ... [more ▼]

For conservation biology and sustainable management, the natural character of tropical forest is a crucial issue. Its assessment is usually based on ecological proxies such as forest composition and structure. However the estimation made on this basis only considers short term processes at a local scale. In contrast the long term processes are appraised by palaeoecological proxies (such as pollen) at a regional scale. So as to assess the degree of naturalness of tropical ecosystems in a conservation perspective it is important to combine a long temporal scale as well as a fine resolution spatial scale. Such approaches using palaeoecological proxies have been recently tested in temperate Europe but little in tropical ecosystems. Nonetheless the long term preservation of the palaeoecological material and its broad presence in the environment are necessary conditions to fulfill. In this perspective soil charcoal appears to meet these requirements. In this paper we aimed at assessing the naturalness of tropical forest using soil charcoal from southeastern Cameroon. Fieldwork involving as well archaeology as botany was undertaken at 53 sites. We quantified charcoal in soil samples by layers of 10 cm taken from pits located in the center of plots of botanical inventory. Spatial projections were performed using statistics together with multivariate analyses. Radiocarbon dating allowed interpreting the temporal framework. Results showed 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. These practices shaped the forest over time which cannot be considered as natural anymore. This underlines the potential input of the use of palaeoecological material in conservation biology and sustainable management issues. Charcoal fragments are under taxonomical identification and may provide new insights on the long term history of forest composition. [less ▲]

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See detailHow closely are Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae) patches linked to past human disturbances in South-Eastern Cameroon
Bourland, Nils ULg; Cerisier, François; Daïnou, Kasso ULg et al

Conference (2013, June 26)

Studies conducted in the Congo Basin forests concluded that soil parameters and large disturbances induced by human activities since 3000–2000 BP could be the main driver for the persistence of long lived ... [more ▼]

Studies conducted in the Congo Basin forests concluded that soil parameters and large disturbances induced by human activities since 3000–2000 BP could be the main driver for the persistence of long lived light-demanding tall tree species. Today most of the timber species belong to this group, among them Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae). Like many other light-demanding trees, this species suffers from important regeneration problems. While the conditions for its establishment must have been met in the past, they obviously have become unfavourable. Because of ongoing logging activities and a natural decline of its populations, this species is recorded in both the IUCN Red List and the CITES Appendix II listings. Our goal was to investigate the roles of both pedological and anthropogenic factors in the persistence of forest patches characterized by this clustered species. Soil surveys, botanical inventories and anthracological excavations were conducted in three different forest sites located in south-eastern Cameroon. P. elata patches (3.3-14.7 ha) were studied and compared to their close surroundings. No statistical differences were observed between the results of botanical inventories conducted inside and outside the patches (Morisita-Horn indices from 0.69-0.77). Soils only differed in Fe content, but otherwise no significant differences could be observed. Charcoal is widespread and abundant in study sites, mostly inside the patches. Charcoal radiocarbon dating (2,150-195 BP) was consistent with decoration techniques of archaeological materials that we discovered. The average age of P. elata individuals coincides with fire events that occurred in a region where fires rarely occur naturally. We present evidence of past anthropogenic disturbances (human settlement, slash-and-burn cultivation) in the Congolese mixed moist semi-evergreen forest in south-eastern Cameroon. We discuss the potential influence of our findings on the management of light-demanding tall trees populations in a context of logging activities. [less ▲]

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See detailForest anomalies and human occupation in Central Africa during the last two millennia
Livingstone Smith, Alexandre; Beeckman, Hans; Cerisier, François et al

Conference (2012, June 23)

Central African rainforests are no longer considered as pristine, but as the outcome of a long history of changes due mainly to climatic variation. For the later part of the Holocene it has been ... [more ▼]

Central African rainforests are no longer considered as pristine, but as the outcome of a long history of changes due mainly to climatic variation. For the later part of the Holocene it has been hypothesised that climate changes together with human activities triggered modifications in terms of distribution and botanical composition. While developing a research project to explore the mechanisms of forest change, new research avenues for the archaeology of rainforests became apparent. In this paper, we outline the results of this approach, implemented on a forest concession (Cameroon). We introduce our methodology based on the analysis of botanical inventories (focused on large trees of human linked species and light demanding species), coupled to systematic core boring and test pits. A sampling strategy for the collection of charcoal and its identification is developed and archaeological remains found in association are analyzed at the Royal Museum for Central Africa. [less ▲]

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See detailCurrent Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae) patches in southeastern Cameroon: remnants of a long and rich Human-rainforest relationship?
Bourland, Nils ULg; Cerisier, François; Livingstone Smith, Alexandre et al

Poster (2012, June 23)

Pericopsis elata is one of the most valuable African timber species. This IUCN Red Listed tree suffers from a lack of regeneration, thus its current presence provokes questioning. Our work aimed at ... [more ▼]

Pericopsis elata is one of the most valuable African timber species. This IUCN Red Listed tree suffers from a lack of regeneration, thus its current presence provokes questioning. Our work aimed at understanding its origins so as to help securing its future. This study, lead away from engineering works, was conducted in four different sites located within the natural distribution area of the species and taking into account the different growing conditions were the species occurs. Our observations are based on an analysis of charcoal elements and pottery fragments discovered in subsurface layers of soils as well as current botanical and pedological surveys. Evidence of past human activities we found led to the assumption that this part of the Congo Basin was much more inhabited than previously thought. Some of the results obtained for P. elata could apply for other long lived light demanding species growing in the same environment [less ▲]

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See detailHow pristine is the Congo Basin forest ? Some answers from Erythrophleum spp. (Caesalpiniaceae) and Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae) natural stands in southeastern Cameroon
Bourland, Nils ULg; Livingstone Smith, Alexandre; Guion, Hélène ULg et al

Poster (2012, March 01)

Erythrophleum spp. and Pericopsis elata are two important African timber taxa suffering from regeneration problems. Those light demanding trees could have established in openings made by past human ... [more ▼]

Erythrophleum spp. and Pericopsis elata are two important African timber taxa suffering from regeneration problems. Those light demanding trees could have established in openings made by past human activities (mainly slash-and-burn cultivation). Our study aimed at verifying this assumption in a 340,000 ha forest concession in southeastern Cameroon. Anthracological excavations were made alongside transects opened in patches where those taxa occur as well as the surrounding environment. Numerous charcoal elements and some pottery fragments were found in excavated soils in all studied sites. Charcoals and pieces of pottery were found within the first 100 and 50 cm of soil, respectively. According to radiocarbon dating conducted on charcoals and burnt seeds, fires occurred between 2,150 to 195 years BP. This finding was consistent with the analysis of archaeological materials decoration techniques. Our results revealed intense past anthropological activities in this area, seriously questioning the assumption of a pristine Congo Basin [less ▲]

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See detailCould current Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae) patches in southeastern Cameroon be reasonably linked to past anthropogenic activities ?
Bourland, Nils ULg; Cerisier, François ULg; Livingstone Smith, Alexandre et al

Poster (2012, March 01)

Pericopsis elata is one of the most valuable African timber species. This IUCN Red Listed tree suffers from a lack of regeneration, thus its current presence provokes questioning. Our work aimed at ... [more ▼]

Pericopsis elata is one of the most valuable African timber species. This IUCN Red Listed tree suffers from a lack of regeneration, thus its current presence provokes questioning. Our work aimed at understanding its origins so as to help securing its future. This study, lead away from engineering works, was conducted in four different sites located within the natural distribution area of the species and took into account the different growing conditions were the species occurs. Our observations were based on an analysis of charcoal elements and pottery fragments discovered in subsurface layers of soils as well as on current botanical and pedological surveys. Discovered evidence of past human activities led to the assumption that this part of the Congo Basin was much more inhabited than previously thought. Some of the results obtained for P. elata could apply for other long lived light demanding species growing in the same environment. [less ▲]

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See detailA new methodological approach to try to link past disturbances and modern landscapes
Bourland, Nils ULg; Livingstone Smith, Alexandre; Doucet, Jean-Louis ULg

in Primate Tidings (2011, July), 24

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