African Archaeological Review

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 57–74 | Cite as

Problems in the interpretation of radiocarbon dates: the Pastoral Neolithic of East Africa

  • David Collett
  • Peter Robertshaw


For the Pastoral Neolithic of East Africa radiocarbon dates suggest two apparent anomalies in the archaeological record: pastoralism in the Central Rift at perhaps 7000 bp, and the very long duration of particular pottery traditions. This paper examines the dating evidence closely, in particular the assertion that apatite gives more reliable dates than collagen. Both the assertion and the anomalies appear to be false. It is shown that there is no firm evidence for pastoralism in East Africa before about 4000 bp. Similarly, the Narosura tradition is of shorter duration and more recent than previously supposed. The meagre dating evidence for the Namoratunga sites and its implications are also assessed. Examination of the dates for the Pastoral Iron Age shows that the Turkwel tradition is dated only by a single date and that the appearance of twisted cord rouletted pottery in the present millennium post-dates the end of stone tool manufacture by several centuries. The paper concludes with a plea for more critical assessment of radiocarbon dates and for greater rigour in their presentation.


Radiocarbon Date Archaeological Record Stone Tool Firm Evidence Tool Manufacture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


La datation par radiocarbone suggère pour le Néolithique pastoral de l'Afrique de l'est deux anomalies apparentes dans la séquence archéologique: l'existence d'une économie pastorale remontant peut-être à 7000 ans bp dans le Rift central, et la longue durée de certaines traditions céramiques. La présente contribution examine de près les circonstances de la datation et en particulier, l'affirmation selon laquelle les échantillons d'apatite donnent des dates plus fiables que celles obtenues du collagène. Cette assertion et les anomalies qui en découlent semblent être erronées. Il est démontré qu'il n'y a aucune preuve absolue signalant un Néolithique pastoral dans cette zone avant environ 4000 ans bp. De même, la tradition céramique dite ‘Narosura’ a une durée plus courte et plus récente qu'il était auparavant supposé. Les maigres preuves pour la datation des sites Namoratunga sont également examinées. Quant à l'Age du Fer pastoral, il semble que la tradition Turkwell n'est effectivement datée que par une seule déterminante, et que l'apparition au cours du millénaire actuel d'une céramique décorée par roulette de fil tordu date de plusieurs siècles après la fin de la fabrication d'outils en pierre taillée. L'article se termine avec un appel pour des évaluations plus critiques des datations par radiocarbone et pour plus de rigueur dans leur présentation.


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Copyright information

© Cambridge University Press 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Collett
  • Peter Robertshaw

There are no affiliations available

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