African Archaeological Review

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 213–247 | Cite as

The Holocene Archaeological Sequence of Shum Laka Rock Shelter (Grassfields, Western Cameroon)

  • Philippe Lavachery
Article

Abstract

Until recently the Grassfields (western Cameroon), cradle of the Bantu languages, were an unknown zone from the archaeological point of view. The excavations of Shum Laka rock shelter by de Maret and his team brought the most complete sequence in West Africa, spanning the Late Pleistocene and the Holocene. After 20 millennia of microlithic tradition (Late Stone Age), a new culture, with macrolithic tools, polishing and pottery (Stone to Metal Age), slowly developed ca. 7000 B.P. onwards. From this early period on, forest hunting was associated with the exploitation of Canarium schweinfurthii. Around 4000 B.P., an industry with waisted axes, blades, and pottery had emerged. With a striking technological continuity, this culture survived throughout the Iron Age. Increasing importance and diversity of trees exploited through the “Stone to Metal Age” and the Iron Age suggests “arboriculture.” Regional comparisons show that, between 5000 and 2500 B.P., an original culture developed in the Grassfields and the Cross River basin.

Jusqu'à récemment, les Grassfields (Cameroun occidental), berceau des langues bantoues, étaient inconnus d'un point de vue archéologique. Les fouilles de l'abri de Shum Laka par de Maret et son équipe permirent d'établir la plus complète séquence d'Afrique occidentale, embrassant la fin du Pléistocène et l'Holocène. Après 20,000 millénaires de traditions microlithiques (Age de la Pierre Récent), une nouvelle culture, caractérisée par l'apparition d'outils macrolithiques, de polissage et de poterie (Age de la Pierre au Métal), se développe lentement à partir de 7000 B.P. Dès le début, la chasse en forêt est associée à l'exploitation de Canarium schweinfurthii. Vers 4000 B.P. une industrie avec haches à gorge, lames et poterie a émergé. Dans une continuité technologique surprenante, cette culture survivra à l'Age du Fer. L'arboriculture est suggérée par l'importance et la diversification des arbres exploités durant l'Age de la Pierre au Métal et l'Age du Fer. Des comparaisons régionales montrent que, entre 5000 et 2500 B.P., une culture originale se développe dans les Grassfields et le bassin de la Cross River.

Cameroon Grassfields Late Stone Age Stone to Metal Age Iron Age hunting arboriculture 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES CITED

  1. Asombang, R. N. (1988). Bamenda in Prehistory. The Evidence from the Fiye Nkwi, Mbi Crater and Shum Laka Rockshelters, PhD dissertation, University of London.Google Scholar
  2. Bastin, Y., Coupez, A., and de Halleux, B. (1983). Classification lexicostatistique des langues bantoues (214 relev´ es). Bulletin des Sc´ eances de l'Acad´ emie Royale des Sciences d'Outremer 27(2): 173–199.Google Scholar
  3. Blench, R. (1993). Recent developments in African language classifications and their implications for prehistory. In Shaw, T., Sinclair, P., Andah, B., and Okpoko, A. (eds.), The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, Routledge, London, pp. 126–138.Google Scholar
  4. Breunig, P., Neumann, K., and Van Neer, W. (1996). New research on the Holocene settlement and environment of the Chad Basin in Nigeria. African Archaeological Review 13(2): 111–145.Google Scholar
  5. Calvocoressi, D., and David, N. (1979). A new survey of radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dates for West Africa. Journal of African History 20(1): 1–19.Google Scholar
  6. Chikwendu, V. E. (1977). Afikpo Excavations May-June 1975: The Ugwuagu Rock Shelter (Site 1) and the Abandoned Habitation Site (Site 2), Ann Arbor, University Microfilms International.Google Scholar
  7. Chilver, E. M., and Kaberry, P. M. (1968). Traditional Bamenda. The Pre-Colonial History and Ethno-graphy of the Bamenda Grassfields, MPESW and WCAC, Yaound´ e.Google Scholar
  8. Clark, J. D., and Kleindienst, M. R. (1974). The Stone Age cultural sequence: Terminology, typology and raw material. In Clark, J. D. (ed.), Kalambo Falls Prehistoric Site. II: The Later Prehistoric Cultures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 71–106.Google Scholar
  9. Cornelissen, E. (1996). Shum Laka (Cameroon): Late Pleistocene deposits and Early Holocene de-posits. In Pwiti, G., and Soper, R. (eds.), Aspects of African Archaeology. Papers From the 10th Congress of the Panafrican Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, University of Zimbabwe Publications, Harare, pp. 257–264.Google Scholar
  10. David, N. (1980). Early Bantu expansion in the context of Central African prehistory: 4000–1 BC. In Bouquiaux, L. (ed.), L'Expansion Bantoue II, SELAF, Paris, pp. 609–647.Google Scholar
  11. David, N. (1982). Prehistory and historical linguistics in Central Africa: Points of contact. In Ehret, C., and Posnansky, M. (eds.), The Archaeological and Linguistic Reconstruction of African History, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 78–95.Google Scholar
  12. de Maret, P. (1980). Preliminary report on 1980 fieldwork in the Grassfields and Yaound´ e, Cameroon. Nyame Akuma 17: 10–12.Google Scholar
  13. de Maret, P. (1989). Le contexte arch´ eologique de l'expansion bantu en Afrique Centrale. In Obenga, T. (ed.), Les Peuples Bantu: Migrations, Expansion et Identit´ e Culturelle, Editions de l'Harmattan, Libreville, pp. 118–138.Google Scholar
  14. de Maret, P. (1994/1995). Pits, pots and the far west streams. Azania 29/30: 318–323.Google Scholar
  15. de Maret, P. (1996). Shum Laka (Cameroon): General perspectives. In Pwiti, G., and Soper, R. (eds.), Aspects of African Archaeology. Papers From the 10th Congress of the Panafrican Associa-tion for Prehistory and Related Studies, University of Zimbabwe Publications, Harare, pp. 275–280.Google Scholar
  16. de Maret, P., and Clist, B. (1987). Mission de fouilles 1987 en Guin´ ee-Equatoriale insulaire. Nsi 2: 32–35.Google Scholar
  17. de Maret, P., Clist, B., and Van Neer, W. (1987). R´ esultat des premi` eres fouilles dans les abris de Shum Laka et d'Abeke au Nord-Ouest du Cameroun. L'Anthropologie 91(2): 559–584.Google Scholar
  18. de Maret, P., Asombang, R., Cornelissen, E., Lavachery, P., and Moeyersons, J. (1993). Preliminary results of the 1991–1992 field season at Shum Laka, Northwestern Province, Cameroon. Nyame Akuma 39: 13–15.Google Scholar
  19. de Maret, P., Asombang, R., Cornelissen, E., Lavachery, P., and Moeyersons, J. (1995). Continuing research at Shum Laka rock shelter, Cameroon (1993–1994 field season). Nyame Akuma 43: 2–3.Google Scholar
  20. Ehret, C. (1982). Linguistic inferences about early Bantu history. In Ehret, C., and Posnansky, M. (eds.), The Archaeological and Linguistic Reconstruction of African History, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 57–65.Google Scholar
  21. Fagg, B. (1968). The Nok Culture: Excavations at Taruga. West African Journal of Archaeology 1: 27–30.Google Scholar
  22. Froment, A., Koppert, G. J. A., and Loung, J.-F. (1993). "Eat well, live well": Nutritional status and health of forest populations in southern Cameroon. In Hladik, C. M., Linares, O. F., Pagezy, H. Semple, A., and Hadley, M. (eds.), Tropical Forests, People and Food, UNESCO, New York, pp. 357–364.Google Scholar
  23. Greenberg, J. (1963). Languages of Africa, Mouton, The Hague.Google Scholar
  24. Grove, A. T. (1993). Africa's climate in the Holocene. In Shaw, T., Sinclair, P., Andah, B., and Okpoko, A. (eds.), The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, Routledge, London, pp. 32–42.Google Scholar
  25. Harris, D. R. (1976). Traditional systems of plant food production and the origins of agriculture in West Africa. In Harlan, J. R., de Wet, J. M. J., and Stemler, A. B. L. (eds.), Origins of African Plant Domestication, Mouton, The Hague, pp. 311–356.Google Scholar
  26. Hartle, D. D. (1980). Archaeology east of the Niger: A review of cultural-historical developments. In Swartz, B. K., and Dummett, R. (eds.), West African Culture Dynamics: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives, Mouton, The Hague, pp. 195–203.Google Scholar
  27. Hassan, F. A. (1996). Abrupt Holocene climatic events in Africa. In Pwiti, G., and Soper, R. (eds.), Aspects of African Archaeology. Papers from the 10th Congress of the Panafrican Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, University of Zimbabwe Publications, Harare, pp. 83–89.Google Scholar
  28. Heine, B. (1984). The dispersal of the Bantu peoples in the light of the linguistic evidence. Muntu 1: 21–35.Google Scholar
  29. Huysecom, E. (1996). D´ ecouverte r´ ecente d'un site stratifi´ e holoc` ene ` a Oundjougou, Mali: R´ esultats des deux missions pr´ eliminaires. Nyame Akuma 46: 59–71.Google Scholar
  30. Kadomura, H., and Kiyonaga, J. (1995). Origins of Grassfields landscape in the west Cameroon high-lands. In Kadomura, H. (ed.), Savannization Processes in Tropical Africa II, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Tokyo, pp. 47–85.Google Scholar
  31. Lavachery, P. (1996). Shum Laka Rockshelter Holocene deposits: From stone to metal (northwestern Cameroon). In Pwiti, G., and Soper, R. (eds.), Aspects of African Archaeology. Papers From the 10th Congress of the Panafrican Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, University of Zimbabwe Publications, Harare, pp. 265–274.Google Scholar
  32. Lavachery, P. (1998). De la Pierre au M´ etal: Arch´ eologie des D´epots Holoc` enes de l'Abri de Shum Laka (Cameroun), PhD dissertation, University of Brussels, Brussels.Google Scholar
  33. Lavachery, P., Cornelissen, E., Moeyersons, J., and de Maret, P. (1996). 30,000 ans d'occupation, 6 mois de fouilles: Shum Laka, un site exceptionnel en Afrique Centrale. Anthropologie et Pr´ ehistoire 107: 197–211.Google Scholar
  34. Letouzey, R. (1978). Notes phytog´ eographiques sur les palmiers du Cameroun. Adansonia 18: 293–325.Google Scholar
  35. Livingstone Smith, A., Gosselain, O., and de Maret, P. (1995). Rolling across Africa: Past and present of roulette decorated pottery. Paper read at the Archaeology in Africa Day Meeting, British Museum, London, 21 October 1995.Google Scholar
  36. MacDonald, K. C. (1997a). Kourounkorokal´ e revisited: The Pays Mande and the West African mi-crolithic technocomplex. African Archaeological Review 14(3): 161–200.Google Scholar
  37. MacDonald, K. C. (1997b). The Late Stone Age and Neolithic cultures of West Africa and the Sahara. In Vogel, J. O. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa, Altamira, Walnut Creek, pp. 394–398.Google Scholar
  38. Maley, J. (1993). The climatic and vegetational history of the equatorial regions of Africa during the upper Quarternary. In Shaw, T., Sinclair, P., Andah, B., and Okpoko, A. (eds.), The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, Routledge, London, pp. 43–52.Google Scholar
  39. Maley, J., and Brenac, P. (1998). Vegetation dynamics, palaeoenvironments and climatic changes in the forests of western Cameroon during the last 28,000 years BP. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 99: 157–187.Google Scholar
  40. Martin, A. (1962). Las industrias liticas de Fernando Poo. I. Industria "Carboneras." La Guinea Espagnoles 1: 289–314.Google Scholar
  41. Moeyersons, J. (1996a). Evolution of the Shum Laka rock shelter (western Cameroon) since Late Stone Age. In Pwiti, G., and Soper, R. (eds.), Aspects of African Archaeology. Papers From the 10th Congress of the Panafrican Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, University of Zimbabwe Publications, Harare, pp. 245–256.Google Scholar
  42. Moeyersons, J. (1996b). Rock shelter collapse as a possible reason for waterfall retreat in the Bafotchu-Mbu caldeira, western Cameroon. Zeitschrift f ¨ ur Geomorphologie Neue Folge 103: 345–358.Google Scholar
  43. Moeyersons, J. (1997). Geomorphological processes and their palaeoenvironmental significance at the Shum Laka cave (Bamenda, western Cameroon). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 133: 103–116.Google Scholar
  44. Moeyersons, J., Cornelissen, E., Lavachery, P., and Doutrelepont, H. (1996). L'abri sous roche de Shum Laka (Cameroun occidental): Donn´ ees climatologiques et occupation humaine depuis 30,000 ans. G´ eo-Eco-Trop 20(1–4): 39–60.Google Scholar
  45. Namur, C. (1990). Aper¸ cu sur la v´ eg´ etation de l'Afrique centrale atlantique. In Lanfranchi, R., and Schwartz, D. (eds.), Paysages Quaternaires de l'Afrique Centrale Atlantique, Editions de l'ORSTOM, Paris, pp. 60–67.Google Scholar
  46. Okafor, E. E., and Phillips, P. (1992). New 14C ages from Nsukka, Nigeria, and the origins of African metallurgy. Antiquity 66: 686–688.Google Scholar
  47. Orban, R., Ribot, I., and de Maret, P. (1996). Les restes humains de Shum Laka (Cameroun, LSA-Age du Fer). Anthropologie et Pr´ ehistoire 107: 213–225.Google Scholar
  48. Posnansky, M. (1968). Bantu genesis-archaeological reflexions. Journal of African History 9(1): 11–22.Google Scholar
  49. Roset, J.-P. (1987). Paleoclimatic and cultural conditions of neolithic development in the Early Holocene of northern Niger (A¨ýr and T´ en´ er´ e). In Close, A. (ed.), Prehistory of Arid North Africa. Essays in Honor of Fred Wendorf, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, pp. 211–234.Google Scholar
  50. Rowlands, M., and Warnier, J.-P. (1993). The magical production of iron in the Cameroon Grassfields. In Shaw, T., Sinclair, P., Andah, B., and Okpoko, A. (eds.), The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, Routledge, London, pp. 512–550.Google Scholar
  51. Schmidt, P. R., and Asombang, R. N. (1990). Archaeological survey in northwestern Cameroon. Nyame Akuma 34: 10–16.Google Scholar
  52. Shaw, T. (1944). Report on excavations carried out in the cave known as Bosumpra at Abetifi, Kwahu, Gold Coast Colony. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 10: 1–67.Google Scholar
  53. Shaw, T. (1978/1979). Holocene adaptations in West Africa: The Late Stone Age. Early Man News 3/4: 51–82.Google Scholar
  54. Shaw, T. (1984). Archaeological evidence and effects of food-producing in Nigeria. In Clark, J. D., and Brandt, S. A. (eds.), From Hunters to Farmers. The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 152–157.Google Scholar
  55. Shaw, T., and Daniels, S. G. H. (1984). Excavations at Iwo Eleru, Ondo State, Nigeria. West African Journal of Archaeology 14: 1–269.Google Scholar
  56. Soper, R. (1985). Roulette decoration on African pottery: Technical considerations, dating and distri-butions. African Archaeological Review 3: 29–51.Google Scholar
  57. Stahl, A. B (1985). Reinvestigation of Kintampo 6 rock shelter, Ghana: Implication for the nature of culture change. African Archaeological Review 3: 117–150.Google Scholar
  58. Stallcup, K. (1980). La g´ eographie linguistique des Grassfields. In Hyman, L. M., and Voorhoeve, J. (eds.), L'Expansion Bantoue, SELAF, Paris, pp. 43–57.Google Scholar
  59. Tessmann, G. (1923). Die Bubi auf Fernando Poo. V¨ olkerkundliche Einzelbeschreibung eines West-afrikanischen Negertammes, Folkwang, Darmstadt.Google Scholar
  60. Vansina, J. (1984). Western Bantu expansion. Journal of African History 25: 129–145.Google Scholar
  61. Vansina, J. (1985). Esquisse historique de l'agriculture en milieu forestier (Afrique Centrale). Muntu 2: 5–34.Google Scholar
  62. Vansina, J. (1990). Paths in the Rainforest: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.Google Scholar
  63. Warnier, J.-P. (1984). Histoire du peuplement et gen` ese des paysages dans l'ouest camerounais. Journal of African History 25: 395–410.Google Scholar
  64. Watters, J. R. (1989). Bantoid overview. In Bendor-Samuel, J. (ed.), The Niger-Congo Languages, University Press of America, New York, pp. 401–420.Google Scholar
  65. Williamson, K. (1993). Linguistic evidence for the use of some tree and tuber food plants in southern Nigeria. In Shaw, T., Sinclair, P., Andah, B., and Okpoko, A. (eds.), The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, Routledge, London, pp. 171–177.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philippe Lavachery
    • 1
  1. 1.Royal Museum for Central Africa, Section of PrehistoryUniversity of BrusselsTervurenBelgium

Personalised recommendations