Agriculture and Wild Plant Use in the Middle Senegal River Valley, c. 800 BC—1000 AD

  • Daphne E. GallagherEmail author
  • Susan K. McIntosh
  • Shawn S. Murray


The histories of the diverse agricultural strategies used in the Middle Senegal River Valley (MSV) are poorly understood. The MSV is a productive inland floodplain environment located within the highly unpredictable West African Sahel, and is capable of reliable flood recession agriculture augmented by rain-fed strategies. Archaeological research from 1990–1993, directed by R. McIntosh, S. McIntosh, and H. Bocoum at Sincu Bara, Siwré and Cubalel sites along with additional excavations at Walaldé by A. Déme in 1998–1999 produced diverse archaeological materials spanning almost three millennia of occupation. These included an extensive archaeobotanical record comprising 315 flotation samples from 14 excavation units in which the period 800 BC–1000 AD is particularly well represented. This paper presents a synthesis of the archaeobotanical seed and fruit sequence from these sites, drawing upon previous work by several scholars, including Capezza, Fuller, Gallagher, M.A. Murray and S. Murray, to explore regional patterns in plant use. Results indicate that pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R.Br.) was cultivated in the MSV for almost 3000 years, and during this time residents also exploited a range of wild plants, including jujube ( Ziziphus sp.). In contrast, although common in the ethnohistoric record, sorghum ( Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) was extremely rare and cotton (Gossypium sp.) was not conclusively identified at any of the excavated sites. The absence and/or rarity of these important plants in the archaeobotanical record of the MSV may be a result of preservation biases or it may be that they were of lesser significance prior to 1000 AD.


Middle Senegal valley Senegal river Archaeobotany Archaeology Décrue agriculture Pearl millet Sorghum Ziziphus 



Many thanks to all of the archaeologists who contributed to the collection and analysis of the MSVAP botanical samples, in particular Cecilia Capezza, Dorian Fuller, Mary Anne Murray, and Mamadou Ndiaye. Funding for the MSVAP was provided by the National Science Foundation (grant BNS90-11811 and 9820919) and the National Geographic Society (grant 4397-90). The Dean of Social Sciences at Rice University, Lynn Ragsdale, generously funded the analysis of the archaeobotanical materials. Co-directors of the MSVAP were R.J. McIntosh, S.K. McIntosh, and H. Bocoum. We are grateful to all our key excavation and supervisory personnel: E. Davies, Alioune Déme, Sigrid Gabler, the late Ndèye Sokhna Guèye, Mary Anne Murray, Ibrahima Ndiaye, Gavin Rees, Moustapha Sall, the late Mansour Samb, Karol Stoker, and Ibrahima Thiaw. Thank you also to Anna Maria Mercuri and the Laboratorio di Palinologia e Paleobotanica for organizing IWAA8, to the volume editors for their encouragement and support and to two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daphne E. Gallagher
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susan K. McIntosh
    • 2
  • Shawn S. Murray
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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