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Later Prehistory in the Horn of Africa

This research program focuses on the technological and socio-economic changes of human populations of the Horn of Africa from thirty thousand years ago up to the beginning of the Common Era. It relies on a research team made of people that have been working together for a long time, and revolves around four interconnected projects developed within the framework of partnerships with the CFEE and French research laboratories, as well as the Authority for Research and Conservation of the Cultural Heritage (ARCCH, Ethiopia) for fieldworks in Ethiopia.

There are many different theoretical models trying to explain the neolithisation process during the Later Prehistory as well as the worldwide change from an economy of predation to an economy of production. These models are alternatively based on the consideration of factors related to the social, mental and cultural background required for the emergence of new practices, the population growth associated with climate stability suitable for settling, the stratification and specialisation of societies, or the ecologic and climatic determinism that pushes populations to come up with socio-economic adaptive responses. Hypotheses regarding the way in which the economy of production spread are contradictory, suggesting either wide movements of populations or the acculturation of small cultural isolates via contact, exchanges or transfer of ideas. The Prehistory research program of the CFEE contributes to the understanding of these various scenarios. For this purpose, Environmental Geosciences, Archaeology, and Paleodemography are combined.

When it comes to the elaboration of interpretative models related to sites and archaeological remains, the ethnographic approach is employed as well. In Archaeology, for instance, a strong cultural value is ascribed to pieces of furniture. They can be seen as indicators of individual differentiation (as the emblematic figure of the craftsman who made it) and as indicators of collective differentiation (since the way of making and decorating an object reflects the cultural identity of a society) at the same time. This assumption is based on researches in Ethnology and Psychomotricity which have all demonstrated that when a craftsman models a material, buys a raw material, choses a specific modelling technique or a decoration to be added to an object, he does so by using the knowledge acquired in a community where traditions, rituals and taboos are fundamental. Skills thus act as ‘immobilisers’ of the current cultural model of a given society.

Archaeological records are consequently studied from different, interconnected, analytical perspectives. Since technical traditions are linked to identities and vary from one group to another, it is possible to create a map of social boundaries by working on the geographical distribution of features of the material culture. Innovations in terms of practices are revealed by looking at the evolution of ways and modalities of making through time. Exchange networks can be established by tracking objects and techniques that spread. This research program also focuses on techniques sharing between different social groups as well as cultural mix.

Late Stone Age Sequence in Eastern Africa
The fieldwork of this Ethio-FrenchPrehistory project directed by François Bon and Asamerew Dessie since 2007 takes place in the area of the Ethiopian lakes (Ziway, Langano, Abijata). The main interests of these sites for the study of technological change during the Late Pleistocene and the Holocene lie in the remarkable quality of their archaeological records as well as the ability to establish precise correlations between population dynamics and major climate changes in this part of the Rift Valley.
These considerations shall allow us to establish a major sequence of reference for this area. Our approach includes a major dating project, surveys studying raw material sources (obsidian, project directed by Lamya Khalidi, UMR 5133 ArchéOrient, Lyon), as well as the study of the hydrology of lakes. Our project also serves as a basis for several ethno-archaeological surveys of ceramic productions (project directed by Jessie Cauliez and Claire Manen, see below). It thus contributes to the understanding of sites formation processes, social mechanisms of archaeological records production, as well as the evolution of livelihood strategies.
Several academic works, including two PhD theses, have been produced in the framework of this mission, which is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. The interdisciplinary project Big Dry, which started in 2015 with the support of the French National Research Agency (ANR) in Paris, builds on the outcomes of this research.
The Ethio-French Prehistory projectLate Stone Age Sequence in Eastern Africabenefits from the support of the CFEE as well as the of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MAEDI) since 2007.
See the page of the project on the website of TRACES

“Big Dry”. Rupture and continuity in the late Pleistocene settlement of Africa : Paleoanthropology, Archaeology and palaeoenvironment compared between the Rift and Nile Valleys within their continental context
Coordinated by François Bon, the project aims at conducting a comparative analysis of the archaeological, anthropological, and environmental data of the Nile Valley and the Rift Valley during the last millennia of the Pleistocene.
Its aim is to test the hypothesis according to which the Last Glacial Maximum, the ‘Big Dry’, played a decisive role in the lifestyle of human populations, their adaptive strategies, their migrations, the extent of the territories they inhabited, and their demography. Length of the project : 2015-2018.
This project brings together the teams of the following research laboratories : TRACES in Toulouse, PACEA (UMR 5199) in Bordeaux, and the UMRs 7194 (HNHP - Histoire naturelle de l’homme préhistorique) and 7209 (Archéozoologie et archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements) in the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. The CFEE is our partner in Addis Ababa.

Diffusion and transmission of ceramics techniques and styles in the Ethiopian Rift : Ethnoarchaeological studies of Oromo, Wolayta and Waata potters communities (Arsi Zone West Arsi Zone, Oromiya Region)
This project is directed by Jessie Cauliez and Claire Manen. It is realised in collaboration with the ANR project DiffCeram directed by Valentine Roux, in partnership with the CFEE in Addis Ababa. This ethno-archaeological project deals with Ethiopian pottery traditions developed by three communities, namely the Wolaytas, the Oromos and the Waatas in the context of home production. This research program aims at finding a model to interpret the process of archaeological diffusion and the dynamics that play a role in the evolution of cultural features and societies in Prehistory. In order to have a better understanding of the modalities of dissemination and transfer of craftsmanship practices and related sociological phenomena, we want to characterise the learning and transmission mechanisms of pottery traditions among individuals and communities by looking at the way a given technical or stylistic feature is borrowed or not. Length of the project : 2011-2018.
This research is based on two financed projects : a project of the Fyssen foundation (directed by J. Cauliez and C. Manen), and part of the ANR project DiffCeram (directed by V. Roux) that will end in 2016. The coming years will be devoted to the creation of a reference system in archaeometry taking into account the various steps of the modus operandi in partnership with the Institut de recherche sur les Archéomatériaux – Centre de recherche en physique appliquée à l’Archéologie (IRAMAT, Bordeaux, UMR 5060) that began in 2015.

First societies of production in the Horn of Africa
The project “First societies of production in the Horn of Africa” is directed by Jessie Cauliez. It focuses on the emergence of the first peasant societies in the Horn of Africa, from the beginning of an economy of production to the introduction of Islam in the Horn, with a special interest for fieldwork in the area of the Gobaad Plain in Djibouti, between Dikhil and Lake Abbe, in the ‘Afar triangle’, at the north end of the Rift Valley towards the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. A comprehensive analysis of the Holocene settlement is carried out using surveys, sampling, excavation of settlement sites and funerary monuments, as well as the study of rock art. The project aims at understanding the evolution of the first societies of production, measuring the speed of dissemination of the economy of production in the Horn of Africa, as well as understanding the parameters that play a role in the process and the importance of the environemental component. Lenght of the project : 2013 – 2018 (minimum).
The project is financed by the MAEDI, the ANR prjectBig Dry, the Embassy of France in Djibouti, and the research laboratory Archéologie des Sociétés Méditerranéennes (UMR 5140, Montpellier). It serves as a basis for the project “VaporAfar” directed by Lamya Khalidi which focuses on the dissemination and exchange networks of obsidian durind the Neolithic (partly in Ethiopia). The CFEE is a partner of this project.

Follow the news of this research program on the blog of the CFEE :

Bon F. and Fauvelle-Aymar F.-X., 2014 : Prehistory of East Africa. In : P. Bahn et C. Renfrew eds, The Cambridge World Prehistory, New York, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1, p. 220-239.

Bon F., Asamerew Dessie, Bruxelles L., Daussy A., Douze K., Fauvelle-Aymar F.-X., Khalidi L., Lesur J., Ménard C., Marder O., Mensan R. and Saint-Sever G., 2013 : Archéologie préhistorique de la partie centrale du Main Ethiopian Rift (bassin lacustre de Ziway-Shala) : contribution à l’établissement de la séquence Late Stone Age d’Afrique orientale (LSA Sequence in Ethiopia), Annales d’Ethiopie, 28, p. 261-297.

Bon F., Asamerew Dessie, Mensan R. and Fauvelle-Aymar F.-X., 2006 : Mission de prospection en archéologie préhistorique (LSA) dans la région des lacs d’Ethiopie (Koka, Ziway, Langano, Abijata). Annales d’Ethiopie, 22, p. 85-129.

Cauliez, J., Gutherz X. and J.-M. Pène. 2008. “Première caractérisation des faciès céramiques néolithiques de la région du Gobaad en République de Djibouti. Les sites d’Hara Idé 2 et d’Asa Koma (As-Eyla, District de Dikhil) », L’Anthropologie 112 (4-5) : 691-715.

Cauliez J., Manen C., Ard V., Caro J., Goujon A.-L., Cantin N., Ben Amara A., Savary X., Bocquet-Liénard A., forthcoming, Technical traditions and potter craftsmanship among the Woloyta and Oromo Groups in Ethiopia. Actualist references for refining Prehistoric ceramic analytical protocols, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.

Gutherz, X. 2012. « L’archéologie à Djibouti », in A.-S. Chire eds., Djibouti Contemporain, Karthala (collection : hommes et sociétés).
— 2013. « Quel Néolithique dans la Corne de l’Afrique ? », in LeClant l’Africain. Hommages à Jean LeClant. Archéo-Nil 23 : 73-90.

Gutherz X., Diaz A., Ménard C., Bon F., Douze K., Léa V., Lesur J., Sordoillet D. (2014) : The Hargeisan revisited : Lithic industries from shelter 7 of Laas Geel, Somaliland and the transition between the Middle and Late Stone Age in the Horn of Africa, Quaternary International.

Gutherz X., Lesur J., Cauliez J., Charpentier V., Diaz A., Ismaël M.O., Pène J.-M., Sordoillet D. & Zazzo A. 2015. New insights on the first Neolithic societies in the Horn of Africa : the site of Wakrita (Gobaad Basin, Djibouti). Journal of Field Archaeology, 40 (1):55-68.

Hildebrand A.-E., Brandt S.-A., Lesur-Grebemariam J. 2010. “The Holocene Archaeology of Southwest Ethiopia : New Insights from the Kafa Archaeological Project”, African Archaeological Review 27 : 255-289.

Lesur-Gebremariam, J. 2009. « Origine et diffusion de l’élevage dans la Corne de l’Afrique : Un état de la question », Annales d’Éthiopie 24 : 173-208.
— 2010. « La domestication animale en Afrique », Les Nouvelles de l’archéologie, 120-121 : 38-46.

Lesur J., Hildebrand E.A., Abawa G., Gutherz X., 2014. The advent of herding in the Horn of Africa : new data from Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somaliland. Quaternary International, 343 : 148-158.

Ménard C., Bon F., Asamerew Dessie, Bruxelles L., Douze K., Fauvelle-Aymar F.-X., Khalidi L., Lesur J. and Mensan R., 2014 : Late Stone Age variability in the Main Ethiopian Rift : new data from the Bulbula River, Ziway-Shala basin, Quaternary International, 343, p. 53-68.

Newton, C., Thiébault S., Thiam el Hadji I., Gutherz X., Lesur J. and D. Sordoillet. 2008. « Fuel and Vegetation at Asa Koma (Republic of Djibouti) during the Second Millennium BC », Journal of African Archaeology 6 : 87-102.