Australian Archaeological Association Conference Session

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Australian Archaeological Association Conference Session

Dr. Alison Crowther (pictured) and Dr. Ceri Shipton will present papers in Cairns at a session entitled ‘Recent Archaeological Research in Africa’ as part of the at the African Archaeological Association Conference, 1-3 December.  The session will be chaired by Dr. Crowther and Dr. Ben Smith.

Session: Recent Archaeological Research in Africa

Convenors: Alison Crowther and Benjamin Smith

Africa has the longest and one of the most diverse archaeological records of anywhere in the world. While its importance to archaeology as the birthplace of our hominin ancestors has long been recognised, decades of dedicated research are now well and truly transforming age-old perceptions of Africa as a ‘cultural backwater’ to a region with a rich and culturally complex past worthy of study in its own right. To showcase the breadth of work currently being undertaken by Australian-based researchers in Africa, we invite presentations on any aspect of recent archaeological research on the continent. This includes topics covering the Stone Age to early farming periods, as well as recent history and heritage issues. Papers that address the inter-related conference themes of climate, culture and change are particularly encouraged, as are those that contribute to comparative global debates of relevance to our region.

Food Crops, Culinary Frontiers, and the Colonisation of Madagascar

Alison Crowther (University of Queensland), Nicole Boivin (University of Oxford), Dorian Fuller (University College London), Leilani Lucas (University College London), Solomon Pomerantz (University of Oxford), Henry Wright (University of Michigan), Chantal Radimilahy (University of Antananarivo) & Mark Horton (University of Bristol)

The first permanent colonisation of Madagascar is one of the longest-standing puzzles of African prehistory. Despite its proximity to East Africa, converging lines of genetic, linguistic and cultural evidence suggest that this remote western Indian Ocean island was first settled by people from Indonesia. Yet decades of archaeological research has so far failed to find any direct evidence of links to Southeast Asia in the island’s first settlements. One potentially critical line of enquiry that has been largely ignored is the remains of food plants that were introduced as part of this trans-oceanic migration. These are thought to include various vegetative crops such as banana, taro and yam, as well as Asian rice. Oxford’s Sealinks project recently undertook renewed excavations at several early occupation sites on Madagascar with the explicit aim of recovering archaeobotanical evidence of these crop transfers. We present the preliminary results of these analyses, and contextualise them in light of broader archaeobotanical and culinary patterns from across East Africa and the Comores, highlighting major differences in the past foodways of these regions. We argue that these differences represent deeply-embedded cultural values and food preferences, which in the case of Madagascar reflect strong Southeast Asian influences during its early settlement phase.

Panga Ya Saidi: An MIS5-3 Site on the Coast of East Africa

Ceri Shipton (University of Queensland), Alison Crowther (University of Queensland), Jimbob Blinkhorn (Universite de Bordeaux), Richard Helm (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) & Nicole Boivin (Oxford University)

Panga ya Saidi is a large newly-discovered, cave complex on the nyali coast of East Africa that preserves evidence of human occupation spanning the critical MIS5-3 period, when we see the emergence of Homo sapiens’ behaviour and the dispersal of our species out of Africa. Debates on both these issues has been dominated by the South African record, which has produced models in which both the emergence of human behaviour and the dispersal of our species have been linked to coastal adaptations. However, until now there have been no sub-Saharan coastal sites north of South Africa against which to test these hypotheses. Here we present the results of three seasons of excavations at Panga ya Saidi 15km from the coast of Kenya. The results indicate several distinct facies of stone technology during this period, the use of marine resources and a gradual proliferation in symbolic artefacts. A rich palaeoenvironmental record provides the backdrop for these changes in technology and burgeoning symbolism. We discuss the demographic circumstances under which behavioural traits characteristic of our species are first manifested at the site. We then assess whether the evidence from Panga ya Saidi supports or undermines the coastal dispersal hypothesis.

For more information, visit the Australian Archaeological Association website: Culture, Climate, Change: Archaeology in the Tropics.