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Connexions et interactions

Recasting forest forager and food-producer population interaction as a pivotal prehistoric process of change

Réévaluer les interactions entre populations de cueilleurs forestiers et d’agriculteurs comme processus de changement préhistorique majeur
Karen D. Lupo et Dave N. Schmitt

Résumés

Dans un passé ethnographique et récent, les zones forestières de l’Afrique occidentale et centrale étaient peuplées de cueilleurs forestiers et d’agriculteurs qui entretenaient des relations multiples. Bien que le moment de l’apparition des interactions cueilleur-agriculteur soit inconnue, ces dernières sont rarement considérées comme un processus de changement culturel ou écologique dans les sources archéologiques de ces régions. Cet article montre qu’elles ont probablement eu des conséquences démographiques, sociales, politiques et écologiques de grande envergure. Cela aurait alors eu de profondes implications pour les archives matérielles. Les recherches archéologiques portant sur l’expansion des populations de langue Bantu devraient tenir compte de l’influence des populations autochtones de cueilleurs sur les modes de vie des agriculteurs et des forgerons migrant vers les régions forestières. Pour cela, nous préconisons l’utilisation de grilles d’analyse ethnoarchéologiques afin d’identifier certaines de ces interactions dans les sources préhistoriques.

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We thank the Bofi and Aka foragers of the villages of Grima and Ndele who generously tolerated our presence and persistent questions during an ethno-archaeological project from 1999 to 2005. We also thank their farmer neighbors who treated us like family and the Central African Republic Ministre de la Recherche Scientifique et de I’innovation Technologique for granting our research permits. The ethno-archaeological research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation. Special thanks go to Tim Tikouzou, Eduard Mboula, and Barry Hewlett.

Introduction: Population interaction as a process of change

  • 1 See, for example, B. Bramanti et al., 2009; R. Bollongino et al., 2013; J.R. Denbow, 1984; G. Gonzá (...)
  • 2 R. Bollogino et al., 2013; M. Fagny et al., 2015; C. Gamba et al., 2014; G.H. Perry, P. Verdu, 2017

1Interactions between hunter-gatherers or foragers and food producers characterized many parts of the prehistoric world after the emergence and spread of domesticated plants and animals.1 Although the scope, intensity, and nature of these interrelationships varied over time and space, examples of hunter-gatherer and food-producer interactions are well known in the ethnographic and archeological records from Africa, Europe, the Philippines, India, Asia, and the Americas. Identification of forager-food producer interactions in the prehistoric record are especially important because they are widely recognized as pivotal processes of change that often had far-reaching, multifaceted, and sometimes catastrophic consequences. Interactions between prehistoric foragers and food producers influenced the spread of languages and culture, religion and technology, land use patterns and ecosystem development, population mobility, resource availability, and especially human demography and population structure.2

  • 3 Formerly Pygmies, also called rain forest hunter-gatherers.
  • 4 S. Bahuchet, H. Guillaume, 1982; K. Ikeya et al., 2009; D.V. Joiris, 2003; K.D. Lupo, 2016; T. Oish (...)

2The interactions between ethnographic Central African forest foragers3 and food producers represent one of the best known and widely studied contemporary examples.4 In the ethnographic record, forager-farmer interactions are often narrowly viewed within a lens of economic interaction resulting from necessity and/or as a recent phenomenon linked to colonial and historical economic processes. While much is known about these contemporary populations, very little is known about when and how the emergence of these interactions influenced prehistoric populations or local ecologies. In the Late Holocene prehistory of Central Africa, for example, the spread of Bantu-speaking food and iron producers is often viewed as a primary catalyst of cultural, demographic, technological, and ecological change. But the process of interaction between two populations (incoming Bantu-speakers and indigenous foragers) likely had significant consequences that are rarely considered. Furthermore, the exact nature of interactions between prehistoric foragers and farmers remains unknown. It is not clear, for example, if the interrelationships displayed by contemporary or historical foragers and farmers reflect those of the distant past or if different kinds of interactions persisted across time and space. It is also not clear how, and if, the presence of indigenous foragers influenced the migration paths and lifeways of early migrating Bantu populations. Clearly, some of these questions are limited by the lack of archeological data from some regions of Central Africa, particularly portions that are heavily forested. But a second and very real limitation is the lack of models and/or analogues that might be used to identify forager-food producer interactions in the archaeological record. In this paper we advocate for the development of multiple intersecting lines of evidence from ethno-archaeological research that might be used to identify these interactions from material remains.

Traditional views of Central African forager-farmer interactions

  • 5 See discussions in R.C. Bailey, T.N. Headland, 1991; R.C. Bailey, N.R. Peacock, 1988; T.B. Hart, J. (...)
  • 6 Dioscorea sp., nuts, and large seeds.
  • 7 R.C. Bailey et al., 1989; G. Barker et al., 2007.
  • 8 R.C. Bailey, 1991; R.C. Bailey, N.R. Peacock, 1988.
  • 9 L. Bouquiaux, J.M.C. Thomas, 1980; M. Guthrie, 1962; C.J. Holden, 2002.
  • 10 Notably ceramics, ground stone tools, and sometimes metallurgy.
  • 11 See, for example, K. Bostoen et al., 2015; H. Kadomura, J. Kiyonaga, 1994; J. Maley et al., 2018.
  • 12 R. Oliver, 1966; J. Vansina, 1990.
  • 13 R.C. Bailey et al., 1989; M. Ichikawa, 1991.

3Conventional anthropological wisdom views the interactions of forest foragers and farmers as prime examples of mutualism driven by economic necessity linked to nutrient-poor ecological circumstances of the rain forest.5 Rain forests are traditionally seen as nutritionally depauperate biomes with a limited availability of wild starches. Existing wild starches6 are often seasonally restricted, spatially dispersed, and/or require intensive processing resulting in high handling costs.7 In this scenario, full-time foragers could have lived only on the periphery of forest-savanna zones and could not permanently occupy the rainforest until after the spread of domesticated crops with farmers. The obligatory exchange of domesticated starches for wild protein resulted from rain forest nutritional insufficiency and appeared in tandem with or soon after farming populations migrated into the forests some 2,500–2,000 years ago. The prevalence of similar exchange systems between foragers and farmers in other parts of the tropical world seemed to support this assertion.8 Historical linguistic models that identified migration(s) of Proto-Bantu speaking farming populations from a common homeland in eastern Nigeria and western Cameroun some 3,000–3,500 years BP also seemed to support this viewpoint.9 Bantu farming populations with superior technology10 and a reliable subsistence base with both domesticated plants and animals are thought to have spread in response to a dry climatic interval ca. 3,500–2,000 years BP.11 The ecological impacts of slash-and-burn agriculture either through habitat degradation12 or enhancement13 underwrote the development of the interdependent forager/farmer relationship found in different portions of the Congo Basin today.

  • 14 But see S. Bahuchet, 2006.
  • 15 But see discussions in T.M. Brncic et al., 2007; L.J.T. White, 2001; K.J. Willis et al., 2004.

4The fallout from this viewpoint directly challenged the idea of a remote prehistory of forest foragers and placed full-time foraging relatively late in time. By implication, this viewpoint promoted the perception that the ethnographic record of forager–food-producer interdependency, while modified by contemporary sociopolitical processes and technologies, was the only model for the interrelationships of prehistoric populations.14 This view also had wide-ranging consequences in other domains, such as in forest ecology. The relatively short history of human occupation, for example, implied very limited anthropogenic impact on rain forest habitats and led to an underestimation of and narrow view of these effects in the Central African tropical rain forest.15

  • 16 S. Bahuchet, H. Guillaume, 1979; K.A. Kleiman, 2003; K.D. Lupo et al., 2014.
  • 17 See K.D. Lupo, 2011.
  • 18 For example, S. Bahuchet et al., 1991; A. Hladik, E. Dounais, 1993; H. Sato, 2017; H. Sato et al., (...)
  • 19 G.H. Perry et al., 2007.
  • 20 See especially S. Bahuchet, 1993; C. Batini et al., 2011; G. Destrol-Bisol et al., 2004; K.D. Lupo (...)
  • 21 L. Quintana-Murci et al., 2008.
  • 22 C. Batini et al., 2007; G. Destro-Bisol et al., 2004.
  • 23 B. Clist, 2006; J. Mercader, R. Marti, 1999.
  • 24 See, for example, P. Lavachery, 2001; K.D. Lupo et al., 2021; J. Mercader, 2002, 2003; J. Mercader, (...)
  • 25 J. Mercader, 2003.
  • 26 M. Lipson et al., 2020, p. 665.
  • 27 S.B. Kusimba, 2005; also see M. Lipson et al., 2020.

5This conventional scenario, however, has been challenged on many different fronts. Several researchers have argued that the emergence of the ethnographic interactions between foragers and farmers is a product of recent colonial and economic processes or may be linked to the spread of metallurgy.16 Regardless of how these interactions emerged, many facets of the ethnographic record of forager and farmer interactions appear to have a recent origin,17 and the exact nature and existence of prehistoric interactions remains obscure. Others have questioned the premise of nutritional insufficiency of rain forest biomes.18 Low availability of starches in the diet is a demonstrated selective factor for some forest foragers,19 but this did not restrict occupation of forested zones. Diverse datasets suggest full-time foragers occupied forested areas without access to, and well before the advent of, domesticated resources.20 Bahuchet’s (1993) reconstruction of ancestral forager language (Baakaa), in concert with other data, places an initial spread of these populations across Central Africa from east to west some 40,000 years BP. Comparative MtDNA studies of contemporary Central African populations show that foragers separated and became geographically isolated from a common ancestor to Bantu farming populations more than 100,000 years ago.21 Biomolecular evidence suggests that ancestral forest foragers spread across the Congo Basin well before the Bantu expansion.22 Unequivocal archaeological data corroborating the occupation of deep rain forest occupation prior to the advent of food production are rare23 but show that rain forest biomes could support forager populations for prolonged periods of time.24 For example, archeological remains in the Ituri demonstrate the existence and persistence of foraging populations spanning from 18,800 to 900 BP and well after the advent of farming.25 More recently, Lipson and colleagues26 found paleogenetic evidence that the prehistoric hunter-gatherers who occupied Shum Laka between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago were different from contemporary foragers who occupy the area. These populations likely had some links to groups in the Sahel and Sahara. If full-time foragers occupied forested portions of the Congo Basin before and after the spread of domesticated foods, then the emergence of the forager/farmer relationship is likely the result of a complicated and diverse set of processes and opens the possibility of prehistoric foragers and farmers with subsistence regimes and relationships that are not necessarily recapitulated by the modern ethnographic record.27

Central African forager-farmer interactions: The ethnographic record

  • 28 See, for example, S. Bahuchet, 1985, 1999; R.C. Bailey, 1991; R.R. Grinker, 1989; B.S. Hewlett, 199 (...)
  • 29 D.V. Joiris, 2003; K.A. Klieman, 2003; K.D. Lupo, 2016; G. Ngima, 2001.

6Sustained interactions among ethnically distinct forest foragers and farmers were once widespread across much of forested West and Central Africa, but historical, colonial, and recent processes (discussed further below) have greatly decreased the frequency and changed the nature of these interrelationships. Even so, modified forms of these interrelationships continue to exist in some parts of tropical Africa today.28 The details of these arrangements varied greatly across time and space, and it is very likely many were dynamic and responded to local conditions and circumstances.29

  • 30 See D.V. Joiris, 2003.

7Most ethnographically documented interrelationships appear to be long-standing and included the exchange of starches from domesticated crops produced by farmers for forest forager products, especially wild meat, honey, and/or labor. Even though the exchange of comestibles and labor was the most highly visible aspect of these interactions, all also had important social, political, and ritual dimensions that could include fictive kinship, gift-giving, and established hereditary obligations among the participants.30 In all cases, forest foragers spoke the same language as their farmer neighbors and shared and retained many concepts—particularly those related to forest lifeways, which were presumably part of their common origin.

  • 31 S. Bahuchet, 1985.
  • 32 D.V. Joiris, 2003.
  • 33 See especially S. Bahuchet, 1985; B.S. Hewlett, 1990.
  • 34 See, for example, K.A. Klieman, 2003; H. Terashima, 1987.

8Traditionally, foragers affiliated with specific farmer clans with whom they were obliged to work and hunt.31 These relationships between foragers and farmers were sometimes marked by the establishment of a fictive kinship in which the forager adopted the clan name of the food producer. In some cases, these relationships were hereditary.32 Although farmers held recognized land use rights to different forest areas, these were conferred on foragers who shared their clan’s name. Foragers played important roles in farmer marriages, funerals, and other rituals and ceremonies, and farmers were obligated to provide the bride price for forager marriages.33 Foragers were revered by farmers for their superlative knowledge of the forest, especially the medicinal and magical properties of different plants, and in some communities they were highly valued for providing protection against enemies.34

  • 35 See, for example, discussions in R. Bliege Bird et al., 2012; R. Godoy et al., 2007; K. Hawkes et a (...)
  • 36 K.D. Lupo, 2016.
  • 37 So-called Tûma.
  • 38 R. Harako, 1981, p. 544.
  • 39 Ibid. p. 544-546.

9One often overlooked benefit underlying interactions among these populations is the social and/or sociopolitical value derived from certain kinds of long-term interrelationships. Social and sociopolitical benefits are widely recognized as underwriting human decisions among hunter-gatherers and, while these take many forms, they often encompass activities that enhance individual prestige and/or build social capital, which can translate into future support in times of stress or uncertainty—or, more directly, in friendships, partnerships, deference, and allies.35 Existing ethnographic data from forager-farmer interaction in the Congo Basin point to the sociopolitical benefits derived from these interactions. For example, elephants were historically targeted by forager hunting specialists recruited by farmers. Farmers gave the hunting specialists the iron spears used to kill the animal and, in so doing, were entitled to a significant proportion of the kill and the ivory, even if they were not present.36 Very few forager men were elephant specialists, and young men served apprenticeships under great hunters37 until they were 20 years old. Men who were skilled in this activity gained renown as, “The fame of a hunter who can kill elephants spreads far and wide and he is honored both within and beyond his own band.”38 Hunting specialists were so highly valued by neighboring farmers that these individuals held high positions of prestige among their peers, and their presence in a village conferred economic and social benefits to the entire forager community, including partaking in the feast that followed successful elephant hunts. According to Harako,39 elephant specialists held high status but had very little authority or power within their own village. However, they often served as spokesman or arbitrators for foragers in disputes with farmers and in inter-band disputes.

  • 40 P.L. Walker, B.S. Hewlett, 1990.
  • 41 See, for example, H. Pagezy, 1988.
  • 42 P. Schebesta, 1936; S. Bahuchet, 1999.
  • 43 See discussions in K.D. Lupo et al., 2014; K.D. Lupo, 2016; G.H. Perry, P. Verdu, 2017.

10In addition to more tangible gains, forager/farmer interactions may have also conferred health and nutritional benefits on the participants.40 Circumstantial ethnographic evidence also suggests that the decline of traditional mutualistic relationships between foragers and farmers, in concert with other recent processes, has had deleterious health consequences for both populations.41 Despite the positive potential benefits associated with these arrangements, ethnic, economic, and social and political divisions have always separated foragers from farmers. In the traditional ethnographic record of the Congo Basin, foragers are clearly subordinate to farmers, and elements of exploitation and coercion characterized many of these interactions.42 Foragers often live in different villages adjacent to, but outside the villages of farmers. Intermarriage is rare and hypergyny is the rule. Forager women may have relationships with farmer men that sometimes result in marriage. Even so, forager women are often taken as second wives by farmer men, and these unions are usually quite unstable and sometimes end in divorce. Conversely, forager men are not viewed as viable husbands for farmer women. Existing power disparities between foragers and farmers result in inequalities in wealth, access to resources, knowledge, and technology. For example, in some contexts foragers affiliated with a specific farmer clan may be referred to as “slaves,” and forager children do not have access to schools or other educational opportunities. Marked differences in social and political structure among these populations are reinforced by customs and rules that influence every aspect of their lives.43

  • 44 K. Hayashi, 2008; also see A. Köhler, 2005.
  • 45 K. Kitanishi, 2000; A. Köhler, 2005; J. Lewis, 2005; K.D. Lupo, D.N. Schmitt, 2017; T. Oishi, 2016; (...)
  • 46 H. Pagezy, 1988.
  • 47 Individuals without established farmer partnerships.

11In more recent times, colonial legacies and government policies have promoted sedentism and farming among foragers. In some locations, such as southeastern Cameroon, Baka foragers have increasingly become sedentarized, engage in wage labor, and grow their own crops in compliance with colonial government policies set in place in the 1950s.44 The influx of commercial vendors, industrial-scale timber and mineral extraction, and the attendant habitat and resource depletion have greatly modified the scope and nature of forager/farmer interrelationships.45 Today these mutualistic systems continue to persist in some locations, albeit in modified forms. While many foragers continue to hunt and acquire wild products, the demands of cultivation and wage labor have greatly reduced the amount of time spent foraging and the importance of partnerships with neighboring ethnic groups. Many foragers are now employed in wage labor, and interrelationships with food producers are reduced and even antagonistic.46 In other places, independent foragers47 have limited trade interactions with farmers. Even so, there are forest foragers who retain close interrelationships with farmers and display some continuity in obligatory interactions, including the location of and structure of villages and exchange of forest meat and plant resources for manioc (Fig. 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Forest forager encampment adjacent to a farmer village in the southern Central African Republic with traditional house forms and layout

Figure 1: Forest forager encampment adjacent to a farmer village in the southern Central African Republic with traditional house forms and layout

Photograph by K.D. Lupo, 2003.

Figure 2: Farmer woman preparing manioc for consumption

Figure 2: Farmer woman preparing manioc for consumption

Photograph by K.D. Lupo, 2003.

  • 48 See especially S. Bahuchet, H. Guillaume, 1982; D.V. Joris, 2003; K.D. Lupo, 2016.
  • 49 M. Ichikawa, 1991; J. Lewis, 2000; K.D. Lupo, 2016.
  • 50 R.A. Johnstone, R. Bshary, 2008.

12Although these forager/farmer interrelationships are not unchanged by recent and historical events, interactions are a part of everyday life and individuals actively invest time and effort in maintaining them.48 The retention and maintenance of interrelationships among contemporary foragers and food producers in the absence of nutritional necessity points to the complex underpinnings of these arrangements.49 These observations weaken the traditional wisdom that economic need in nutritionally poor habitats drives population interactions. If economic necessity was the only force supporting population interactions, one might ask why these needs could not be met through simple trade or some other mechanism, rather than through the establishment of long-term and often intense multidimensional interrelationships that are expensive to build and maintain.50 Clearly, the ethnographic record shows that West and Central African forager/farmer interactions were multidimensional and suggests that the emergence and eventual perpetuation of these arrangements cannot be fully captured by a focus on economic exchange or any single characteristic of the material record.

Recognition of forager/farmer interactions in the archeological record

13Despite the prevalence of forager/farmer interrelationships in the ethnographic and historical records of West and Central Africa, very little research has been directed towards identifying these interactions in the archeological or paleo-environmental records. Preservation biases in the prehistoric records and the lack of archeological research in many forested areas have limited research on prehistoric forager/farmer interactions. Furthermore, scholarly research in the Late Holocene is focused on questions about the timing and nature of the Bantu expansion. This is partially a function visibility: sites associated with mobile foragers tend to be more archaeologically obscure than permanent village sites. It is also a legacy of traditional views about the inability of the rain forest biomes to nutritionally support foragers. While the Bantu expansion is an extremely important process, these early migrants across West and Central Africa were not entering unoccupied or virgin territories and likely encountered indigenous foragers. Understanding when, where, and how this occurred could shed light on Bantu settlement patterns, demographics, and economies.

  • 51 C. Batini et al., 2011; M. Lopez et al., 2019; E. Patin et al., 2009, 2014; P. Verdu et al., 2009, (...)
  • 52 And later admixture pulses between foragers and farmers.
  • 53 See also P. Hsieh et al., 2016; L. Quintana-Murci et al., 2008.
  • 54 G. Destro-Bisol et al., 2004.
  • 55 G. Destro-Bisol et al., 2004; L. Quintana-Murci et al., 2008.

14Another central limitation for archaeologists is the difficulty associated with identifying forager/farmer interactions in the material record. The range of techniques used by archaeologists to reconstruct these forager/farmer interactions in the archeological record encompass assessing characteristics of material assemblages, isotopic signatures, and genomic evidence. Probably the strongest data come from modern genomic analyses of African forest populations. Genomic studies of contemporary Bantu and forest forager populations show that the latter experienced strong selective pressure and genetically diverged from the ancestral population of farmers more than 100,000 years ago.51 These same data indicate intervals of admixture and migration among eastern and western forager populations52 in parts of West Africa around 7,000–5,000 years ago, which roughly corresponds to the Bantu expansion and onset of the Neolithic.53 In some areas, the Bantu expansion may have contributed to forest forager genetic drift by isolation and pushing foragers into marginal habitats.54 More importantly, several of these studies reveal evidence for asymmetric and heterogenous admixture between foragers and farmers, which likely reflects hypergyny whereby forager women marry farmer men.55 However, and despite the high value of these studies, these data are difficult to directly link to the archaeological record due to differences in chronological scale used in genomic studies and the difficulty of connecting specific events such as evidence of hypergyny to the archaeological record.

  • 56 Notably bones and seeds.

15A second and more tractable (albeit limited) line of evidence used by archeologists to reconstruct forager/farmer interactions in Central Africa is assemblage characteristics, including the presence of known exchange items such as ceramics, iron, and the remains of domesticated foods. Organic remains of domesticated foods56 are a strong indicator of interactions but are rarely preserved in the material record. Ceramics are one of the most common artifacts found in Late Holocene archaeological contexts. But this line of evidence can be particularly challenging to apply because material culture crosses linguistic, ethnic, and geographic boundaries in a variety of different ways. The most common way that material culture crosses these boundaries is through economic exchange or trade, but populations can also beg, scavenge, or steal items from neighbors. Alternatively, material culture can spread through imitation or by borrowing styles that they have observed elsewhere, including archaeological sites. Independent invention can also result in similar items emerging in different areas in the absence of contact. In the case of the latter, the expectation is that localized and distinctive manufacturing techniques, materials, and designs would reflect indigenous creation.

  • 57 Comb and stylus impressions.
  • 58 P. Lavachery, 2001.
  • 59 See especially J. Mercader et al., 2001.
  • 60 J. Mercader et al., 2000.
  • 61 M. Bleasdale et al., 2020; J. Mercader et al., 2001.

16For example, at Shum Laka in western Cameroon, ceramic fragments appear around 7,000 years ago and display decorative motifs57 that may be related to some of the earliest ceramic traditions in the Sahel and Sahara.58 These ceramics could reflect trade or imitation through interaction between the foragers that occupied this site and food producers in other areas. Similarly, ceramic and iron evidence from Matangai Turu, a rock shelter site in the Ituri Forest, Democratic Republic of Congo, suggests trade between foragers and farmers.59 Based on assemblage composition of the site, which was comprised largely of lithic artifacts and organic remains from forest products, the occupants were likely forest foragers.60 But the presence of the ceramics, one iron artifact, and starch grains, possibly from millet, in the dental calculus of a skeleton found at the site suggest contact with food producers about 815 radiocarbon years BP.61

  • 62 See K.D. Lupo et al., 2021.
  • 63 Canarium schwienfurthii; similar findings are reported at Shum Laka (see P. Lavachery, 2001).
  • 64 If not several hundred years before.
  • 65 M.K.H. Eggert, 1987.

17More recently, excavations at Nangara-Komba, a rock shelter site in western Central African Republic (Fig. 3 and 4), show the persistent occupation by hunter-gatherer/forager populations beginning some 7,000 years ago through the Late Iron Age.62 The site shows intermittent and at times intense occupation, with assemblages comprised entirely of quartz and quartzite lithic artifacts and large quantities of burned canarium endocarps.63 Sometime between 3000 and 2860 cal. BP,64 ceramics appear in the Nangara-Komba assemblage and co-occur with lithic artifacts. The earliest decorations include comb and rocker-stamping designs which are typically found on the oldest decorated pottery in the Central African rainforest.65 Importantly, the lithic assemblage of Nangara-Komba does not change in technology, tool representation of formation, or source material after the appearance of ceramics, and the latter are very rare relative to lithic artifacts. Their co-occurrence with thousands of flaked stone artifacts suggests recurrent use of the site by regional foraging groups who acquired ceramics from their neighbors. Whether these hunter-gathers occupied the area synchronous with ceramic producers or had only occasional contact with these populations remains unclear. The presence of an Early Iron Age smelter dating to about cal. AD 300 in very close proximity to the site, and the later appearance of a very small amount of iron slag and objects, suggests contact between the shelter’s hunter-gatherer occupants and early iron-producing people. It is also possible that these two populations asynchronously used and occupied this very large rock shelter.

Figure 3: Overview of Nangara-Komba Shelter

Figure 3: Overview of Nangara-Komba Shelter

Photograph by D.N. Schmitt, 2019.

Figure 4: Excavations in progress, Nangara-Komba Shelter

Figure 4: Excavations in progress, Nangara-Komba Shelter

Photograph by K.D. Lupo, 2019.

  • 66 Borrowing or independent invention.
  • 67 J. Kinahan, 2013.
  • 68 See discussions in S.R. Simms et al., 1997.

18Although ceramics and iron-making are often associated with Bantu populations, the presence of these artifacts at these associated sites could also reflect in situ production by hunter-gatherers who occupied the site. A central question might be how can archaeologists distinguish trade items from in situ manufacture?66 One obvious way would be through the analysis of ceramic production techniques and compositional analysis of the raw materials using X-ray fluorescene, which could help distinguish local from non-local manufacture. This kind of analysis has not been widely applied in Central Africa but could be highly informative, especially if analysis was conducted on regional scales. More recently, Kinahan67 proposed ceramic assemblage characteristics, such as decorated rim to plain body sherd fragments, as a practical method for identifying hunter-gatherers who obtained ceramics from exchange through repeated interactions with food producers. They argued that mobile hunter-gathering populations would likely have a higher diversity in design motifs, resulting from repeated interactions with different food producers. But they also argued that hunter-gatherer assemblages would reflect ceramics styles with a longer use-life than those found among food producers. Others have argued that ceramics produced directly by highly mobile foragers will reflect less technical investment and have characteristics that make these vessels more transportable than those manufactured by food producers that occupy permanent residential villages.68 These differences in investment might be reflected in wall thickness and low decoration frequency.

  • 69 I.e. indigenous manufacture or exchange.

19At present the value of novel, exotic, or trade artifacts as a proxy for forager/farmer interactions is clearly limited. Even if archaeologists can determine how these items emerged,69 the presence of the items does not provide information about other aspects of population interaction, and trade can occur with very little direct or on-going contact. Furthermore, trade items such as ceramics have thus far been identified only in sites that were occupied by hunter-gatherers or foragers. That represents only one side of the forager / food producer interaction. Very little research has been aimed at identifying forager/farmer interactions at sites largely attributable to food producers and/or metallurgists.

  • 70 Pennisetum glaucum.
  • 71 Either closed or open forest and freshwater wild resources.
  • 72 M. Bleasdale et al., 2020.
  • 73 See I. Amadou et al., 2011.

20A final line of evidence used by archaeologists to identify forager / food producer interactions is isotopic signatures of traded food items. This technique can reveal the consumption of trade foods, such as C4 crops, by forager populations. Thus far, this kind of analysis has had very limited applications in Central Africa primarily because of the dearth of human skeletal remains available for analysis. A recent exception is provided by Bleasdale et al. (2020), where isotopic signatures in concert with dental calculus and zoo-archaeological assemblages were analyzed from a collection of skeletal remains from several different sites in the western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, spanning the last 2000 years and representing food producers and at least one forest forager. Although evidence for the presence of pearl millet,70 a C4 cereal, was found in at least one of the sites and has been identified elsewhere in Central Africa, it did not appear to make up a significant part of the diet of settled food producers in this study. The diet was dominated by C3 resources71 and suggested that wild resources continued to play a role in the diets of purported food producers. However, two individuals within that sample that dated to the Late Iron Age and presumably later part of the Bantu expansion, showed isotopic signatures consistent with more open rainforest plants, which could indicate the consumption of oil palm, yams, and later manioc. Of this food, yams are often considered to be among the first dominant domesticated foods consumed by rainforest food producers, rather than pearl millet, which may have been used for other purposes such as brewing beverages, ritual activities,72 or as a specialized food with limited consumption rather than as a staple.73 These results suggest that finer-grained isotopic differences might be used to identify dietary differences among these populations.

  • 74 As well as material remains.
  • 75 See A.B. Smith, 2001.
  • 76 Unpublished data in possession of the authors.
  • 77 Such as hair and bone.
  • 78 Foragers are more nomadic.
  • 79 δ34S
  • 80 P.L. Walker, B.S. Hewlett, 1990.

21Part of the on-going problem is that archeologists have no frame of reference to use as an analogue for developing expectations about how forager/farmer interactions might influence and be identified in the material record. Current approaches build expectations solely on the archeological record and are limited, because they usually focus on one line of evidence and it is not clear how interrelationships, such as those that characterize recent Central African foragers and farmers, might be discerned in the material record. Here we advocate for the use of ethno-archaeology as one tool that might provide a unique framework for identifying interactions in the material remains. We further argue that given the complex nature of the ethnographic interactions between foragers and food producers, ethno-archaeological methods must develop multiple and potentially intersecting lines of evidence rather than focusing solely on one class of artifacts or material remains. Here one might make use of differences between these populations already identified in the ethnographic example as a guide. One set of questions, for example, could consider how having an interethnic relationship influences assemblage composition, food consumption, and nutritional patterns74 and potentially family relations. Specifically, given the ethnographic record, one might expect that individuals who participate regularly in interethnic interactions might have richer or more diverse material assemblages and/or access to a different range of comestibles than those individuals who do not have active partnerships. Forager assemblages associated with fewer interactions with food producers may have less diverse assemblages and lower abundances of specific kinds of artifacts,75 but higher abundances of other kinds of artifacts. For example, in a limited study of household inventories we conducted in 2003 and 2005 comparing foragers to food producers, we found that forager assemblages generally contained a higher number and diversity of hunting tools in comparison with food producers.76 But the animal bone assemblages associated with farmers were more diverse and larger, and they contained more high-value parts in comparison with forager assemblages. Access to different kinds of foods through intense trade relationships associated with forager/farmer interactions may be directly reflected in the diet and measurable through isotopic values in biological evidence.77 Yet another avenue might include known differences in mobility patterns between these populations,78 which could be reflected in sulphur values.79 Previous ethnographic research suggests differences between foragers and food producers in dental health, because of the dietary differences and access to meat.80 Traditional forager populations have fewer instances of dental disease, because they eat more meat than food producers.

22In the ethnographic record of Central Africa, foragers’ and food producers’ lives are intertwined on many levels. To identify these kinds of interrelationships in the archeological record requires multiple intersecting lines of information as derived from ethno-archaeological expectations. It is possible that the interactions observed in the ethnographic record developed slowly over several generations and did not come to characterize rainforest populations until decades if not hundreds of years after the spread of Bantu populations. However, the fact that these interrelationships existed and were widespread at historical and ethnographic contact suggest these emerged as the result of similar kinds of processes and may be very old.

Conclusions

23The ethnographic and historical record of forager/farmer interrelationships in Central Africa shows that while the nature and scope of these arrangements varied over time and space, they were often intense, complex, and extended well beyond economic necessity. These interethnic interrelationships permeated all aspects of everyday life and, while they can be considered mutualistic, they clearly resulted in systemic inequalities that persist into the present day. The nature of the interrelationships in the past clearly had implications for the spread of languages, demographics, and technology. But there may have been more profound consequences that archaeologists rarely consider, including habitat partitioning and loss from farming, a reduction in foraging/hunting efficiency, disease, and competitive resource and/or sociopolitical exclusion. While the identification of forager/farmer interactions remains a challenge, we believe that ethno-archaeological research can build a framework for the archaeological record. We are currently working on a new ethno-archaeological project aimed at linking different aspects of forager/farmer interrelationships to measurable material phenomenon. We argue that regardless of how forager/farmer interrelationships emerged, they had and continue to have an indelible impact on the lives of forest populations, as well as on the forest itself. Understanding how, when, and where these interrelationships emerge are among some of the most important questions we now face.

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Notes

1 See, for example, B. Bramanti et al., 2009; R. Bollongino et al., 2013; J.R. Denbow, 1984; G. González-Fortes et al., 2017; M. Guenther, 2002; K. Ikeya et al., 2009; D.B. Madsen, S.R. Simms 1998; P. Mitchell, 2009, 2016; M.N. Mosothwane, 2010, 2011; H. Ogawa, 2009; K. Sadr, I. Plug, 2001; P. Skoglund et al., 2014; K.A. Spielmann, 1991; K.A. Spielmann et al., 2009; B. Vanmonfort, 2008.

2 R. Bollogino et al., 2013; M. Fagny et al., 2015; C. Gamba et al., 2014; G.H. Perry, P. Verdu, 2017.

3 Formerly Pygmies, also called rain forest hunter-gatherers.

4 S. Bahuchet, H. Guillaume, 1982; K. Ikeya et al., 2009; D.V. Joiris, 2003; K.D. Lupo, 2016; T. Oishi, 2016; D.N. Schmitt, K.D. Lupo, 2008.

5 See discussions in R.C. Bailey, T.N. Headland, 1991; R.C. Bailey, N.R. Peacock, 1988; T.B. Hart, J.A. Hart, 1986; K.A. Spielmann, 1986, p. 287.

6 Dioscorea sp., nuts, and large seeds.

7 R.C. Bailey et al., 1989; G. Barker et al., 2007.

8 R.C. Bailey, 1991; R.C. Bailey, N.R. Peacock, 1988.

9 L. Bouquiaux, J.M.C. Thomas, 1980; M. Guthrie, 1962; C.J. Holden, 2002.

10 Notably ceramics, ground stone tools, and sometimes metallurgy.

11 See, for example, K. Bostoen et al., 2015; H. Kadomura, J. Kiyonaga, 1994; J. Maley et al., 2018.

12 R. Oliver, 1966; J. Vansina, 1990.

13 R.C. Bailey et al., 1989; M. Ichikawa, 1991.

14 But see S. Bahuchet, 2006.

15 But see discussions in T.M. Brncic et al., 2007; L.J.T. White, 2001; K.J. Willis et al., 2004.

16 S. Bahuchet, H. Guillaume, 1979; K.A. Kleiman, 2003; K.D. Lupo et al., 2014.

17 See K.D. Lupo, 2011.

18 For example, S. Bahuchet et al., 1991; A. Hladik, E. Dounais, 1993; H. Sato, 2017; H. Sato et al., 2012; H. Yasuoka, 2006, 2009, 2013.

19 G.H. Perry et al., 2007.

20 See especially S. Bahuchet, 1993; C. Batini et al., 2011; G. Destrol-Bisol et al., 2004; K.D. Lupo et al., 2021; J. Mercader, 2003; P. Roberts et al., 2015.

21 L. Quintana-Murci et al., 2008.

22 C. Batini et al., 2007; G. Destro-Bisol et al., 2004.

23 B. Clist, 2006; J. Mercader, R. Marti, 1999.

24 See, for example, P. Lavachery, 2001; K.D. Lupo et al., 2021; J. Mercader, 2002, 2003; J. Mercader, A.S. Brooks, 2001.

25 J. Mercader, 2003.

26 M. Lipson et al., 2020, p. 665.

27 S.B. Kusimba, 2005; also see M. Lipson et al., 2020.

28 See, for example, S. Bahuchet, 1985, 1999; R.C. Bailey, 1991; R.R. Grinker, 1989; B.S. Hewlett, 1991; K. Kitanishi, 1995.

29 D.V. Joiris, 2003; K.A. Klieman, 2003; K.D. Lupo, 2016; G. Ngima, 2001.

30 See D.V. Joiris, 2003.

31 S. Bahuchet, 1985.

32 D.V. Joiris, 2003.

33 See especially S. Bahuchet, 1985; B.S. Hewlett, 1990.

34 See, for example, K.A. Klieman, 2003; H. Terashima, 1987.

35 See, for example, discussions in R. Bliege Bird et al., 2012; R. Godoy et al., 2007; K. Hawkes et al., 2010; S.M. Mattison et al., 2016; E.A. Smith, 2004; P. Wiessner, 2002.

36 K.D. Lupo, 2016.

37 So-called Tûma.

38 R. Harako, 1981, p. 544.

39 Ibid. p. 544-546.

40 P.L. Walker, B.S. Hewlett, 1990.

41 See, for example, H. Pagezy, 1988.

42 P. Schebesta, 1936; S. Bahuchet, 1999.

43 See discussions in K.D. Lupo et al., 2014; K.D. Lupo, 2016; G.H. Perry, P. Verdu, 2017.

44 K. Hayashi, 2008; also see A. Köhler, 2005.

45 K. Kitanishi, 2000; A. Köhler, 2005; J. Lewis, 2005; K.D. Lupo, D.N. Schmitt, 2017; T. Oishi, 2016; B. Soengas, 2009.

46 H. Pagezy, 1988.

47 Individuals without established farmer partnerships.

48 See especially S. Bahuchet, H. Guillaume, 1982; D.V. Joris, 2003; K.D. Lupo, 2016.

49 M. Ichikawa, 1991; J. Lewis, 2000; K.D. Lupo, 2016.

50 R.A. Johnstone, R. Bshary, 2008.

51 C. Batini et al., 2011; M. Lopez et al., 2019; E. Patin et al., 2009, 2014; P. Verdu et al., 2009, 2013.

52 And later admixture pulses between foragers and farmers.

53 See also P. Hsieh et al., 2016; L. Quintana-Murci et al., 2008.

54 G. Destro-Bisol et al., 2004.

55 G. Destro-Bisol et al., 2004; L. Quintana-Murci et al., 2008.

56 Notably bones and seeds.

57 Comb and stylus impressions.

58 P. Lavachery, 2001.

59 See especially J. Mercader et al., 2001.

60 J. Mercader et al., 2000.

61 M. Bleasdale et al., 2020; J. Mercader et al., 2001.

62 See K.D. Lupo et al., 2021.

63 Canarium schwienfurthii; similar findings are reported at Shum Laka (see P. Lavachery, 2001).

64 If not several hundred years before.

65 M.K.H. Eggert, 1987.

66 Borrowing or independent invention.

67 J. Kinahan, 2013.

68 See discussions in S.R. Simms et al., 1997.

69 I.e. indigenous manufacture or exchange.

70 Pennisetum glaucum.

71 Either closed or open forest and freshwater wild resources.

72 M. Bleasdale et al., 2020.

73 See I. Amadou et al., 2011.

74 As well as material remains.

75 See A.B. Smith, 2001.

76 Unpublished data in possession of the authors.

77 Such as hair and bone.

78 Foragers are more nomadic.

79 δ34S

80 P.L. Walker, B.S. Hewlett, 1990.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Forest forager encampment adjacent to a farmer village in the southern Central African Republic with traditional house forms and layout
Crédits Photograph by K.D. Lupo, 2003.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4061/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 149k
Titre Figure 2: Farmer woman preparing manioc for consumption
Crédits Photograph by K.D. Lupo, 2003.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4061/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 91k
Titre Figure 3: Overview of Nangara-Komba Shelter
Crédits Photograph by D.N. Schmitt, 2019.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4061/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 149k
Titre Figure 4: Excavations in progress, Nangara-Komba Shelter
Crédits Photograph by K.D. Lupo, 2019.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4061/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 194k
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Karen D. Lupo et Dave N. Schmitt, « Recasting forest forager and food-producer population interaction as a pivotal prehistoric process of change »Afriques [En ligne], 14 | 2023, mis en ligne le 27 janvier 2024, consulté le 14 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/4061 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/afriques.4061

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Auteurs

Karen D. Lupo

Southern Methodist University, Dallas, United States

Dave N. Schmitt

Southern Methodist University, Dallas, United States

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