Early Agricultural Systems in South-East Africa (EAS-SEA)

Our current understanding of how humans have contributed to environmental change on pre-industrial time scales is at best tenuous and subject to large gaps in conflicting geographic data and proxy records. Anthropogenic impacts are often assumed in paleoenvironmental studies based on changes in pollen records or erosion signals, while changes in vegetation are sometimes considered as natural effects of climate change. In order to understand the role of humans in the transformation of preindustrial environmental systems, we must consider data that directly reflects human activities during these periods.

My current research is funded by an SNSF Early Postdoc.Mobility Fellowship project: Early Agricultural Systems in South-East Africa, and is jointly hosted by the University of Queensland (UQ), Brisbane, Australia and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), Jena, Germany. In October 2018, I led a team from the Livingstone Museum including two UQ students to excavate two Initial-Early Iron Age sites in southern Zambia: Kumadzulo and Chundu Farm (see photo). The data gathered from these excavations will be the main source of information for this project.

The crew getting ready to shade some unit photos at Chundu Farm

The main objective of this work is to incorporate data from archaeological contexts to understand the types, locations and amounts of human land use. In particular, it will address a geographical and temporal shift in our knowledge of human-environment interactions in Africa: the timing of the introduction of different food production strategies in South-East Africa, and the subsequent changes in climate, land use, land cover, and human economies.

This research will create more robust data sets from which one can understand how humans have shaped the environments of Southeast Africa over the long term. By producing direct dates on crop residues, I will be able to definitively set a temporal constraint on the timing of the use of domestic crops in the region.