Charcoal identification in a species-rich environment: The example of Dibamba, Cameroon

in IAWA Journal
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Identification of archaeological or soil charcoal in a species-rich biome, such as the Central African rainforest, is challenging because of the large number of woody taxa with similar and overlapping wood anatomical features. Valid environmental or archaeological interpretations can only derive from reliable and transparent identifications that allow comparison of and referencing between different charcoal assemblages. The identification of 30 archaeological charcoal types from the site Dibamba in southern Cameroon serves as a starting point for a discussion on classification and naming. These 30 types are fully documented and illustrated in the Supplementary Online Material (SOM). The discussion underlines the basics of “good practice” of charcoal identification in a speciesrich tropical environment. The value of differential diagnosis is stressed, as is the importance of leaving identification levels on higher taxonomic level if necessary. We argue that the level of identification must be reflected in the name of the charcoal type. Names of charcoal types are written in small capitals to clearly distinguish them from botanical taxa with which they are not necessarily identical. The Dibamba charcoal assemblage offers the first and so far unique possibility to directly comprehend human impact on the structure and composition of West Central African rainforest over the last 3000 years. The paleoenvironmental significance of the results presented here will be subject of a forthcoming publication.

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