Ounjougou (Dogon Country, Mali) is now known for the discovery there of pottery dating to the first half of the 10th millennium cal BC, which is among the earliest evidence of the use of ceramics in Africa. While our understanding of early African ceramics is becoming well developed, certain other evidence associated with the first manifestations of the African Neolithic are still poorly understood, including notably the lithic industries. On the basis of technological and typological analyses of the lithic assemblage associated with the Ounjougou pottery, we will show that these materials also express profound behavioral changes within cultural groups of this period, and indeed they help clarify processes for the spread of ceramics. For these reasons lithics are extremely important for understanding this period of great cultural change and should not be neglected.
Technological and typological data collected during the analysis have been used to propose an original taphonomic approach and to test in this way the coherence of the assemblage.
Comparisons with Early Holocene industries in the Saharan zone (Temet, Tagalagal, Adrar Bous 10, etc.) provide new elements of consideration regarding the cultural context of the appearance of pottery, and enable us to propose a scenario for the adoption of technological innovations marking the beginning of the Holocene, from sub-Saharan West Africa toward the central Sahara. The lithic industries are seen as a valuable means of clarifying the cultural context and processes of the appearance and spread of pottery in this region from the first half of the 10th millennium cal BC to the middle of the 9th millennium cal BC.
To date, archaeological sites dated between the 7th and 4th millennia cal BC are rare in West Africa. The Neolithic workshop of Promontoire at Ounjougou, Mali, had specialized in the bifacial shaping of armatures on sandstone, a local raw material. This industry was discovered in the upper section of a sequence of mixed fine red loess, dated near the site within an interval between the 6th and 4th millennia cal BC (OSL date of 6.3 ± 0.8 ka), while the geomorphological analysis of the zone and the insertion of the site into neighbouring sequences by radiocarbon dating yield a terminus ante quem of 3500 cal BC, confirming the attribution of the sequence to the Middle Holocene. While typological similarities exist between this bifacial industry and those of the Tilemsi Valley, the Windé Koroji, in southwest Nigeria and the Kintampo culture in Ghana, there remains a significant chronological discrepancy. Moreover, the archaeological material from West African sites contemporaneous with Promontoire Néolithique is most often characterized by a microlithic industry. In the present state of knowledge, the industry of Promontoire Néolithique, chronologically isolated, falls within a dynamic of population movement or influences preceding the current aridity, perhaps associated with climatic changes that took place during the Middle Holocene between the 6th and 3rd millennia cal BC.
Evidences of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic human settlements in sub-Saharan West Africa are relatively uncommon, poorly or not even dated, and come from surface sites or secondary stratigraphic context. The discovery, within the international research programme Palaeoenvironment and human settlement in West Africa, of an impressive Pleistocene sedimentary sequence with numerous archaeological levels in the sector of Ounjougou (Dogon Country, Mali), is thus of great importance, insofar as it allows us to set up a first chrono-cultural reference framework for the West African Palaeolithic. Although the exact chronological position of a Lower Palaeolithic human settlement has yet to be specified, the recurrent Middle Palaeolithic occupation, between the end of marine isotope stage 5 and the beginning of stage 2, reveals an astonishing cultural diversity. This could indicate an important repopulating activity, following climatic and environmental changes during the Upper Pleistocene. Particularly, the appearance of the Levallois reduction technique in Sahelian West Africa, possibly prior to the emergence of the Saharan Aterian, leads us to reconsider the question of the origin of this reduction concept introduction in sub-Saharan West Africa. More generally, the Palaeolithic sequence in the sector of Ounjougou shows the intrusion of more southern and/or eastern cultural influences.
In the Niger Bend, many studies have shown the existence of settlement mounds which mainly developed between the 1st millennium BC and the 15th century AD. While knowledge about tell-type sites in sub-Saharan Africa has advanced in recent years, many aspects of this topic remain poorly understood. Considering the vast geographic area and time span, there is very little accurate chronostratigraphic information available. This relative lack of long sequences strongly limits the diachronic integration of cultural, economic and environmental data, necessary to unravel the socio-economic mechanisms underlying the emergence and development of this type of site. In this paper, we present the results of the excavations we recently conducted on a group of settlement mounds at Sadia, on the Seno Plain (Dogon Country, Mali), which allow a precise chronological, cultural and environmental sequence to be defined. By combining this work and the results from an extensive approach applied throughout the Dogon Country for more than fifteen years, we provide a scenario for the Seno tells and an insight into the development of Sahelian rural societies, including considerations on their interactions with the early State polities of the Niger Bend, prior to AD 1400.