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.
During a study of the Still Bay industry at Sibudu (Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa), we observed ochre deposits on the platforms of flakes associated with the production of bifacial points, which are highly characteristic of this industry. We discuss several hypotheses to explain this phenomenon, implicating either an intentional or unintentional anthropogenic origin, or a natural origin. These considerations are based on the characteristics of the ochre deposits (appearance, position and distribution), the technical features of the lithic artifacts on which they are observed and the sedimentary and archaeological context in which they were found. All of these elements converge to demonstrate that the ochre was indirectly deposited on the flake platforms through the use of iron oxide nodules as knapping tools for the manufacture of bifacial points. The significance of this behavior is discussed in light of increasingly frequent discoveries of ochre or other mineral materials with equivalent properties in the context of the MSA in South Africa.
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.