The Journal of African History

Research Article

Recent Archaeological Research and Dates from West Africa

Susan Keech McIntosha1 and Roderick J. McIntosha1

a1 Rice University, Texas

This article reports over 250 new radiocarbon dates relevant to recent archaeological research in West Africa. Thanks to the continuing trend towards series of dates from either single sites or groups of related sites, some major blanks on the archaeological map of West Africa have been replaced by well-dated regional sequences. An example is the Malian Sahara, where palaeoenvironmental and archaeological investigations at a large number of sites have clarified the relationship between Holocene climatic change and Late Stone Age occupation. Other areas that were largely archaeological unknowns until the research reported in this article was undertaken include the middle Senegal valley, the Inland Niger Delta, and the Bassar region in Togo. Other research included here reinterprets previously studied, ‘classic’ Late Stone Age sequences, such as Adrar Bous, Kintampo and Tichitt. There are also new dates and details for early copper in Niger and Mauritania which prompt a reconsideration of the true nature of this proposed ‘Copper Age’. Of particular significance to general reconstructions of West African prehistory is the documentation of regional and long-distance trade accompanying the emergence of complex societies along the Middle Senegal and Middle Niger in the first millennium A.D.

The article begins with a brief commentary on calibration, in view of the recent publication of high-precision calibration curves. Several prevalent misconceptions of what calibration is and what it ought to do are addressed. We suggest that archaeologists and historians should routinely make reference to calibration in order to avoid misinterpreting radiocarbon results.