Entangled Africa and climate change in the past

Aerial view of Lake Yoa in Chad. Photo © George Steinmetz.

Entangled Africa and climate change in the past

Global climate change has been a central topic of worldwide politics and public opinion in recent years. The “Fridays for Future” movement brings the younger generation onto the streets to underline the issue. The current pandemic is hopefully used as an opportunity to overcome the economic crisis that has arisen by providing targeted support for climate-neutral projects. And even the awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to United Nations World Food Programme is linked to this event.

The German Archaeological Institute adds to this look into the future a view into and from the past. For climate change has been preoccupying the world’s population for thousands of years. In the context of the conference “Ground Check – Cultural Heritage and Climate Change” currently held online, the topic is put up for discussion. The “Entangled Africa” projects also contribute to this debate. Pollen specialist Michèle Dinies from the DeGree Project (P06) and archaeologist and program coordinator Jörg Linstädter (P12) presented case studies and results from their research on September 30th and October 7th.

DeGree focuses on the aridification of the Central Sahara. Plants, animals and humans were pushed back into the remaining green zones. Humans had to reorganize their social and political structures about 6000 years ago. In natural history, these changes can be seen in innovations such as the cultivation of crops, from which pollen are preserved in the layers of the soil and lake sediments. The results of their study show that oases were important retreat areas. At the same time, the form of agricultural adaptation to changing climatic situations varies greatly from place to place – and surprisingly, not every favorable location was intensively used.

Cichorioideae pollen from a drill core. Photo © M. Dinies, P06.

In the context of his archaeological work in North Africa, Jörg Linstädter is following the connections between climate change and settlement patterns. It is striking that no correlation between the composition of food and a changing environment can be identified. In the western Mediterranean region, Neolithic settlement groups apply very individual strategies. However, the mixture of domesticated and wild animals and plants seems to be essential for securing sufficient food. This diversity is becoming topical again today, at a time when the lack of complexity in our living environment makes us more inflexible than ever before when it comes to react to the rapidly advancing changes in our environs.

J. Linstädter's case study on nutrition in Neolithic Morocco. Sceenshot: J. Sigl, P12.
Other topics of discussion will include drinking water and coastal flooding. Take part in the debates, especially in the final online meeting on October 29th, 2020 at 18:00 (CET)! The conference is open to the public and is held entirely in English (Ground Check Conference Registration). Past presentations and discussions can be viewed online in full length via the Youtube Channel of the Archaeological Heritage Network.
M. Dinies presents changes in the oasis economy. Sceenshot: J. Sigl, P12.
Climate and nutrition connect past and future. Screenshot: J. Sigl, P12.
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