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Journal Article

Asian Crop Dispersal in Africa and Late Holocene Human Adaptation to Tropical Environments


Güldemann,  Tom
Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;


Boivin,  Nicole L.
Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Power, R. C., Güldemann, T., Crowther, A., & Boivin, N. L. (2019). Asian Crop Dispersal in Africa and Late Holocene Human Adaptation to Tropical Environments. Journal of World Prehistory, 32(4): s10963-019-09136-x, pp. 353-392. doi:10.1007/s10963-019-09136-x.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-3EA6-B
Occupation of the humid tropics by Late Holocene food producers depended on the use of vegetative agricultural systems. A small number of vegetative crops from the Americas and Asia have come to dominate tropical agriculture globally in these warm and humid environments, due to their ability to provide reliable food output with low labour inputs, as well as their suitability to these environments. The prehistoric arrival in Africa of Southeast Asian crops, in particular banana, taro and greater yam but also sugar cane and others, is commonly regarded as one of the most important examples of transcontinental exchanges in the tropics. Although chronologies of food-producer expansions in Central Africa are increasingly gaining resolution, we have very little evidence for the agricultural systems used in this region. Researchers have recovered just a handful of examples of archaeobotanical banana, taro and sugar cane remains, and so far none from greater yam. Many of the suggested dispersal routes have not been tested with chronological, ecological and linguistic evidence of food producers. While the impact of Bantu-speaking people has been emphasised, the role of non-Bantu farmers speaking Ubangi and Central Sudanic languages who have expanded from the (north)east has hardly been considered. This article will review the current hypotheses on dispersal routes and suggest that transmissions via Northeast Africa should become a new focus of research on the origins of Asian vegeculture crops in Africa.