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Iron Age landscape changes in the Benoué River Valley, Cameroon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2019

David K. Wright*
Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo, N-0315 Oslo, Norway State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an, 710061, China
Scott MacEachern
Division of Social Science, Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, Jiangsu, 215316, China
Stanley H. Ambrose
Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, 61801, USA
Jungyu Choi
Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo, N-0315 Oslo, Norway
Jeong-Heon Choi
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Korea Basic Science Institute, Chungbuk, 28119, South Korea
Carol Lang
Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, YO1 7EP, United Kingdom
Hong Wang
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an, 710061, China Interdisciplinary Research Center of Earth Science Frontier, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
*Corresponding author E-mail address: (D.K. Wright).


The introduction of agriculture is known to have profoundly affected the ecological complexion of landscapes. In this study, a rapid transition from C3 to C4 vegetation is inferred from a shift to higher stable carbon (13C/12C) isotope ratios of soils and sediments in the Benoué River Valley and upland Fali Mountains in northern Cameroon. Landscape change is viewed from the perspective of two settlement mounds and adjacent floodplains, as well as a rock terrace agricultural field dating from 1100 cal yr BP to the recent past (<400 cal yr BP). Nitrogen (15N/14N) isotope ratios and soil micromorphology demonstrate variable uses of land adjacent to the mound sites. These results indicate that Early Iron Age settlement practices involved exploitation of C3 plants on soils with low δ15N values, indicating wetter soils. Conversely, from the Late Iron Age (>700 cal yr BP) until recent times, high soil and sediment δ13C and δ15N values reflect more C4 biomass and anthropogenic organic matter in open, dry environments. The results suggest that Iron Age settlement practices profoundly changed landscapes in this part of West Africa through land clearance and/or utilization of C4 plants.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2019 

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