Rasolondrainy, T. (2012), “Discovery of Rock Paintings and Libyco-Berber Inscription from Southwestern Madagascar”, in Chami F. and Radimilahy C. (eds.) Studies in the African Past, Vol.10, pp.173-195

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This paper presents the result of an archaeological study on the first prehistoric rock paintings site discovered in Madagascar and the wider Southwestern Indian Ocean basin. It provides archaeological evidence that contributes to the understanding of the prehistory of Madagascar as well as the distribution of African rock art. Until recently, Madagascar was not known to have prehistoric rock art. Through field survey conducted in 2010, rock paintings of red, claret, reddish orange, black, and white in monochrome, bichrome and polychrome styles were encountered in the Ampasimaiky rockshelter, in the Upper Onilahy, Southwestern Madagascar. Paintings were recorded, drawn, counted, and photographed for comparative analysis. Shape typology demonstrated naturalistic depictions of cattle, mainly of zebus, anthropomorphic stick figures, and Schematic-Geometric-Amorphous signs. The latter are dominated by quadrangular, circular and elliptical shapes, lines of dots/strokes, and alphabet-like signs. Through comparative study, a vertical set of geometric signs encountered at Ampasimaiky rockshelter has been identified as Libyco-Berber inscription. This would be the first evidence for early contact between Madagascar and Northern Africa during prehistoric times. Scanty materials such as potsherds and animal bones have been uncovered from the excavation of the shelter’s shallow deposits, but as yet no direct link has been established between this assemblage and the paintings. Even so, the presence of the Libyco-Berber inscription could be used to relatively date at least a part of the rock paintings to between 700 BC to roughly fifth century AD.

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... Climate proxies have uncovered a long history of unpredictable climate in southwest Madagascar, especially since the late 16 th century CE (Zinke et al., 2004;Dewar & Richard, 2007, 2012Virah-Sawmy et al., 2010. Historical documents and oral traditions mention cyclical droughts and unpredictable rainfall regimes that caused crop failures and episodic famines (Faublée, 1942(Faublée, : 165, 167, 1947. ...
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Anthropologists coined the term human niche construction theory (HNCT) to apply the ecological concept of niche construction to the study of human society. Most of the work done on HNCT focuses on the biological and economic aspects of human niche construction. This paper aims to integrate HNCT in the archaeological study of settlement choice. I incorporate not only the economic aspects of settlement choice but its sociopolitical and ideological dimensions as well. To do so, geospatial analysis, archaeology, paleoclimatic proxies and ethnohistorical records have been integrated to provide multiple lines of evidence as to whether the proximity of a site to resources and/or its defensibility influenced community settlement choice in the face of unpredictable climate conditions and intergroup conflicts. While the geospatial analysis demonstrated the influences of environmental and sociopolitical pressures on the settlement choice of archaeological communities, ethnohistorical reports showed that the decisions of people in southwest Madagascar have been heavily influenced by belief in cosmological values and divination. To choose where and when to settle, people consulted a diviner and acted upon the insight and prediction of the divination, even if the decision was not beneficial to their economic and sociopolitical lifeways. The slight contrast between these lines of evidence demonstrates the importance of integrating both environmental, sociopolitical, and ideological aspects into the study of human niche construction.
... It is not bizarre to think that the same phenomenon first occurred in ancient times with the Romans. Surprisingly, what the nineteenth-century Europeans were trying to discover in eastern and central Africa had already been reported by the Romans (Chami and Ntandu 2018) A fourth archaeological point in connection to the extension of Azania to southern Africa is a reiteration of the point raised differently earlier that research on the islands of the Eastern African Indian Ocean seaboard from Zanzibar to Madagascar portrays sailing by the Early Iron Age people and their predecessors in ancient times concerning the finding of archaeological sites of that period thither (Chami 2011;Rasolondrainy 2012Wright 2018. These findings work against the racist colonial paradigm that the Bantu speakers could not sail in the past (Sheriff 1981). ...
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The Romans identified East Africa as Azania. The Chinese as Zezan. The metropolis of Rhapta was indicated to be the capital of Azania. In recent times a controversy emerged as to the location of Azania and Rhapta. A discussion has also occurred regarding the kind of people who settled in Azania. Whereas some scholars agree that the core of Azania was in East Africa modern, the geographical extent of Azania is in question. Archaeological, historical, and linguistic data have been used to suggest Azania extended from the coast of East Africa to the Great Lakes region, central Africa and South Africa. It is also argued that the people of Azania were Bantu speakers who were farming and smelting iron. It is therefore justifiable for the people of the larger region of South Africa to East Africa to name themselves Azanians.
... Researchers favoring a larger role for humans point to evidence of human impacts prior to the posited island- 9-EV (Rasolondrainy 2012), which appears to have been earlier yet, but has not been radiocarbon dated. ...
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Researchers are divided about the relative importance of people versus climate in triggering the Late Holocene extinctions of the endemic large-bodied fauna on the island of Madagascar. Specifically, a dramatic and synchronous decline in arboreal pollen and increase in grass pollen ca 1000 yr ago has been alternatively interpreted as evidence for aridification, increased human activity, or both. As aridification and anthropogenic deforestation can have similar effects on vegetation, resolving which of these factors (if either) led to the demise of the megafauna on Madagascar has remained a challenge. We use stable nitrogen isotope (δ15N) values from radiocarbon-dated subfossil vertebrates to disentangle the relative importance of natural and human-induced changes. If increasing aridity were responsible for megafaunal decline, then we would expect an island-wide increase in δ15N values culminating in the highest values at the time of proposed maximum drought at ca 1000 yr ago. Alternatively, if climate were relatively stable and anthropogenic habitat alteration explains the palynological signal, then we would anticipate little or no change in habitat moisture, and no systematic, directional change in δ15N values over time. After accounting for the confounding influences of diet, geographic region, and coastal proximity, we find no change in δ15N values over the past 10 000 yr, and no support for a period of marked, geographically widespread aridification culminating 900-950 yr ago. Instead, increases in grasses at around that time may signal a transition in human land use to a more dedicated agro-pastoralist lifestyle, when megafaunal populations were already in decline. Land use changes ca 1000 yr ago would have simply accelerated the inevitable loss of Madagascar's megafauna.
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The rock art of Uganda has not been extensively explored and its authorship has remained uncertain due to its obscure geometric iconography and unknown date. This paper, developed out of my PhD thesis, provides an analysis of the geometric rock art of Uganda and describes its relationship with similar rock art in the east and central African region. This association provides a strong basis for a new ascription of Pygmy hunter-gatherer authorship.
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A distinctive geometric tradition of rock paintings and engravings has recently been introduced to rock art studies in southern Africa. The general characteristics and the overall distribution of this art are now known and the authorship of this art has been provisionally assigned to Khoekhoe herders. But, many aspects of this new art tradition remain obscure. This paper advances our knowledge of Geometric Tradition art by focusing on a specific geographic area in which it is found in unusual abundance: the Central Limpopo Basin. The paper summarizes the findings of more than 14 years of rock art field surveys in this area. It sets out the first published typology for the art, investigates its origins, and examines the relationships between this art and the other rock arts of the area before making conclusions about the likelihood of a Khoekhoe authorship.
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In this paper we examine evidence from rock shelters in the Northern Province that points towards a complex sequence of interaction between foragers and farmers. Farmers underwent radical shifts in social complexity that had a range of implications for change in the identity, status and viability of hunter-gatherers in the region. Based on a composite excavated and rock art sequence, we argue that rock shelters were places of social power, of which hunter-gatherers gradually lost control in the face of farmer appropriation, particularly in the second half of the 1st millennium AD. We argue that this appropriation stemmed, in part, from farmers appealing to the ambiguous power of first peoples' as a resource in the regulation of their own social needs. Farmers consequently expropriated rock shelters by overwriting, adding to and subtracting from, and recycling hunter-gatherer deposits and images by imposing their own set of marks. There is some indication that the manipulation by farmers of rock shelters as ritual arenas retained and extended some specific hunter-gatherer belief. This continuity is slight, however, and, consequently, we suggest that major rock shelters were features that were inherently powerful resources. As most ethnographic observations of farmer response to foragers have shown, farmers were ambiguous in their categorisation of foragers. They assimilated their powerful places at a general level but, at the same time, expunged and rewrote the meaning and power of place in their own terms. We argue that, in the Northern Province, the farmer assimilation of forager places led to major forager settlement and social change. Based on the sequence we present, we conclude that interaction cannot be reduced to either/or responses underpinned by terms such as association, on the one hand, and assimilation on the other. The process and the outcomes were far more complex.
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Recent archaeological research has identified a widespread southern African rock art tradition that materially affects the debate over what archaeology can tell us about prehistory in southern Africa. This tradition differs from the one attributed to the ancestors of today’s San in being dominated by rough-pecked and finger-painted geometric imagery. Using appearance, technique, age, geographic distribution, site preference, and relationship to known San-produced rock art, this article considers various candidates for its authorship—San foragers, Bantu-speaking farmers, Khoekhoen herders, European colonists, and multiethnic groupings— and concludes that it was predominantly Khoekhoen. The identity of the Khoekhoen, their origins, the route(s) by which they traveled, their relationship with foragers, and their material culture signature are contentious issues. The identification of a Khoekhoen rock art tradition provides another element for the study of the San-Khoekhoen relationship.
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Current models propose that mitochondrial DNA macrohaplogroups M and N evolved from haplogroup L3 soon after modern humans left Africa. Increasingly, however, analysis of isolated populations is filling in the details of, and in some cases challenging, aspects of this general model. Here, we present the first comprehensive study of three such isolated populations from Madagascar: the Mikea hunter-gatherers, the neighbouring Vezo fishermen, and the Merina central highlanders (n = 266). Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences reveal several unresolved lineages, and a new, deep branch of the out-of-Africa founder clade M has been identified. This new haplogroup, M23, has a limited global distribution, and is restricted to Madagascar and a limited range of African and Southwest Asian groups. The geographic distribution, phylogenetic placement and molecular age of M23 suggest that the colonization of Madagascar was more complex than previously thought.
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We report here definitive evidence of butchery, most probably associated with hunting, of giant extinct lemurs by early human settlers in Madagascar. Specimens of Palaeopropithecus ingens and Pachylemur insignis from two sites in southwestern Madagascar, Taolambiby and Tsirave, show classic signs of butchering. We compared these to the bones (also from Taolambiby) of butchered Propithecus verreauxi, a lemur still living in the region. The characteristics of the tool-induced extinct-lemur bone alterations (sharp cuts and chop marks near joints, oblique cuts along the shafts, spiral fractures, and percussion striae) suggest skinning, disarticulation, and filleting. Conclusive evidence of megafaunal modification by humans in Madagascar was limited previously to a few hippo and elephant bird bones and one extinct aye-aye tooth. New evidence comes not from archaeological sites, but from specimens collected in the early 1900s, without stratigraphic records, at "subfossil" sites (i.e., sites renowned for their late Pleistocene or Holocene fossils, often lacking human artifacts). Whereas these are hardly the most ideal samples for analysis of this kind, careful scrutiny of the characteristics of the cut marks has allowed us to document butchery beyond any reasonable doubt. One bone with definitive cut marks has been dated to the very earliest part of the human period in Madagascar. Continued, careful research on the bones in subfossil collections is warranted.
Dating the rock art of southern Africa has proved elusive despite its abundance and variety. Until recently only relative dating methods of varying reliability could be used. A few radiocarbon dates for southern African rock art have become available in the last decade or so and show that the art in general is at least 26000 years old. Although the precise dating of individual rock art sites required by archaeologist and art historian alike is not yet available, more examples of radiocarbon-dated rock art should become available in the future and it may prove possible to obtain direct radiocarbon dates from black pigments. This paper reviews methods used to date southern African rock art and provides a list of examples dated by radiocarbon.
This article reviews and contrasts research findings in a variety of disciplines seeking corroboration for theories of settlement in Madagascar. Evidence is considered from the fields of linguistics, archaeology (studies of pottery), cultural anthropology and genetic analysis, leading to conclusions broadly supporting the thesis of Austronesian migrations directly to Madagascar from Kalimantan and Sulawesi around the 5th and 7th centuries CE, which combined with a Bantu group originating from the region of Mozambique. The article nevertheless warns against attributing too much to individual discipline studies, concluding that only genetic analysis can provide conclusive proof, and this only when informed by prior anthropological and historical indicators.
Instead of the usual assumption that the Sanga cattle of Africa arose from the crossing of taurine cattle (Bos taurus) from North Africa or the Middle East with humped cattle (Bos indicus) originating in the Indian sub-continent, it is argued that they are of ancient autochthonous origin and have come to be mixed with taurine and humped cattle probably only in the last few hundred years, which is why they share a mosaic of characters with the other two taxa. Much more work needs to be done on the osteology of Sangas and of cattle remains from archaeological sites in Africa, but if this model proves to be correct African cattle should be regarded as a taxon of equal status toBos taurus andBos indicus.
A gazetteer of rock art sites in the Lake Victoria basin is followed by discussion on the relationship between the different kinds of art both within and outside the area, their interpretation and the evidence they provide of the identity and practices of the artists.The gazetteer includes a selection of previously published sites; the hitherto unpublished material derives mainly from the Bukoba and Mwanza areas and the Lolui Islands. That from Bukoba consists mainly of variations on a form which the author interprets as depicting cattle, while the majority of the paintings from the other two areas are non-representational, including numerous variations on the concentric circle, ‘dumb-bell’ and ‘grid-iron’ forms. The art is thought to be the product of more than one cultural group and to have been produced over several centuries up to about 200 years B.P. The editor considers that the non-representational art of the area has close similarities to that described from Zambia and Southern Africa and that the attribution in those areas of the naturalistic art to Late Stone Age ‘hunter-gatherers’ and the non-naturalistic art to mainly ritual sites used by or contemporary with Iron Age peoples is also very likely to hold for the Lake Victoria basin.
A shelter containing mainly geometrical paintings has been disclosed in Unyamwezi, in an area hitherto unconnected with such sites. It would seem from the attitude of the Nunguli secret society towards these paintings, their apparent age, and the general lack of local knowledge about them, that they are of pre-Nyamwezi origin. The nature of the geometric shapes suggest that they may have some symbolic significance, perhaps through sun worship or for some as yet unidentified purpose, and their similarity to shapes in other Tanzanian sites raises the possibility of a connexion.
Ancient and early Byzantine authors: Diodorus (II, 55), ‘Pseudo-Callisthenes’, Cosmas Indicopleustes and Procopius Caesarensis—mention the navigation of the Indian Ocean by ‘Ethiopians’ of the African Horn and the Axumite Kingdom in their own ships. The hoard of Kushana gold moneys found at Dabra-Dammo confirms this. The legend in the Kebra Nagast of Ethiopian military expeditions to India incorporates reminiscences about sea voyages to India by ancient Axumites.
The origins of ancient and modern African cattle are still a matter of much debate among researchers. Part of the dispute involves the question of the appearance in Africa, from the second millennium BC onwards, of cattle carrying a distinguishing morphological feature present in most of the modern sub-Saharan breeds: The hump. This paper addresses the issue of the origins of the African humped cattle. After reviewing the current hypothesis on their origins, the status and significance of old and new archaeological and osteological evidence from the Chad Basin are presented and critically discussed. Mainly based on the cultural context of the archaeological figurative evidence available in the remaining continent, a case for the foreign ancestry of the ancient African humped cattle is made, and a perspective for future research in the topic is provided.Les origines des bœufs africains antiques et modernes sont toujours le motif de vives discussions entre les chercheurs. Une part des discussions concerne la question de l’apparition en Afrique, dès le second millénaire BC, de boeufs portant un certain trait morphologique bien visible sur la plupart des bœufs africains sub-sahariens modernes: la bosse. Le présent manuscrit traite des racines du bœuf africain à bosse. Après avoir examiné les hypothèses courantes de leurs origines, le caractère et la pertinence des trouvailles archéologiques et ostéologiques du Bassin du Lac Tchad sont présentés de façon critique. Se basant sur le contexte culturel de l’art figuratif ancien présent dans le reste du continent, l’hypothèse d’une origine à l’étranger du bœuf africain à bosse est envisagée et une perspective est présentée pour des investigations futures sur le sujet.
Diffusionist theories have often been invoked to explain how ancient African cultures were formed and developed. Explanations were either in terms of waves of migrations or by infiltration by people of less African origin or people alleged to have had a high culture. This article provides new evidence for a Neolithic cultural sequence on the islands and coast of East Africa. It proposes that archaeological cultural horizons such as these should be re-examined using a revised diffusionist theory. On this basis, it can be shown that the people who were smelting iron in Sub-Saharan Africa around the first century a.d. were not marauding communities of Bantu peoples with no inclination to settle and build up empires, but of people who were well settled, and had a long history of building stable settlements and trading from Neolithic times.
Two significant events in the late Holocene history of Madagascar were (a) the arrival of people, and (b) the loss of nearly two dozen species of land vertebrates in the socalled “subfossil extinctions”. The consensus is that the faunal losses occurred shortly subsequent to human arrival, but the timing of these events is poorly constrained. The minimum age for initial human presence on the island may now be set at approximately 2000 bp, on the basis of AMS 14C dates for human-modified femora of extinct dwarf hippos from SW Madagascar. Assuming that this date also marks the beginning of deleterious human interactions with the subfossil fauna, and assuming that this fauna became completely extinct by 900 bp, the width of the anthropogenic “extinction window” may have been as long as c. 1000 a. This estimate, nearly twice the length of previous ones, is close to the unadjusted minimum for the duration of the terminal Pleistocene extinction event in the Americas. Whether or not this length of time comports with theoretical expectations of a “blitzkrieg” pattern of losses is uncertain, but greater refinement in dating the end of the subfossil extinctions is unlikely to produce radically shorter estimates of duration.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Cambridge, 1995. In 2 vols. Large maps relating to this thesis have not been filmed. Please apply direct to the issuing university.
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