Early Domesticated Cowpea (Vigna Unguiculata) from Central Ghana

By D'Andrea, A. C.; Kahlheber, S. et al. | Antiquity, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Early Domesticated Cowpea (Vigna Unguiculata) from Central Ghana


D'Andrea, A. C., Kahlheber, S., Logan, A. L., Watson, D. J., Antiquity


From examining the remains of charred cowpeas from rock shelters in Central Ghana, the authors throw light on the subsistence strategies of the Kintampo people of the second millennium BCE. Perhaps driven southwards from the Sahel by aridiflcation, the Kintampo operated as both foragers and farmers, cultivating selected plants of the West African tropics, notably cowpea, pearl millet and oil palm.

Keywords: Ghana, Kintampo, domestication, cowpea, pearl millet, oil palm, subsistence

Introduction

Recent research has raised new issues on the nature of subsistence activities practised by the Kintampo, a Later Stone Age (LSA) tradition of West Africa dating to 3600-3200 BP (Casey 2005; Gautier & Van Neer 2005; Watson 2005; D'Andrea et al. 2006). The relevant sites for the most part are found in present-day Ghana, distributed from southern coastal regions to the far north (Figure 1). In addition to ceramics, Kintampo peoples possessed a material culture that included daub architecture, rasps, microliths, chipped and ground projectile points, ground stone axes, grinding stones and objets de parure (i.e. bracelets, pendants and quartz beads) (Watson 2005). Settlement patterns are quite varied, ranging from semi-sedentary villages to rock shelters occupied on a temporary basis (Davies 1962; Flight 1968; Dombrowski 1980; Stahl 1985a & b; Casey 1993; 2000; Watson 2005). Kintampo subsistence has been of interest to many scholars since the early 1960s (e.g. Davies 1962; Flight 1976; Posnansky 1984; Andah 1993; Anquandah 1993; Stahl 1993; Casey 2000; 2005; Watson 2005). Studies to date have demonstrated that a wide array of wild animal and plant resources were utilised by the Kintampo, many of which continued to be procured by later populations until recent times (Carter & Flight 1972: 278; Rahtz & Flight 1974: 28; Stahl 1985b: 138-41; Casey 1993: 85-86; 2000: 33-37; Gautier & Van Neer 2005: 203-6).

Kintampo groups were also in possession of domesticated species including pearl millet (D'Andrea et al. 2001), a forerunner of N'dama cattle and caprines (Carter & Flight 1972: 278; Stahl 1985b: 138-40; Gautier & Van Neer 2005: 202; Watson 2005: 25). Furthermore, specialised techniques, involving arboricultural practices have been suggested for the exploitation of oil palm by Kintampo peoples of south-central Ghana (D'Andrea et al. 2006). Here we report the identification of an additional domesticated species, the cowpea, surviving in the form of charred remains recovered from rock shelters at the 'B-sites' (Boase-sites) (Figure 1) in Central Ghana. We then discuss the implications of these new finds for interpretations of prehistoric West African subsistence during the fourth millennium BP.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Archaeobotanical research at the B-sites

The B-sites comprise six rock shelter loci excavated under the auspices of the Kintampo Archaeological Research Project (KARP), which began in 1998 (Watson & Woodhouse 2001; Watson 2003; 2005). They are situated in the Buokem Hills, approximately 27km south-west of the modern village of Kintampo in Central Ghana (Figure 1) (Watson 2005: 7-10). The local habitat consists of semi-deciduous forest/savanna ecotone, similar to that in which the nearby rock shelters K1 and K6 are located (Flight 1968; 1976; Rahtz & Flight 1974; Stahl 1985b). The B-sites probably represent a single multi-component site occupied at various rimes by Kintampo and another ceramic LSA population known as the Punpun (Watson 2005: 10). Details of stratigraphy, excavation methods and flotation sampling procedures are summarised elsewhere (Watson 2005: 7-10; D'Andrea et al. 2006).

The B-sites have been intensively sampled for archaeobotanical remains (Watson 2005: 10; D'Andrea et al. 2006; here Table 1). A total of 40 flotation samples was examined which produced five identified taxa including oil palm endocarp and kernels (E. …

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