Rescue Archaeology in Eastern Cameroon. (Special Section)

By Mindzie, Christophe Mbida; Asombang, Raymond et al. | Antiquity, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Rescue Archaeology in Eastern Cameroon. (Special Section)


Mindzie, Christophe Mbida, Asombang, Raymond, Delneuf, Michele, Antiquity


Many infrastructural development projects are now being carried out in Cameroon (e.g. road building, oil pipeline construction, and urban renewal). At present, no specific data base exists to determine the current and potential extent of damage to archaeological and historical sites. To redress this, we believe that there is an urgent need to make impact assessments and mitigation work a mandatory precondition of development approval for entrepreneurs and public works professionals operating in the country.

The current state of affairs, although alarming, is not so desperate, since there have been noticeable advances following the first example of rescue archaeology in Cameroon. This was carried out in connection with the road-tarring project linking Bertoua and Garoua-Boulai (BGB) in the eastern part of the country (map, FIGURE 1). The project, funded by the European Union (EU), prescribed rescue archaeology as part of the pre-inception environmental studies. The results from this survey along the BCB road provide the first statistics against which to assess the level of threat posed by development projects, as well as providing the first archaeological information for this area.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The Bertoua region is a monotonous plateau (mean 700 m a.s.l.). The general slope is north--south, and the evenness of the landscape is emphasized by the numerous whaleback hills and wide valleys, although a few inselbergs appear north of Bertoua (Mt Yangui 885 m; Mt Taki 906 m). The geological substratum of the region is made up of very old granite. The drainage pattern is dense. To the west is the Sanaga basin with the Lom, Ndo, Yangamo and Yong, while the Kadei basin with the Oudou, Koubou and Beka lies in the eastern part. The climate is subequatorial with four seasons (Suchel 1972). The region is a contact zone between the rainforest and savannah.

An initial archaeological reconnaissance was conducted on the inselbergs of Yangui, Dinko and Mombal prior to gravel excavation. Systematic archaeological monitoring followed along the entire length of the road, immediately after initial grubbing-out and clearing of vegetation. All important surface scatters were recorded (any concentration comprising more than 10 different artefacts over an area of 10 sq. m). On a few sites, subsurface test-pitting and rescue excavations were conducted to determine the depth and the extent of archaeological deposits and the quality of preservation (FIGURE 2). Important earthworks occurred in many areas, disturbing soil horizons and revealing buried sites. A systematic inspection of trench wall profiles was undertaken (FIGURE 3). All buried features were listed.

[FIGURES 2-3 OMITTED]

119 surface scatters were located; 28 sites were buried, of which 23 were anthropogenic pits and 5 were ironworking sites. The distribution of sites along the 248-km route shows that, on average, a site with evidence of pits is encountered every 10. …

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