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Population collapse in Congo rainforest from 400 CE urges reassessment of the Bantu Expansion

Authors
  • Seidensticker, Dirk1
  • Hubau, Wannes1, 2
  • Verschuren, Dirk3
  • Fortes-Lima, Cesar4
  • de Maret, Pierre5
  • Schlebusch, Carina M.4, 6, 7
  • Bostoen, Koen1
  • 1 Department of Languages and Cultures, BantUGent—UGent Centre for Bantu Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
  • 2 Royal Museum for Central Africa, Service of Wood Biology, Tervuren, Belgium.
  • 3 Department of Biology, Limnology Unit, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
  • 4 Department of Organismal Biology, Human Evolution, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.
  • 5 Faculté de Philosophie et Sciences sociales, Université libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium.
  • 6 Palaeo-Research Institute, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park, South Africa.
  • 7 SciLifeLab, Uppsala, Sweden.
Type
Published Article
Journal
Science Advances
Publisher
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Publication Date
Feb 12, 2021
Volume
7
Issue
7
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd8352
PMID: 33579711
PMCID: PMC7880602
Source
PubMed Central
Disciplines
  • Anthropology
License
Green

Abstract

The present-day distribution of Bantu languages is commonly thought to reflect the early stages of the Bantu Expansion, the greatest migration event in African prehistory. Using 1149 radiocarbon dates linked to 115 pottery styles recovered from 726 sites throughout the Congo rainforest and adjacent areas, we show that this is not the case. Two periods of more intense human activity, each consisting of an expansion phase with widespread pottery styles and a regionalization phase with many more local pottery styles, are separated by a widespread population collapse between 400 and 600 CE followed by major resettlement centuries later. Coinciding with wetter climatic conditions, the collapse was possibly promoted by a prolonged epidemic. Comparison of our data with genetic and linguistic evidence further supports a spread-over-spread model for the dispersal of Bantu speakers and their languages.

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