Against Eurocentrism: The Tenerian Pastoralists

Two typical Ténéré Axes from the Tenerian in Mali

The Tenerian is a culture of mobile Pastoralists in the Sahara during the middle Holocene. Reygasse first used the term Tenerian in 1934. The definition was subsequently refined by Members of the Mission Berliet to the Air Mountains in northern Niger and by the late Desmond Clarke in 2008, who had worked at Adrar Bous in the Ténéré in the 1970ies.

 In the Levant, Anatolia and the Euphrates the Neolithic began at 8.5 k.a. BC, immediately after the younger Dryas. Here the Neolithic is an economy of sedentary farmers based on cultivated crops and domestic animals. In the Near East, pottery follows food production only at 6.5 k.a. BC.

Because of their need for winter rain, crops from the Fertile Crescent could only spread to certain parts of the African Continent. Their cultivation was possible in Lower Egypt, thanks to the seasonal Nile floods, and in the East African Highlands.

 In Egypt, as shown in an earlier post, the earliest farming communities emerged between 5.2 and 4.5 k.a BC at Fayum and at Merimde Beni-Salama in the Lower Egyptian Nile Valley. It seems that the first “Neolithic” inhabitants of Fayum were farmers, hunters and fishers with only limited sedentism.

There is at present no evidence for domestic crops in central, eastern, and southern Africa before the middle of the first millennium BC. Instead the Archaeological evidence indicates that domestic stock keeping is the oldest form of food production in this part of the world. In contrast to the Levant, pottery production had started considerably earlier in Northern Africa (for example at Ounjougou in Mali with dates from before 9400 cal BC).

 The term pastoralism in this post refers to a system of highly mobile human groups, with stock keeping as the principal economic activity. This includes also the utilization of wild animals and plant resources. First secure evidence of Cattle taming was found in the Nabta-Bir Kiseiba region between 6.5 and 5.5 k.a BC, and by about 5.5 k.a BC, cattle were present in most parts of North Africa. For Domestic sheep and goat a local African domestication can be excluded, because their wild ancestors never inhabited the continent. They were introduced from the Near East.

For the earliest North African pastoralists, stock keeping was probably only one of different ways of getting food, besides fishing and hunting and gathering plants. The main advantage of keeping domestic animals over pure hunting and gathering must have been the predictable availability of a domestic stock. Indeed this adaption to Holocene conditions was so successful that it slowed down the domestication of local African crops for several millennia.

During the last 20 years it became clear, that pastoralism was a very detailed pattern of successful adaptation to semiarid environments and a prudent choice according to the local conditions which were not productive for agriculture.. The system of Pastoralism was certainly not a “stunted Neolithic” as once thought from a Eurocentric / Levantinocentric view.

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