From stone to metal:
Late Neolithic to Early Iron Age cultural patterns and ecological conditions between central and eastern Sahara


Project Leader:

PD Dr. Hans-Peter Wotzka
Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte
Forschungsstelle Afrika
Jennerstr. 8
D-50823 Köln
 0221 / 556680
 0221 / 5502303


Dr. Birgit Keding


Research Area:

Northeastern Chad



Research Program

With regard to the southern Sahara the process of „neolithisation“ is rightly regarded as a key development for the Holocene history of human culture and its natural evironments. By contrast, in most Saharan regions much less research effort is being devoted to the introduction of metallurgy, especially in the eastern parts of the desert. However, here, as almost everywhere in Africa, only Iron Age cultural trajectories link up the prehistoric past with the present. In fact, the results of recent research suggest for wide parts of sub-Saharan northern Africa a discontinuous transition from the Late Stone Age to the Iron Age. Late Holocene climatic oscillations may have terminated some of the newly consolidated Neolithic cultures of the Sahel and savanna zones where they had been initiated at least partly by climate refugees from the Sahara. „Dark ages“ apparently followed with demographic decline if not complete disruption of human activity. Resettlement only occurred centuries later, and by populations mastering iron metallurgy. The decisive period is the first millennium BC. The migrants may again have originated from Saharan zones north of 15 degrees northern latitude: the Ténéré Desert (Niger) in the west; Ouadai, Ennedi and Ounianga (Chad) as well as Upper Wadi Howar/Northern Darfur (Sudan) in the east. The project focus is on the cultural and environmental history of these regions during the last millennium before the Christian era. Archaeological and geoscientific surveys and exacavations will be carried out in the Ennedi Mountains and the Ounianga region in northern Chad. It is intended to draw on settlement and funerary evidence and on traces of iron metallurgy in order to illuminate the Stone Age - Iron Age transition with the prevailing cultural, climatic and ecological conditions. Major research questions include:

It is intended to synthesize new field data on these questions with results from the literature into typical Final Neolithic and Early Iron Age patterns and processes of culture change apt to be compared both with one another and the corresponding phenomena in sub-Saharan Africa.

[Main] [Project A1] [Project A2] [Project A3] [Project A5] [Project A6] [Project A7] [Project A8] [Project A9] [Project A10]