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Residue and Materials analyses of Early Iron Age ceramics, KwaZulu-Natal


Ancient food systems are often broadly simplified as a dichotomy between foraging and farming. This view, however, is increasingly challenged by archaeologists who argue that it does not apply neatly to all contexts in the past. In fact, it is likely that ancient societies followed a myriad of pathways to full food production. The goal of this project, led by Dr Emma Loftus, is to explore the archaeology of food in coastal south-east Africa, one of the last major regions on Earth to be occupied by agriculturalists. Specifically, I test the hypothesis that this southernmost extension of pioneer farmers in Africa, during the 1st millennium AD, was only made possible by a substantial shift in subsistence practice, namely an extensive reliance on wild coastal foods. This project aims to document the little-explored Early Iron Age archaeology of the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline, extending to Mozambique. In conjunction with foot surveys, new excavations and scientific dating, RAMEKIN will undertake portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and organic residue analyses of the distinctive pottery made by early farmers. Portable-XRF reveals details of the ceramic composition and manufacture, indicating the wider relationships between these groups and others, including foragers and farming groups that appeared later in this region. Organic residue analyses of adsorbed lipids in cooking vessels will demonstrate the relative importance of coastal foods, such as shellfish, and animal domesticates, such as cattle, during this expansion phase. Altogether, RAMEKIN will facilitate new, nuanced perspectives on the many routes to food production in Africa, and will help to document the ways in which ancient agriculturalists dealt with episodes of environmental change, an increasingly pertinent topic given the evermore extreme and unpredictable climates faced by farmers today.

Call for proposal

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Funding Scheme

MSCA-IF-EF-ST - Standard EF


Geschwister Scholl Platz 1
80539 Muenchen
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 162 806,40