BantuFirst

The First Bantu Speakers South of the Rainforest: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Human Migration, Language Spread, Climate Change and Early Farming in Late Holocene Central Africa
Start - End 
2018 - 2022 (ongoing)
Department(s) 
Department of Languages and Cultures
Research Focus 

Tabgroup

Abstract

The Bantu Expansion is not only the principal linguistic, cultural and demographic process in Late Holocene Africa. It has also become one of the most controversial issues in African History. Several generations of linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists, palaeoenvironmentalists, geneticists and many more have tried to answer the question of how the relatively young Bantu language family (ca. 5000 years) could spread over disproportionally large parts of Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, but have almost always done so from a discipline-specific base.

The prevailing synthesis is a model in which the Bantu language dispersal is conceived as resulting from a single migratory macro-event driven by agriculture. However, many basic questions about the movement and subsistence of ancestral Bantu speakers are still completely open and can only be addressed through genuine interdisciplinary collaboration as proposed here. Through this project, researchers with outstanding expertise in Central African archaeology, archaeobotany and historical linguistics will form a unique cross-disciplinary team to carry out together evidence-based frontier research on the first Bantu-speaking settlements south of the equatorial rainforest.

Archaeological fieldwork will be undertaken in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Angola that are as yet still unexplored by archaeologists in order to determine the timing, location and archaeological signature of the earliest Bantu-speaking settlers in that region and to establish how they interacted with autochthonous hunter-gatherers. To get a better idea of their subsistence, diet and natural habitat, special attention will be paid to archaeobotanical and palaeoenvironmental proxies, whose study is still in its infancy within Central African archaeological contexts. Historical linguistic research will be pushed beyond the boundaries of vocabulary-based phylogenetics that currently prevails in Bantu classification studies and open up new pathways in the field of lexical reconstruction, especially with regard to the subsistence and land use strategies of ancestral Bantu speakers. Through external interuniversity collaboration with expert teams archaeozoological, palaeoenvironmental and genetic data as well as phylogenetic modelling will be brought into the cross-disciplinary approach.

In this way, scholars working on different datasets will collaborate directly and tackle together challenging research questions in order to acquire a new transversal view on the interconnections between human migration, language spread, climate change and early farming in Late Holocene Central Africa and to transform the current thinking on the Bantu Expansion. 

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