Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pipeline archaeology will re-write history of Central Africa

In May this year, researchers from around the world gathered in Yaounde the capital of the west African country of Cameroon, for the International Conference on Rescue Archaeology.

At the conference, archaeologists introduced new findings from the book: “Kome-Kribi: Rescue Archaeology Along the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline; 1999-2004“. Archaeologists say the results have marked a major breakthrough that will begin a rewrite of the history of Cameroon and the rest of Central Africa.

The fieldwork was carried out as construction took place along the line of the underground petroleum pipeline from Chad to the port of Kribi, Cameroon.

A new history of the region

Artefacts from hundreds of archaeological sites from southern Chad to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Cameroon have begun to suggest a new history to the region.

According to Professor Scott MacEachern, a specialist in African archaeology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine (USA), 472 archaeological sites were found along the 1000 kilometre pipeline – some dating back 100,000 years.

The researchers have urged governments in central Africa to use the new documents as a basis for re-interpretation.

The governments agree that knowledge of a people’s cultural past and historical evolution is key to a present day cultural identity. Pierre de Maree a professor of anthropology and archaeology who has been involved for decades in archaeological fieldwork across Africa explains that, “ We’re starting to see what was going on about 3,000 years ago around Yaounde.”

“This is very interesting because what we see is more and more evidence of a very sophisticated culture settling the forest 3000 years ago. When I started to work in Cameroon almost 40 years ago, people had the idea that Cameroonians were not from here. In fact, archaeology proves that the current [culturally] different groups have been living in the same place for thousands of years,” Maree says.

A time for action on cultural heritage

Officials at Cameroon’s Ministry of Culture pledged to act on recommendations of the archaeologists – including the creation of a national commission on cultural heritage, which would work to avoid the destruction of further archaeological sites during major infrastructure projects, the construction of a national museum, and the strengthening of laws on the conservation of cultural artefacts.

Raymond Asombang, a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Yaounde, said that until the national museum is ready and the recommendations implemented, the artefacts will be taken care of. “We will keep them in museums where people can come to see them.” He added, “We need to know that in civilisation, you are only adding your own contribution to the contributions of other people.”

Past Horizons. 2011. "Pipeline archaeology will re-write history of Central Africa". Past Horizons. Posted: July 12, 2011. Available online:

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