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Economies and Identities in Flux: Consequences of the Arrival of Specialized Fulani Pastoralists in Mali’s Inland Niger Delta

Author(s): Abigail Stone

Year: 2015

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In the Sahel, the Fulani are considered the archetypal cattle herders. Although their spread across West Africa is poorly understood, their arrival had profound effects on local populations. In Mali’s Inland Niger Delta, historical sources and isotopic analysis of archaeological cattle, sheep, and goat teeth from the site of Jenné-jeno and the modern town of Djenné suggest that specialized Fulani pastoralists arrived in the Delta between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. This coincided with dramatic upheaval in local subsistence practices, with a shift from a largely generalized, agro-pastoral system to one where ethnic identity became tightly linked to subsistence specialization. This paper draws on archaeological, ethnographic, and historical data to explore how socio-political changes, including the arrival of pastoralists whose identity was strongly tied to mobility and cattle, impacted the identities and subsistence regimes of local populations. I argue that despite archaeological evidence for cultural and ethnic continuity, the boundaries and meanings of group identity in this area underwent dramatic transformations. I caution that even in situations where modern subsistence and ethnic configurations are a seemingly good fit for the archaeological record, group identities are a fluid construct and can change radically in the face of historical forces.

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Economies and Identities in Flux: Consequences of the Arrival of Specialized Fulani Pastoralists in Mali’s Inland Niger Delta. Abigail Stone. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396721)


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min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America