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Archaeological research project in Burkina Faso to shed light on the Kurumba people

Some of the oldest known traces of settlements known to date in the region, as well as new information on the Kurumba community, are among the discoveries of this year's first Polish archaeological mission in Burkina Faso in West Africa.

Archaeological research project in Burkina Faso to shed light on the Kurumba people
Studies of the burial mounds [Credit: K. Rak]
"Burkina Faso remains a blank spot on the archaeological map of Africa, with only random excavations having been carried out here to date. The research project we have started may shed new light on the history of this country since the beginning of human presence in this place," said Krzysztof Rak, one of the initiators of the research project from the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, in an interview with PAP.

Polish scientists have been studying communities of Burkina Faso for years and the director of the Municipal Museum in Żory, Dr. Lucjan Buchalik invited archaeologists to join his research team. In addition to Krzysztof Rak, Bogusław Franczyk of the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw also participated in the project.

During the first season (October and November), archaeologists chose locations to carry out excavations. They focused on the Pobé-Mengao department in northern Burkina Faso. "This area is inhabited by the Kurumba - a people that arrived there only a few hundred years ago, perhaps from today's Mali or Niger. It is not clear whether it was in the thirteenth or perhaps in the sixteenth century - it is still a matter of dispute among ethnologists. We hope that archaeological research will help to solve this puzzle," said Rak.

Archaeological research project in Burkina Faso to shed light on the Kurumba people
The Tell studied by Polish archaeologists [Credit: K. Rak]
He explained that the Kurumba community numbers approx. 300,000 people. Scientists draw attention to a very extensive mythology of the Kurumba according to which, their ancestors arrived in the northern part of Burkina Faso in an "iron house". On arrival they subjugated the local population called Berba and created their own kingdom. According to ethnological sources, in the eighteenth century the Kurumba were dominated by the Mossi, but maintained their old chiefly system headed by the king. While researchers know the list of all the rulers of the Kurumba kingdom of Lurum, it is not clear for how many years each of them had ruled.

Already the first season of work has brought interesting results. Archaeologists conducted surface surveys involving the search for objects such as pottery shards on the surface. They found objects including flint tools and waste resulting from processing flint. According to archaeologists, they date from between 50,000 and 15,000 years ago. "This is one of the oldest known traces of human presence in this country," Rak believes.

Archaeologists also focused on the long abandoned settlement called Damfelenga Dangomde, which survives in the form of a tell (an artificial mound formed as a result of settlement from the accumulated remains of, for example, crumbling walls of mud brick houses). So far it was only known that the site was inhabited until the end of the nineteenth century, and then the Kurumba moved to the contemporary capital of Pobé-Mengao.

Archaeological research project in Burkina Faso to shed light on the Kurumba people
Research on a burial mound [Credit: K. Rak]
During the surface survey, the scientists discovered artefacts indicating that the tell had been inhabited long before the arrival of the Kurumba, said Rak.

Polish archaeologists were also surprised to discover a necropolis of burial mounds in the vicinity of the tell. Until now, the place was known to be an abandoned village.

"It turned out that it was a wrong identification. The mounds of stone and earth that we have studied are approx. 1300 years old," revealed the archaeologist from Kraków. Several dozen such structures are buildings visible in the field to this day. The largest of them is nearly 2 metres high.

Scientists are hoping that they will be allowed to carry out excavations within the royal necropolis, which is located next to the legendary "iron house". "This area is inaccessible to tourists and subject to local taboo. Therefore, conducting research there would be a huge challenge," concluded Rak.

This year's research was carried out in collaboration with the director of the Musée du Korum-Wonda, Adama Sawadogo.

Author: Szymon Zdziebłowski | Source: PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland [January 03, 2017]

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