Do., 22. Apr.



TALK: Koen Bostoen (Ghent University)

Title: Spread-over-spread events in Bantu language history: New cross-disciplinary insights from Central Africa Part 1 of a special 2-part webinar with Hilde Gunnink


22. Apr. 2021, 16:00



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The present-day distribution of Bantu languages is commonly thought to  reflect the early stages of the Bantu Expansion, the greatest migration  event in African prehistory. Using 1149 radiocarbon dates linked to 115  pottery styles recovered from 726 sites throughout the Congo rainforest  and adjacent areas, Seidensticker et al. (2021) show that this is not  the case. Two periods of more intense human activity, each consisting of  an expansion phase with widespread pottery styles and a regionalization  phase with many more local pottery styles, are separated by a  widespread population collapse between 400 and 600 CE followed by major  resettlement centuries later. Coinciding with wetter climatic  conditions, the collapse was possibly promoted by a prolonged epidemic.  Comparison of our data with genetic and linguistic evidence further  supports a spread-over-spread model for the dispersal of Bantu speakers  and their languages. Unlike what late Jan Vansina took as the point of  departure for his magisterial work Paths in the Rainforest (1990), the  life of the peoples in the Congo rainforest was NOT shaped by the  continuity of a common tradition over four millennia, quite the  opposite. Discontinuities in the population history of Central-African  Bantu speech communities urge scholars of ancient African history,  especially those using linguistic data, to rethink how to extract the  past from the present, i.e. how to recover paths in the rainforest that  got obsolete, overgrown and rehabilitated elsewhere.

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