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Nitrogen isotope values of Pennisetum glaucum (pearl millet) grains: towards a reconstruction of past cultivation conditions in the Sahel, West Africa

Styring, AK; Diop, AM; Bogaard, A; Champion, L; Fuller, DQ; Gestrich, N; Macdonald, KC; (2019) Nitrogen isotope values of Pennisetum glaucum (pearl millet) grains: towards a reconstruction of past cultivation conditions in the Sahel, West Africa. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany , 28 pp. 663-678. 10.1007/s00334-019-00722-9. Green open access

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Abstract

The nitrogen isotope compositions of charred wheat and barley grains reflect manuring intensity and have been used to reconstruct past manuring practices at archaeological sites across Europe and western Asia. To assess whether this analytical method can be applied to a staple crop in the West African Sahel, the nitrogen isotope values of Pennisetum glaucum grains in this region were determined and the effect of charring ascertained. Pennisetum glaucum ears were collected from fields in northeast Senegal, where the fertilisation histories of the plots (manure and/or household waste) were known. The nitrogen isotope values of these millet grains provide an insight into the values to expect for P. glaucum grains grown with low to moderate addition of manure/household waste in a semi-arid climate. Charring of P. glaucum grains by heating at 215–260 °C for 4–24 h increases their nitrogen isotope values by a maximum of 0.34‰. In light of these modern data, the nitrogen isotope values of millet grains recovered from the archaeological settlement mound of Tongo Maaré Diabal, Mali, can be interpreted as evidence for modest levels of manure/household waste input throughout the occupation of the site from cal ad 500–1150. This study demonstrates the potential for nitrogen isotope values of P. glaucum grains to shed light on past farming practices in West Africa.

Type: Article
Title: Nitrogen isotope values of Pennisetum glaucum (pearl millet) grains: towards a reconstruction of past cultivation conditions in the Sahel, West Africa
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1007/s00334-019-00722-9
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-019-00722-9
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: West Africa, Charring experiment, Intensification, Manure, Palaeoethnobotany
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10071646
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