Gajiganna: Early Settlers at the western shore of Lake Chad


after the works of Peter Breunig, Katherina Neumann, Wim van Neer, Karl Peter Wendt, Heinrich Thiemeyer and Detlef Gronenborn

Near the present town of Gajiganna, NE of the city of Maiduguri, nine sites were excavated. All of them are small settlement mounds rising not more than 2 m above the surrounding surface, with between one and three occupational phases, that are distinguished by different sedimentation and pottery types. Detailed examination of this pottery is still under way, but preliminary analysis of tempering techniques resulted in a tentative ceramic sequence with four succeeding phases, ranging, according to the 14C dates obtained so far, between 2200 cal BC and 400 cal BC. The prehistoric settlements were situated close to an extensive body of water, believed to have been a lagoon formed by backwaters of Lake Chad. The approximate extent of this lagoon can be reconstructed from the vast clay plains (firki), which are still today partly flooded each year during the rainy season. Considering the sites’ proximity to water, it is not surprising that subsistence seems to have been based to a large extent on aquatic resources. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of the faunal remains derived from domesticated animals: in Gajiganna some of the earliest remains of cattle in West Africa, as well as sheep and goat, were recovered. Hunting also played a role in the economy.

Charred plant remains indicate a somewhat denser vegetation cover than today. Species reflect typical savannah components with traces of human influence. Unfortunately, sampling for charred fruits and seeds in the Gajiganna area has proved unsuccessful so far and therefore no remains of cereals have been discovered in the Gajiganna area although abundant fragments of grinding stones suggest the processing of plant material. These plants, however, might well have been wild grasses or wild rice which occur widely within the Chad Basin and are still collected near the sites today. Such wild grasses have also been identified among the botanical remains from the Kursakata mound. The middle layers of Kursakata produced charred Pennisetum grains of a domesticated variety which date anytime between the 8th and 2nd centuries cal BC. As the use of domesticated varieties have not been demonstrated beyond doubt for Later Stone Age sites, it remains presently unclear whether before the use of iron in the mid first millenium BC, the inhabitants of the SW Chad Basin harvested domesticates, or solely made use of the abundant wild species in the area.

Generally the Gajiganna sites are interpreted as the remains of several small dispersed hamlets that existed along the shores of a lagoon of Lake Chad between 2200 B.C. and 400 B.C. Their economy seems to have been based on hunting, fishing, and gathering.


References
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Gronenborn, Version 1.0, April 1997