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Keywords:

  • Southwest Nigeria;
  • Okomu;
  • forest history;
  • charcoal;
  • pottery;
  • vegetation;
  • Entandrophragma;
  • mahogany;
  • iron age

Summary

The classic 1955 and 1956 papers by Eustace Jones describe vegetation pattern, process and history in Okomu Forest, south-western Nigeria. Jones and colleagues were puzzled to find an extensive layer of charcoal and pottery below mature mahogany forests. Based on an extensive review of historical documents and the estimated ages of dying emergent tree species, Jones suggested that the forest in Okomu had regenerated after a human population decline 200–300 years previously. We made radiocarbon measurements on samples from the layer of charcoal and pottery described by Jones. In addition, we obtained δ13C measures from a soil profile cutting through the charcoal layer. The charcoal dates to about 700–750 years BP whilst the δ13C profile showed no evidence of input of organic matter from C4 grasses. These results are discussed in the light of other recent archaeological evidence of the impact of humans on the rain forests of Africa during the last 2000–3000 years. It seems that extensive archaeological remains are hidden beneath much of the African rain forest, suggesting that human disturbance has been one of the dominant factors affecting forest structure and composition in recent millennia.