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He suggests that this is the area where “‘incubation’ of the defining ancestral pan-African culture patterns took place, often under frontier conditions….” These notions — of “defining ancestral pan-African culture patterns”, and of “frontier” conditions, are important, and we will focus on the “frontier” quality of sub-Saharan African settlement patterns later.Kopytoff goes on to observe that “From this ancestral ‘hearth’ of African culture, after the onset of dessication of the Saharan-Sahelian belt…What remains of the lake recently is marked in blue.) ( See this link: Both language and archaeological evidence point to an early spreading of Nilo-Saharan from lands considerably further east, aligned perhaps with what has been called an “Aqualithic” culture based to a considerable extent on fishing and other waterway pursuits., showing a distribution of Nilo-Saharan speakers running across the northern portion of the map (with two presumed ancestral speech subdivisions of Nilo-Saharan, arising on the west and east).Here he infers that speakers of the Chadic group of Afro-Asiatic languages, who today occupy much of the northern zones in-between the Songhay and Saharan languages, were not present in this area at this earlier time.The older center of gravity of the Niger-Congo language group is limited to western Savanna-Sahelian zones; speakers of this family were in early times not located in the Congo or further east and south Should this latter suggestion hold, a tentative link between a very ancient language community (“Niger-Saharan-speakers”) and a general human physical type (“Sudanese”) would seem probable for the time-frame somewhere around 10,000 BCE.But these uncertainties need not detain us here: the picture we seek is anyway provisional, and will change in details with time.The Nilo-Saharan speakers at this time occupied the dry savanna and steppe country (the “Sahel”) stretching from west of the Niger Bend eastward to locations far beyond then-massive Lake Mega-chad.See at right, for example, a map of the extent of this enormous Early Holocene Lake.
Historical linguistics now provides us with many informed (if often controversial) estimations of time-separation between various speech communities, together with inferences about cultural features probably shared among the speakers of the reconstructed “proto-languages”, and more concrete datings coming from Archaeology and other material-science fields provide timelines of climate, vegetation, and cultural adaptations, which enable us to suggest outline overviews of deep African history. While climatological estimations and datings for the region vary, archaeologists and physical anthropologists appear to agree that human populations physically resembling those of contemporary sub-Saharan Africans (labeled “Sudanese” according to broad features of physical type) lived south of the Sahara, limited to the zones labelled above left as “rainforest” and “savanna” (probably mostly occupying the latter), and then they moved more northward as foragers during the early Holocene period (following about 10,000 BCE), where greater diversity of resources were evolving with the increased rainfall regimes, including lakes, streams, and richer vegetation.We might well be tempted to rely more strongly for an historical picture derived from archaeology, and will refer to findings from that field, but it too provides in many ways more questions than answers.The fields related to historical climatology are also very important, but these also show considerable variability.According to Christopher Ehret, the earliest subdivisions of the Niger-Congo language contain terms for cultivation, apparently associated with the Guinea Yam (“Then at around 5000-4000 B.C., at a period of shift to somewhat drier climate, the proto-Benue-Kwa descendants of the proto-Volta-Congo people expanded southward into the rainforest belt of West Africa.