Wood exploitation for Bassar iron smelting – a re-evaluation

Abstract : Local iron production played a major role in pre-colonial West African economy and early voyagers reported about the industrial magnitude of several metallurgical centres. One of these is the Bassar Region in central Togo where iron production operated on a high level until the early 20th century and ceased completely in the 1950s. The earliest onset is considered to date back before the turn start of the Common Era, but it was only from the 14th century onwards that the area experienced distinct production intensification. Bassar iron metallurgy was an early focus of scientific research and regularly accused of having caused massive deforestation and vegetation degradation due to wood over-exploitation for charcoal production to supply the iron smelting furnaces. One of the aims of the current interdisciplinary project ‘SIDERENT’ on Bassar iron metallurgy is to re-evaluate the ecological consequences of iron smelting in the area by applying wood charcoal analyses in combination with other palaeoecological studies. This poster presents the most important anthracological results and existing oral traditions on wood use. In the current population, there is still a vivid and detailed memory of the metallurgical chaîne opératoire, wood exploitation for charcoal production and local specialisation of skills. A number of trees and shrubs are considered to have been suitable for iron smelting, among them taxa with a strong ability to re-sprout after cutting. The composition of charcoal assemblages from metallurgical waste heaps is generally coherent with these oral traditions though a number of additional taxa occur which were not mentioned in the interviews. The use of regenerating taxa in concert with the high biomass regenerating capacity of the Sudano-Guinean zone had earlier led us to question the often presumed severe ecological consequences of wood use for Bassar iron smelting. A current focus on two site complexes (Tatré, Tchogma) is useful to establish local long-term charcoal sequences in order to outline possible changes in wood use over time and to determine the underlying causes.
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  • HAL Id : hal-02011399, version 1

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Barbara Eichhorn, Caroline Robion-Brunner. Wood exploitation for Bassar iron smelting – a re-evaluation. 23e Colloque de la Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA), Jun 2016, Toulouse, France. ⟨hal-02011399⟩

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