Modelling the spread of farming in the Bantu-speaking regions of Africa: an archaeology-based phylogeography

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 31;9(1):e87854. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087854. eCollection 2014.


We use archaeological data and spatial methods to reconstruct the dispersal of farming into areas of sub-Saharan Africa now occupied by Bantu language speakers, and introduce a new large-scale radiocarbon database and a new suite of spatial modelling techniques. We also introduce a method of estimating phylogeographic relationships from archaeologically-modelled dispersal maps, with results produced in a format that enables comparison with linguistic and genetic phylogenies. Several hypotheses are explored. The 'deep split' hypothesis suggests that an early-branching eastern Bantu stream spread around the northern boundary of the equatorial rainforest, but recent linguistic and genetic work tends not to support this. An alternative riverine/littoral hypothesis suggests that rivers and coastlines facilitated the migration of the first farmers/horticulturalists, with some extending this to include rivers through the rainforest as conduits to East Africa. More recently, research has shown that a grassland corridor opened through the rainforest at around 3000-2500 BP, and the possible effect of this on migrating populations is also explored. Our results indicate that rivers and coasts were important dispersal corridors, but do not resolve the debate about a 'Deep Split'. Future work should focus on improving the size, quality and geographical coverage of the archaeological (14)C database; on augmenting the information base to establish descent relationships between archaeological sites and regions based on shared material cultural traits; and on refining the associated physical geographical reconstructions of changing land cover.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • African Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Agriculture / history*
  • Archaeology
  • Fossils*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Phylogeography

Grant support

The authors also gratefully acknowledge the AHRC (UK) for financial support to the Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at UCL, London, which supported our database compilation and subsequent collaborations and a Knowledge Interchange and Collaboration (KIC) travel grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF), South Africa which supported travel to the UK. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.