Settlement history of Northwest Benin

The oldest evidence of human existence in northwest Benin around the Atakora mountain range are rough stone artifacts made from gray silicate. An absolute dating is not possible but the comparison with finds from other regions in West Africa points at the Middle Stone Age, maybe even Early Stone Age. Around 6000 BCE people started to use flint-stones, available in every riverbed, instead of grayish silicates. Also more and more quartz pebbles were used for producing tools. The earliest pottery dates only little later, around 5500 BCE.

The first millennium BCE is archaeologically invisible in Northwest Benin, as in large areas of West Africa in general. Until fully sedentary groups of the Iron Age appear in the first millennium AD. The oldest settlement found in northwest Benin dates to the 6th century AD. People lived in clay houses, cultivated pearl millet and sorghum in agroforestry systems and raised domesticated animals. From the 9th century AD onward, contacts with other regions are visible, through finds like cowry shells, probably originating from the Indian Ocean, new pottery shapes and formal produced carnelian beads. In the archaeozoological data an increase in wild animals, like hares and antelopes is visible from the 10th century AD onwards,  although domesticates were still herded as well. In the plains north of the Atakora, the following centuries are a time of probably miserable living circumstances and abandonment. All settlements were left open: some earlier, some later. Around the 12th century AD only burials on the settlement mounds show that people were still in the proximity. South of the Atakora and in the mountains themselves a totally different pattern is visible. More and larger sites were founded, however, only to be abandoned two centuries later. Here the settlement mounds were temporarily used as cemeteries as well.

From the middle of the second millennium AD onwards most remains were found in and around the mountain area. Due to the shallow and stony soils, cultivation of plants was only possible on a very small scale. Animal herding and mainly iron production probably were the main parts of the subsistence strategy. Although several kingdoms and states tried to conquer and dominate the Atakora region, it stayed independent until colonial times.



Petit, L.P. (2000): Archaeological reconnaissance in Northwest Benin: the 1997/1998 and 1999 seasons.– Nyame Akuma 53, 2-5.

Petit, L.P., O. Bagodo, A. Höhn, & K.P. Wendt (2000): Archaeological sites of the Gourma and Mékrou Plains.– Berichte des Sonderforschungsbereichs 268, 14, 229-236, Frankfurt a. Main. pdf


Petit, L.P.  (2005): Archaeology and History in North-Western Benin.- 173 S. (Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology 62, BAR 1398) Oxford (Archaeopress).