At Ounjougou, the earliest episode of Palaeolithic occupation goes back to the Middle Pleistocene. It is characterized by an “archaic” lithic industry, discovered in deposits too coarse to be directly dated; a valid terminus ante quem of 150,000 BP could, however, be established. During the Upper Pleistocene, the Middle Palaeolithic of the region is better documented, with more than 20 distinct archaeological occurrences between 70,000 and 25,000 BP. The end of the Palaeolithic at Ounjougou, paradoxically fairly poorly represented, occurred between 25 and 20,000 BP, prior to the Ogolian, an intensely arid period.
The Late Stone Age/Neolithic at Ounjougou is represented by three broad and distinct phases of settlement, marked by significant techno-economic and cultural changes.
Between 9,500 and 7,000 BC, the Early Neolithic saw the precocious emergence of pottery, which appeared at the same time as the development of strategies for selective and intensive foraging for grains in a landscape of vast grassy plains. The Middle Neolithic is particularly known for a technological aspect – the specialized production of bifacial points on quartzitic sandstone, dated between the 6th and 4th millennia BC.
The Later Stone Age (which is named “Néolithique recent” in french in our research team) is associated with pronounced cultural and economic changes, with the influence around 2,500 BC of populations arriving from the Sahara, followed by the arrival after 1,800 BC of the first millet cultivators in the region (see the article “The Later Stone Age in Dogon country”).
The Neolithic of the Dogon Plateau ended around 300 BC, with the onset of an extremely arid climatic episode.
Pre-Dogon & Dogon
The phase of pre-Dogon settlement began close to the beginning of the Common Era, several centuries after the end of the Late Neolithic. The populations used objects made of iron and, probably in the second half of the 1st mill. AD, began to master its production. As a whole, the technological and stylistic characteristics of pottery at pre-Dogon sites dated between the 2nd and the 13th centuries AD are clearly differentiated from that of the Late Neolithic. Such differences include the appearance of new decoration made by several kinds of rollers and by mat impressions. This new cultural context places the Dogon Country at the intersection of three different ethnolinguistic spheres – Mande, Gur and Songhay -, for which the influences vary according to region and period.
Oral sources place Dogon settlement in an interval between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. Within this same period, archaeological research has demonstrated a new cultural break, evidenced by the important amount of pottery made by pounding the clay on a baobab mat, typical of one of the five modern ceramic traditions (tradition A, associated with farming women). Oral traditions reveal a very complex history of Dogon settlement, due to frequent relocations of villages associated with a history of climatic and political instability: discovery of water spots, drying of rivers, famines, and land conflicts, but also withdrawal after raids by the neighboring Peul, Bambara and Mossi.