Mary Prendergast

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Rice U.

Grant number

Gr. 10477

Approve Date

April 6, 2023

Project Title

Prendergast, Mary (Rice U.) "Reassessing pastoralist foodways in ancient eastern Africa"

Millions of Africans today rely on livestock herding, a resilient lifeway that enables people to survive when climate change threatens food security and social stability. Pastoralist systems have sustained African communities for up to seven millennia. Yet archaeologists often lack data with which to reconstruct ancient pastoralist foodways and, by extension, mobility, settlement, and other aspects of social life. Plants, both foraged and cultivated, have remained largely invisible. But recent ethnoarchaeological and archaeological work in eastern Africa has reopened a longstanding debate about whether early herders were also the region’s first farmers. At the 3,000-year-old site of Luxmanda (Tanzania), our project will investigate ancient plant use, previously attested through pilot studies revealing grinding-stone features, starches and phytoliths on grinding stones, and plant lipid residues in pottery. We will excavate the features and recover samples for material cultural, botanical, faunal, and biomolecular studies, enabling us to integrate lines of evidence for plant- and animal-based foods. Our findings will be compared against published ethnographic records, and against new local ethnobotanical data. We will thus be able to more holistically reconstruct ancient pastoralist foodways, elucidating what aspects of this lifeway might best promote resilience today.