Humans and oil palm (Elaeis Guineensis Jacq.) exploitation in Orile-Owu, southwest Nigeria, ca 1450–1640 AD: Archaeo-botanical evidence

Kingsley Chinedu, Daraojimba

Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

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Dig It: The Journal of the Flinders Archaeological Society

Volume 3, May 2016

Print: ISSN 1440-2475
Online: ISSN 2203-1898


Exploitation of the oil palm is one of the chief sources of livelihood for the people of Orile-Owu, southwest Nigeria, and generally the forest zone of West Africa. Research has established that the exploitation of this important tree crop in West Africa stretches back to more than 5,000 YBP (years before present). However, there is little data on its antiquity at Orile-Owu. Therefore, this research aims to present the first direct archaeo-botanical evidence for the antiquity of the utilisation of the oil palm in Orile-Owu. Archaeological investigations and pollen analysis were carried out in Orile-Owu. The excavation conducted in March 2013 on a mound in Orile-Owu produced an abundance of potsherds, charred and uncharred palm kernels, lithic: non-tools (granite, quartzite and geothite), charcoal, indeterminate broken tooth, animal bones, a sandstone bead and a rusted knife. An AMS radiocarbon date of ca AD 1450-1640 (Beta-403755) was obtained from charred palm kernel endocarp at the lowest cultural level (60-70 cm) where a high concentration of the oil palm pollen was encountered. The occurrence of palm kernel endocarps in association with potsherds and charcoal fragments indicated human occupation at that level, whilst evidence for the burning of vegetation probably preparatory for farming may indicate a possible exploitation of the oil palm for at least the last 500 years. The interpretation given here is further strengthened by the high percentages of oil palm pollen (≥ 25%) in most levels along with an increase in microcharcoal particles and a corresponding general paucity of the pollen of lowland rain forest species.


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