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date: 28 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article suggests that Africa’s language map provides an important starting point for a broad-brush history of the continent over the last 20,000 years. The pattern of phyla points to large-scale movements, particularly the gradual assimilation of diverse foraging populations by expanding agriculturalists. Historical reconstruction can provide striking insights into the economic history of particular regions, for example in relation to agriculture or pastoralism. Loanwords allow one to track the spread of innovations that may not be reflected in the archaeological record. New techniques in human and animal genetics also provide new insights into migration and domestication. However, the classification of African languages is not without controversy, and new discoveries and fresh analyses ensure that the picture is constantly evolving. Archaeologists need to maintain an informed but sceptical awareness of the current picture and to incorporate linguistics in the broader reconstruction of prehistory.

Keywords: large-scale movements, phyla points, expanding agriculturalists, historical reconstruction, domestication, African languages

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