Anthropology & Ethnoarchaeology

Anne Mayor

Senior Lecturer

  • T: +41 22 379 69 49
  • office 4-424 (Sciences II)

The research group “Anthropology & Ethnoarchaeology” develops studies and teaching about dynamics of techniques and ways of life in Africa, from Iron age to modern times. The relationships with environmental, socio-cultural, economical and political proxys are explored. This research involves different historical and analytical approaches like archaeology, ethnoarchaeology, ethnohistory, archaeometry, bio-anthropology, archaeo- and ethno-botany...


Anne Mayor is responsible for the Bachelor course “Ethnology” and for the courses of the Master in Prehistoric Archaeology “Ethnoarchaeology” and “Prehistoric technologies”. She is also in charge of the courses of the Master in African Studies (Global Studies Institute) “Prehistory and Precolonial History in Africa” and “Environment, History and Societies”. She is involved in the training of several master and PhD students.


Research of the group “Anthropology & Ethnoarchaeology” focuses primarily on establishing references in current communities in order to strengthen interpretations in archaeology (ceramics, architecture). They focus also on history and anthropology of techniques in Africa like ceramics, iron, gold and glass. A multidisciplinary approach is employed. 

Current SNF projects

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  • Peuplement humain et paléoenvironnement en Afrique de l'Ouest - Projet Falémé (100013_185384)
  • Tracking Humans in Pre-colonial West Africa: Bio-Archhaeological Study in the Dogon Country, Mali (100011_169403)
  • Foodways in West Africa: an integrated approach on pots, animals and plants (Sinergia CRSII5_186324)
  • Africa: 300'000 years of human diversity (Agora CRARP3_186511)


Key-words: Dynamics of population, History of techniques, Archaeology, Ethnoarchaeology, Ethnohistory, Paleoenvironment, Ceramics, Metallurgy, Africa

  • Agricultural diversification in West Africa: an archaeobotanical study of the site of Sadia (Dogon Country, Mali). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 2021 ;13(4):60. 10.1007/s12520-021-01293-5. 1293. PMC7937602.


    While narratives of the spread of agriculture are central to interpretation of African history, hard evidence of past crops and cultivation practices are still few. This research aims at filling this gap and better understanding the evolution of agriculture and foodways in West Africa. It reports evidence from systematic flotation samples taken at the settlement mounds of Sadia (Mali), dating from 4 phases (phase 0=before first-third century AD; phase 1=mid eighth-tenth c. AD; phase 2=tenth-eleventh c. AD; phase 3=twelfth-late thirteenth c. AD). Flotation of 2200 l of soil provided plant macro-remains from 146 archaeological samples. As on most West African sites, the most dominant plant is pearl millet (). But from the tenth century AD, sorghum () and African rice () appear in small quantities, and fonio () and barnyard millet/hungry rice ( sp.), sometimes considered weeds rather than staple crops, are found in large quantities. Some samples also show remains of tree fruits from savannah parklands, such as baobab (), marula (), jujube ( sp.), shea butter () and African grapes (). Fonio and sp. cultivation appears here to be a later addition that helped to diversify agriculture and buffer against failures that might affect the monoculture of pearl millet. This diversification at the end of the 1st millennium AD matches with other evidence found in West Africa.

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  • Compositional and provenance study of glass beads from archaeological sites in Mali and Senegal at the time of the first Sahelian states. PLoS One 2020 ;15(12):e0242027. 10.1371/journal.pone.0242027. PONE-D-20-15087.


    The presence of glass beads in West African archaeological sites provides important evidence of long-distance trade between this part of the continent and the rest of the world. Until recently, most of these items came from historical Sub-Saharan urban centers, well known for their role in the medieval trans-Saharan trade. We present here the chemical analysis by Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) of 16 glass beads found in three rural sites excavated during the past decade: the funerary site of Dourou-Boro and settlement sites of Sadia, in central Mali, as well as the settlement site of Djoutoubaya, in eastern Senegal, in contexts dated between the 7th-9th and the 11th-13th centuries CE. Results show that the raw materials used to manufacture the majority of the glass most probably originated in Egypt, the Levantine coast and the Middle East. One bead is of uncertain provenance and shows similarities with glass found in the Iberian Peninsula and in South Africa. One bead fragment found inside a tomb is a modern production, probably linked to recent plundering. All of these ancient beads were exchanged along the trans-Saharan trade routes active during the rise of the first Sahelian states, such as the Ghana and the Gao kingdoms, and show strong similarities with the other West African bead assemblages that have been analysed. Despite the remoteness of their location in the Dogon Country and in the Falémé River valley, the beads studied were therefore included in the long-distance trade network, via contacts with the urban commercial centers located at the edge of the Sahara along the Niger River and in current southern Mauretania. These results bring a new light on the relationships between international and regional trade in Africa and highlight the complementarity between centres of political and economic power and their peripheries, important because of resources like gold for eastern Senegal.

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  • Genetic history of the African Sahelian populations. HLA 2017 Dec;():. 10.1111/tan.13189.


    From a biogeographic perspective Africa is subdivided into distinct horizontal belts. Human populations living along the Sahel/Savannah belt south of the Sahara Desert have often been overshadowed by extensive studies focusing on other African populations such as hunter-gatherers or Bantu in particular. However, the Sahel together with the savannah bordering it in the south, is a challenging region where people had and still have to cope with harsh climatic conditions and show resilient behaviours. Besides exponentially growing urban populations, several local groups leading various lifestyles and speaking languages belonging to three main linguistic families still live in rural localities across that region today. Thanks to several years of consistent population sampling throughout this area, the genetic history of the African Sahelian populations has been largely reconstructed and a deeper knowledge has been acquired regarding their adaptation to peculiar environments and/or subsistence modes. Distinct exposures to pathogens - in particular malaria - likely contributed to their genetic differentiation for HLA genes. In addition, although food-producing strategies spread within the Sahel/Savannah belt relatively recently, during the last five millennia according to recent archaeological and archaeobotanical studies, remarkable amounts of genetic differences are also observed between sedentary farmers and more mobile pastoralists at multiple neutral and selected loci, reflecting both demographic effects and genetic adaptations to distinct cultural traits, such as dietary habits.

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  • L'occupation humaine de la vallée du Guringin (plaine du Séno, Mali)


    Recent archaeological survey conducted in Mali in the Guringin Valley, located in the Séno Plain, as well as at the top of the nearby Bandiagara Escarpment, has produced evidence allowing the characterisation of numerous settlement sites and locations at which prehistoric metallurgy was practised. The latter have abundant surface material, mainly consisting of ceramics that show a considerable diversity of decoration. Analysis of the surface pottery assemblages, complemented by that of stratified assemblages from a test pit at one of the sites, indicates important inter-site differences. The results suggest that water, a rare and precious resource in this sandy Sudano-Sahelian plain, attracted the settlement of different populations from Neolithic times to the present, with a particular density of occupation during the first and early second millennia AD. Groups of sites of similar modest size evoke the rural settlements of the Méma area of Mali more than the settlement clusters of the Inland Niger Delta, which are defined by large sites surrounded by satellite settlements in a context of proto-urbanisation. <br /> Les prospections archéologiques menées au Mali dans la vallée du Guringin, située dans la plaine du Séno, et sur le sommet de la Falaise de Bandiagara toute proche, ont permis de mettre en évidence et de caractériser de nombreux sites d'habitat ainsi que des lieux d'activités métallurgiques. Ces derniers livrent en surface un matériel abondant, constitué majoritairement de fragments de céramiques aux décors très variés. L'analyse des assemblages céramiques de surface, complétée d'assemblages stratifiés issus d'un sondage sur l'un des sites, nous indique des différences intersites significatives. Les résultats suggèrent une occupation de diverses populations attirées par l'eau, rare et précieuse dans cette plaine sableuse soudano-sahlienne, et ceci du Néolithique à la période actuelle, avec une densité particulière durant le premier et le début du second millénaire ap. J.C. Les ensembles de sites de tailles modestes et équivalentes se rapprochent plus des regroupements de sites ruraux du Méma que des clusters du Delta intérieur du Niger, définis par un site principal entouré de satellites, caractéristiques d'un contexte de proto-urbanisation.

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