Prof. Dr. Katharina Neumann
Head of African Archaeobotany

Office hours: on appointment

Campus Westend, Poelzig-Building
Room Q4, 6.416
Tel.: 069 798-32093
Fax: 069 798-32121
Email: K.Neumann(at)

Goethe University
Institute of Archaeological Sciences
Norbert-Wollheim-Platz 1
60629 Frankfurt am Main

Research profile

Research projects

Professional background

Selected publications

Research profile

Since 1983 I have been working as an archaeobotanist in Africa, from the Sahara to the tropical rainforest. I am especially interested in 1) the relationship between prehistoric people and their plant environment, 2) vegetation and climate change, and their impact on natural resources for humans. The regional focus of my working group is in West and Central Africa; I have done fieldwork in Sudan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, and Kenya. My teaching activities include courses on ancient plant use and the worldwide history of agriculture.

Major research topics:

  • African Holocene and Late Pleistocene vegetation history
  • History of plant use, domesticated plants and the emergence of agriculture in Africa
  • Phytoliths (especially taxonomy/nomenclature)
  • Charcoal and wood identification


Research projects
  • Iron Age human subsistence, environment, and climate in the Inner Congo Basin (Democratic Republic of the Congo), with Prof. H.-P. Wotzka (DFG, 2015-2019)
  • Phytoliths and Late Quaternary vegetation history of West Africa (DFG, 2016-2019)
  • Human impact in coastal West Central Africa from the Iron Age to colonial times – reflected in the charcoal of Dibamba 1 (DFG, 2010/11)
  • The development of complex societies in sub-Saharan Africa: The Nigerian Nik culture, with Prof. P. Breunig (DFG, since 2010)
  • Archéologie du Paysage au Pays Dogon / Mali (APPD) (DFG/ANR, 2008-2010)
  • Ökologischer Wandel und kulturelle Umbrüche in West- and Zentralafrika (DFG-Research Unit, 2003-2009)
  • Vegetation history of Ounjougou/Mali (DFG, 2005-2007)
  • The Dahomey Gap: Vegetation history of the forest-savanna boundary in Benin and Southwest Nigeria (VW-Stiftung, 1999-2002)
  • SFB 268 Kulturentwicklung und Sprachgeschichte im Naturraum westafrikanische Savanne (DFG, 1988-2002)

Professional background

Associate Professor, Goethe University Frankfurt

Habilitation, Goethe University Frankfurt

Since 1994
Leader of working group „African Archaeobotany“, Institute of Archaeological Sciences, Goethe University Frankfurt

Research assistant, Goethe University Frankfurt

PhD (Dr), Goethe University Frankfurt

Research assistant, Institute for Pre- and Protohistory, University of Cologne

Diploma, botany, Goethe University Frankfurt


Selected publications

Collura, L.V. & Neumann, K. (2016): Wood and bark phytoliths of West African woody plants. Quaternary International. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.12.070

Eichhorn, B., Neumann, K., Garnier, A. (2010): Seed phytoliths in West African Commelinaceae and their potential for palaeoecological studies. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 298: 300-310.

Höhn, A. & K. Neumann (2012): Shifting cultivation and cultural landscape development during the Iron Age (0-1500 AD) in the Sahel of Burkina Faso, West Africa – Insights from archaeological charcoal. Quaternary International 249: 72-83.

Kahlheber, S. & K. Neumann (2007): The development of plant cultivation in semi-arid west Africa. - In: Denham, T. P., J. Iriarte & L. Vrydaghs (eds.): Rethinking Agriculture: Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological Perspectives: 320-346. One World Archaeology 51. Walnut Creek (Left Coast Press). pdf

Neumann, K. (2005): The romance of farming - plant cultivation and domestication in Africa. In: A.B. Stahl (ed.): African Archaeology. A Critical Introduction: 249-275. Malden (Blackwell). pdf

Neumann, K. (1989): Holocene vegetation of the Eastern Sahara: charcoal from prehistoric sites. African Archaeological Review 7: 97-116. pdf

Neumann, K., K. Bostoen, A. Höhn, S. Kahlheber, A. Ngomanda & B. Tchiengué (2012): First farmers in the Central African rainforest: A view from southern Cameroon. Quaternary International 249: 53-62. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.03.024

Neumann, K., M.K.H. Eggert, R. Oslisly, B. Clist, T. Denham, P. de Maret, S. Ozainne, E. Hildebrand, K. Bostoen, U. Salzmann, D. Schwartz, B. Eichhorn, B. Tchiengué & A. Höhn (2012): Comment on “Intensifying Weathering and Land Use in Iron Age Central Africa”. Science 337: 1040.

Neumann, K., Fahmy, A., Müller-Scheeßel, N. & Schmidt, M. (2016): Taxonomic, ecological and palaeoecological significance of leaf phytoliths in West African grasses. Quaternary International. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.11.039

Neumann, K., A. Fahmy, L. Lespez, A. Ballouche & E. Huysecom (2009): The Early Holocene palaeoenvironment of Ounjougou (Mali): Phytoliths in a multiproxy context. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 276: 87-106.

Neumann, K. & E. Hildebrand (2009): Early bananas in Africa: The state of the art. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 7: 353-362. pdf

Neumann, K., W. Schoch, F.H. Schweingruber & P. Détienne (2001): Hölzer der Sahara und des Sahel – ein anatomischer Atlas. Paul Haupt, Bern & Stuttgart.

Complete publication list