The Sonderforschungsbereich 389 "Kultur- und Landschaftswandel im ariden Afrika" - is a multidisciplinary collaborative research centre established by the DFG at the University of Cologne in 1995.

ACACIA's central topic is the historical development of the African continent and its people during the last 12.000 years in light of the complex interrelation between Man and changing environmental conditions
ACACIA focuses its research activities on the arid zones of northeastern and southwestern Africa, in particular Egypt, Sudan and Namibia, aiming at a transcontinental comparison of human strategies of coping with arid habitats

ACACIA brings together seven institutes of the University of Cologne with long-term research experience in both hemispheres for a 12 to 15 year collaborative partnership

ACACIA combines the efforts of more than 70 scholars of various natural, cultural and social sciences: African Studies, Botany, Egyptology, Geography, History, Linguistic, Prehistory, Social and Cultural Anthropology

ACACIA is committed to the research and preservation of African culture and history, and to raising public awareness of African cultural and historical issues, inviting scholars pursuing the same objectives to close cooperation

The research agenda is based on the following assumptions:

  1. The present-day dynamics of African societies are not only a consequence of the impact of the 19th century world system but a phenomenon reaching back at least to the beginning of the Holocene about 12.000 years ago.
  2. The intensity of these dynamics has been determined to a great extent by climatic and ecological variations, e.g. the transition from largely monsoon-controlled humid conditions in the northern parts of the continent to the ultimate desiccation at around 5.000 BC. Environmental  change forced the population of the affected regions to adapt to new living conditions, to move away or to perish. Inappropriate interaction with the dynamics of deteriorating landscapes often precipated ecological change, and resulted in environmental destruction and further problems in survival.
  3. The increasing desiccation of the Sahara triggered cultural and migratory movements which apparently have spread into two southerly directions:
    - towards West Africa and

    - via East Africa towards South Africa

    ACACIA's research projects concentrate on the eastern stream.

The processes of interaction initiated by ecological constraints can be classified into two groups:

From these propositions we draw to basic conclusions:

A common feature of all research projects is the interdisciplinary and comparative approach and the transcontinental perspective through which we seek to relate present social, economic and ecological points at issue with historical data and reconstructions.

The transcontinental perspective has two objectives:

The advantages of the interdisciplinary and transcontinental perspectives are that they reveal correlations between regional climatic phenomena in arid African zones and global climatic events, and that they provide greater insight into the emergence of productive economies in arid regions. Livestock keeping is of particular interest because it has been of major importance in the existence of human life in these areas. 

ACACIA has four sub-units:

A - Holocene Environment and Cultural History in Northeastern Africa
B - History of the Environment, Settlement and Language in Southwestern Africa
C - Land Usage and Survival Strategies in Southwestern Africa
E - Land Usage and -Concepts in regional and transcontinental comparison 

The Research Unit and its projects are mainly financed by the German Research Council (DFG). However, some substantial subsidies come from the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and from the German Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia and from the University of Cologne.


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