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Archaeology and Heritage of Slavery in Eastern Africa  

Lydia Wilson Marshall

Despite its long history in the region, slavery in Eastern Africa has attracted little archaeological attention. This deficit is partly due to the reticence of many Eastern Africans to discuss slavery, a historically painful topic. In addition, some archaeologists have expressed skepticism about the material visibility of the practice. That is, they question whether slavery can be archaeologically identified. Given these concerns, those archaeologists who have pursued the study of slavery in Eastern Africa tend to focus on the 18th and 19th centuries, when historical documentation of the practice is well established. Archaeologists in the region have considered slavery in a variety of settings—including not only plantations but also contexts of slaving and emancipation. Research in Eastern Africa has helped to challenge and complicate definitions of slavery rooted in American historical experience. Yet, perspectives on slavery from outside of the region continue to shape public memory in Eastern Africa; increased outside interest and investment in the heritage of slavery has begun to influence both memorialization and the practice of memory itself. For example, heritage funding from UNESCO is tied to particular expectations for how slavery is defined and what counts as heritage. In this context, archaeologists studying slavery in Eastern Africa grapple with their responsibilities to many different stakeholders and audiences. In particular, they continue to work to make slavery research and memorialization more meaningful to Eastern Africans themselves. In addition, researchers have begun to develop methodological tools to push the study of slavery in Eastern Africa to deeper time periods less undergirded by historical documents.

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Archaeology of Caves along the East African Coast  

Ceri Shipton and Jim Crowther

Caves in uplifted limestone running from southern Kenya to Zanzibar were occupied by hunter-gatherers since the late Middle Stone Age approximately eighty thousand years ago. At that age they were a novel setting for human occupation away from the savannah landscapes of the East African interior. One of these caves, Panga ya Saidi, has yielded the earliest evidence for the Later Stone Age (LSA) anywhere in Africa, beginning sixty-seven thousand years ago. This cave is one of the only sites in Africa to have repeated human occupation throughout the major climatic fluctuations of the last eighty thousand years, a situation facilitated by its ecotonal and near-coastal setting. The rising sea levels after twenty thousand years ago saw more widespread coastal occupations including of Kuumbi Cave on Zanzibar, which was at that time joined to the mainland. A major transition in the occupation histories of the caves occurs in the late 1st millennium ce, with Iron Age ceramics appearing at many cave sites on the mainland coast and offshore islands, where they become increasingly prevalent into the 2nd millennium. The colonization of offshore islands occurs alongside the first definitive evidence for human occupation in Madagascar, including foragers living in cave sites. On both the mainland and offshore islands a continuing tradition of stone tool manufacture persists with the occasional use of domestic crops and livestock, demonstrating interactions between foraging and early farming communities. Glass beads show the cave occupants became part of Indian Ocean trade networks, likely exchanging forest products with Swahili merchants. Ancient DNA analysis indicates the survival of ancient hunter-gatherer ancestry well into the 2nd millennium ce. In the early 21st century, many of these caves are venerated as places of the ancestors and other spirit beings.

Article

Saharan Peoples and Societies  

E. Ann McDougall

The Sahara: bridge or barrier? Today, most would answer that the desert was more a historical facilitator than hindrance in moving commodities, ideas, and people between North and sub-Saharan Africa. A recent publication even coined a new name for the region: “trans-Saharan Africa.” However, the Sahara is also a place where people live. Complex societies, sophisticated polities, extensive economies—all flourished at various times, waxing and waning in response to much the same factors as societies elsewhere. It is just that in the Sahara the vagaries of climate and the availability of water always established the parameters of development. A long-term drying era led to the dispersal of the Late Stone Age Dhar-Tichitt agro-pastoral settlements in eastern Mauritania, but in the east, Lake “Mega-Chad” shrank, leaving rich, sandy soils that attracted new cultivators. The Garamantes people of the Libyan Fezzan overcame their lack of water by developing a sophisticated underground irrigation system that supported an urbanized, cosmopolitan civilization that outlasted the Roman Empire. The introduction of the camel in the 4th century and the gradual growth of Islam from at least the 9th century added new possibilities for economic, cultural, and religious life. The Sahara benefited from the sequence of medieval empires emerging across its southern desert edge. Camel pastoralism, salt mining, oasis agriculture, and expansive trade networks shaped the region’s economy; those same networks facilitated cultural and scholarly exchanges. As Islam took root, growing its own understandings of North African and Middle Eastern schools of thought, a prodigious body of Saharan scholarship was created. It underpinned much of the jihad-led political upheaval and state-building in the 18th and 19th Sahel. Saharan clerics also directed their religious fervor against the invasion of French imperialists; “pacification” took the colonialists decades to achieve. But the impact of this violence exacerbated traditional clan conflict and disrupted economic life. So too did policies aimed at sedentarizing pastoralists and reshaping their social relations in the interests of the colonial economy. Much talked-about but largely ineffective efforts to abolish slavery had far less real impact than taxation policies; these both suppressed traditional exactions such as those levied by “warriors” and introduced new ones, including those to be paid in forced labor. Life in the Sahara became increasingly untenable. The arrival of Independence did nothing to address colonial legacies; the years of drought that devastated herds and crops in the desert and along its edge less than a decade later further fueled both political instability and economic crisis. That today the region nurtures radicalized Islamic movements promising to return “true meaning” (not to mention material benefits) to that life is not surprising.