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date: 16 May 2021

The Archaeology of the Swahili Worldlocked

  • Stephanie Wynne-JonesStephanie Wynne-JonesArchaeology, The University of York

Summary

The east African coast and its offshore islands are home to the Swahili cultural tradition. This is a fascinating and long-lived urban tradition that has been synonymous with this coast for nearly two millennia. Archaeologically, Swahili culture is most visible in the remains of a series of stonetowns, which contain houses, mosques, and tombs built of coral and lime. These sites were once cosmopolitan centers of trade and an important part of the medieval Islamic world. They are also the culmination of a long period of urban development, starting with villages built of wattle and daub founded on the coast from around the 7th century ce, which were key players in international trade circuits. The Swahili world is thus associated with a diverse and changing culture, united through oceanic connections and with a range of relationships with interior regions of Africa. The archaeology of these settlements reveals a developmental trajectory that continues directly to the stonetowns of the contemporary coast and islands.

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