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Article

The Archaeology of Feasts and Feasting in Africa  

Liza Gijanto

Considered within the broader corpus of studies of food and foodways, feasting in African archaeological contexts has not been reported to the same degree as in other world areas. The reasons for this could be a genuine lack of feasting practices in African contexts as well as the focus on feasts as empowering events in more hierarchical societies. Where feasting has been identified, it is done with the aid of documentary or oral sources. Most of these studies are focused on locations and time periods of interoceanic trade in west and east Africa. Feasting has been identified in these contexts by utilizing multiple lines of material evidence, including ceramics, fauna, and items such as pipes related to leisure activities that would be part of a large celebration. In some, evidence is limited to location and fauna.

Article

The Trade, Use, and Circulation of Elephant Ivory in Sub-Saharan Africa over the Longue Durée  

Paul J. Lane and Ashley N. Coutu

Humans have utilized and exchanged ivory from different species of elephant living on the African continent for millennia, with ivory from both forest and savannah species being exploited. Starting around 4600 bp, elephant ivory sourced on the African continent also began to be exported to other parts of the world. The ways of working ivory, the uses to which it has been put, and its symbolic and representational meanings have all varied according to context across space and time. Different agents have played diverse and varying roles in its acquisition, crafting, and distribution. From early on, ivory’s malleability and comparative strength relative to other raw materials made it particularly sought after. Its color and texture, as well as the variation between species and in its structure at different points on a tusk, have also been critical aspects of its material affordances. Archaeological evidence from sub-Saharan Africa, especially material dating from after the bce/ce transition, combined with ethnographic and historical data, provides important insights into the deep history of ivory, where it has been sourced on the continent, what is known about how it was worked in the distant past, and the changing history of its trade and exchange both within and beyond the continent. Regional and global shifts in its circulation, along with some of the societal and ecological consequences of these have also been studied, with particular reference to eastern Africa. Despite many advances in recent years, there is still a need for further multidisciplinary and multi-sited research informed by posthumanist perspectives and ethics.

Article

Human and Environmental Interactions in Late Iron Age Kenya  

Freda Nkirote M'Mbogori

The Late Iron Age period in Kenya spans between 1000 BP and 200 BP. However, not much is known regarding this time period owing to the past direction of research in Kenya. Investigations concentrated on earlier archaeological periods due to the country’s richness in early human and technological evolution. As such the bias was not only in the research periods at the time but also, in the fact that, only those areas that were believed to yield such materials were explored. Most research was therefore conducted around the Kenyan Rift Valley until the late 1960s onwards, when the British Institute in Eastern Africa and others started to explore later archaeological and historical periods in the whole of Kenya. These researches, however, failed to recognize the evidence of mosaic in Iron Age sites, which was caused by complexities of diverse processes of replacement, admixture, interactions, and resistance in encounters between expanding and existing populations. Thus the name “Iron Age” for the period in question has been maintained denoting a period when iron was the most important or unique phenomenon, in total disregard of all the other social, political, and economic aspects. Use of oral traditions and genetic materials have, however, contributed greatly in filling the gaps, thus making it possible for archaeologists to understand the mosaic nature of archaeological materials resulting from interactions between populations who may have been culturally and socially distinct but lived during the same archaeological period. The available data show that the sites of this period range from open habitations, caves, and rock shelters to drystone structures, and that the human and environmental interactions were mutually beneficial to both. However, deeper understanding of land use and crop utilization is limited due to inadequate botanical datasets, since archaeobotanical recovery methods were rarely employed as a necessary direction of inquiry. This notwithstanding, as opposed to the environmental determinism theory, the populations of this period were not in sync with the environment, but rather, they were active participants who shaped it to suit their needs. Where resources such as water were not readily available, they improvised by tapping and managing them to suit their preferred occupations. Humans took advantage of natural landforms, climatic zones, and vegetation to shape different aspects of their lifestyles including economic subsistence, habitations, trade, and human-to-human interactions especially during environmental stress. Thus these populations must not be seen as helpless receivers from the environment, but active shapers and innovators of their lifestyles.

Article

Glass Beads of 7th to 17th-Century CE Sub-Saharan Africa  

Marilee Wood

The value of glass beads to archaeologists has increased dramatically in the 21st century thanks to the development and improvements of methods to analyze the chemical composition of the glass used to make them. In addition, the amount of data accumulated from glass analysis has grown to the point that it is often possible to trace the probable origins of various glasses based on elements and trace elements present in the sands or quartz pebbles and sometimes the fluxes used to make the glass. But glassmaking and beadmaking are usually two separate professions, and raw and recycled glass were frequently traded even continents away. Thus, knowledge of bead manufacturing techniques and where they were practiced is needed to help determine where the beads might have been made and how they were traded. Beads found in archaeological assemblages in sub-Saharan Africa between the 7th and 17th centuries ce were made of several glasses from different regions, including the Near East, the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, and China. Sometimes, beads of the same glass type are found right across the continent (particularly in the early period, 7th–10th centuries); but usually, bead assemblages in West Africa are different from those on the eastern side of the continent, and the East Coast and southern Africa are seldom in sync. Southern Africa usually received beads from only one source in any given period, beginning in the 7th century with glass beads from Mesopotamia, then India, followed by beads made from Central Asian glass but an unknown region of production, and finally a return to India. Beads found on the eastern seaboard, from Kenya to Madagascar, came from diverse sources: beginning in the 7th century with beads from South Asia (probably Sri Lanka) and others from Mesopotamia (like those in the south). These were followed by beads from India along with a few from Egypt or the eastern Mediterranean. In the early 15th century, a scattering of beads from China appeared, possibly brought as gifts by the fleet of the Chinese admiral Zheng He. Then a century later, more Chinese beads are found, but they were probably brought by early European traders. West Africa began, like the other regions, with beads of glass from Mesopotamia, which were followed by similar beads, but they were made of glass produced in the Levant or Egypt. After the 11th century, the region received very small numbers of beads from India and ones made of glass from Central Asia, but the most interesting were beads made of glass that was produced in Ile Ife, Nigeria—the only known primary glass production center in sub-Saharan Africa.

Article

Early States and Complex Societies in Eastern and Southern Africa  

Chapurukha M. Kusimba

How and in what ways did socially complex societies emerge on the East African coast and southern Africa? Scholarship has shown that elite investment in interregional trade and in extractive technologies, monopolization of wealth-creating resources, and warfare may have played a key role in the emergence of early states. To what extent was elite and non-elite engagement in local, regional, and transcontinental economic networks crucial to development of social complexity in eastern and southern Africa? Extensive research on the eastern coast of Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa) has yielded adequate data to enable a discussion on the trajectories of the evolution of social complexity and the state. So far, three crucial factors: (a) trade, (b) investment in extractive technologies, and (c) elite monopolization of wealth-creating resources coalesced to propel the region toward greater interaction and complexity. Major transformations in the form and increase of household size, clear differences in wealth and status, and settlement hierarchies occurred toward the end of the first millennium ad. Regional scholarship posits that elite control of internal and external trade infrastructure, restricted access to arable land and accumulation of surplus, manipulation of religious ideology, and exploitation of ecological crises were among the major factors that contributed to the rise of the state. Could these factors have also favored investment and use of organized violence as a means to gain access to and monopolize access to information and wealth-creating resources? Scholarship in the 21st century favors the notion that opportunistic use of ideological and ritual power enabled a small elite initially composed of elders, ritual specialists, and technical specialists to control the regional political economy and information flows. The timing of these transformations was continent-wide and date to the last three centuries of the first millennium ad. By all measures, the evidence points to wealth accumulation through trade, tribute, and investment in agrarianism, pastoralism, and mining.

Article

Anthropological Perspectives on Fair Trade  

Sarah Lyon

Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. Minimum prices and social premiums linked to fair trade certifications, which require independent audit of the environmental, economic, and social conditions of commodity production and exchange, are integral to the system. Anthropological explorations of fair trade practices emphasize the cultural dimensions, socio-economic conditions, and political economy. Anthropological scholarship explores how experiences of fair trade are diversely influenced by gender; racial and ethnic identities; differences in wealth and resources, education, and geographic location; and political hierarchies and social institutions. The nuanced insights into fair trade impact produced through detailed, ethnographically driven anthropological research ultimately illustrate the limits of social movement-driven, rural-development alternatives and produce empirically informed, practical suggestions for how the current system could be improved. Anthropological expertise is appreciated within the fair trade assemblage, which encompasses development organizations, certification firms, importers, and retailers.

Article

Salt Production, Use, and Trade  

Alexander Antonites

Salt was an important commodity throughout the human past. Although salt (sodium chloride) is essential to human health, the desire for salt in humans cannot be explained by physiological need alone. Instead, both biology and culture drive the taste for salt. The result is that salt was frequently highly valued, with its production and trade important in economic, social, and political systems of the past. Despite this importance, salt is an elusive item to study since it does not preserve well and is mostly consumed. Production sites are often the only places with any discernible remains related to salt use. However, historical and ethnographic material are rich sources of analogies of how salt was produced and traded in preindustrial societies. There are frequently large-scale similarities in traditional salt-making practices despite tremendous technological, organizational, and environmental contexts. These show that salt production technology is mostly robust and fairly simple and that salt can be made with very little investment in infrastructure. As a result, many communities with access to salt sources could be self-sufficient. In the absence of readily available salt, trade networks developed around its distribution over medium and long distances. Consequently, control over this spatially restricted resource was often an important factor in regional politics, and in several cases played an important role in the development of hierarchical systems of power. It is, however, important to discern between specialization production for trade by a small group of producers and production by multiple small-scale producers for their own use, since the archaeological remains of these two different production strategies may look very similar. As a result, archaeologists need to employ multiple lines of evidence in discerning the organization of production.

Article

The Internal African Slave Trade as History and Representation  

Marcos Leitão de Almeida

The internal African slave trade is a key topic to understand the political, cultural, and economic history of Africa. As a colonial category, the concept emerged throughout the 19th century as European imperial powers, spearheaded by European antislavery movements, constructed a discourse of abolition associated with the expansion of commerce, Christianity, and civilization. In the process, European imperial agents increasingly challenged the political sovereignty of African states and laid the ground for the discourse of racial inferiority of Africans. At the same time, the term also refers, then as now, to the expansion of the internal slave trade within the continent after 1850. Slavers in different parts of the continent continued to move people across the landscape to provide human labor, this time not for slave ships along the Atlantic coast but for the development of economic undertakings within the continent itself, such as clove plantations on Africa´s east coast, palm oil in West Africa, and the onset of coffee and sugar plantations in Angola. As a colonial and historical category, the internal slave trade is crucial to understanding 19th-century Africa. Moreover, with discoveries in archaeology and historical linguistics, the internal slave trade has been shown to have a much older history, connected with the making of polities in Northeast Africa such as Egypt and Meroë, the trade in slaves and gold in West Africa from the time of the Garamantes to the expansion of Mali, and the settlement of Bantu-speaking villages in Central Africa in the last millennium bce. In this way, the internal African slave trade was not one but many; internal slave trades were, rather, locally generated and emerged in different periods and places in response to distinct contexts and motivations. Therefore, the 19th-century internal African slave trade, with its spin-off stereotyped representation of a continent without history, needs to be supplemented by an understanding of the multiple slave trades in Africa’s early past, as evidenced by historical linguistics and archaeology.

Article

Copper and Copper Alloys at the Time of the Kingdoms of Ghana and Mali  

Laurence Garenne-Marot

Copper was a highly prized material in sub-Saharan Africa at the time of the Sahelian kingdoms of Ancient Ghana and Mali. In certain regions, especially those where gold was mined, it was exchanged for gold at rates that would be considered unfair by present-day standards. Together with salt, it was one of the main commodities of the trans-Saharan trade that contributed to the enrichment of these sub-Saharan kingdoms. Salt was the most highly prized product in sub-Saharan Africa. However, it did not leave any direct archaeological trace, whereas copper remains in the archaeological records. Copper may be combined with other metals to form alloys with diverse mechanical and aesthetic properties. Determining the absence or presence or the ubiquity of some of these alloys in time and space and mapping this data has been done for other contexts. Thanks to a significant set of meaningful compositional analyses of archaeological copper-based objects and remains, such undertaking may be done for West African sites dating between the 8th and the 14th centuries ce. The archaeometric data check must take into account additional data, such as the nature of the site (e.g., habitat or sealed context), the dating, the nature of the copper-based material, and the quality of the metal (analytical data), as well as precise references about the source documentation. When the cartographic material is combined with archaeological evidence relating to the places where the metal was processed and consumed, or with written sources referring to historical events or changes in the trade routes, a picture can be drawn of the use, transformation, and circulation of copper and copper alloys over the course of six centuries Studies of what happened with regard to copper and copper alloys contribute to the construction of a finer history of the West African Sahel at the time of the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali. This research considers fluctuation in the value of copper and copper alloys, the increased exploitation of local copper deposits, the importance of secondary production loci, such as the workshops of Tegdaoust where local processing (or dilution!) of brass imported from the north took place, the wealth of copper-based objects in certain sites testifying to a modification of the trans-Saharan routes, and the development of new trading ports.

Article

The Swahili Civilization in Eastern Africa  

Elgidius B. Ichumbaki and Edward Pollard

The urbanization and globalization being experienced in Africa in this early 21st century have deep foundations in the continent’s history. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, theories on the origin of urbanization have developed through the 20th century from an external origin emphasis. There was little recognition of the greater part played by the local people. The producers of these cultures engaged in activities shaped by the environment and sociocultural, political, and economic connections. For instance, in Eastern Africa, Iron Age people became united by language and religion, and exploited the coast and sea during the medieval period (from the end of the early Iron Age c. 500 ce to the arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the 15th and to the early 16th century). Iron Age people traded with inland Africa, East and Southern Asia, and Europe, producing what has become popularly known as the “Swahili civilization.” This civilization along the coast of Eastern Africa is marked by material culture of iron working, cloth production, pottery, beads, and glass as well as monumental constructions that range from stone-built mosques, tombs, and palaces. A maritime trade assisted by seasonally reversing monsoon winds exported gold, slaves, animal skins, ivory, and mangrove poles from Eastern Africa and imported beads, porcelain, and silks. The evidence that marks the Swahili civilization is spread over an area that extends along the coast of Eastern Africa about 3,000 km from Mogadishu (Somalia) in the north to Inhambane (Mozambique) in the south. The Swahili civilization locale also includes the islands of Unguja (Zanzibar), Pemba, Mafia, Comoros, and northern Madagascar. Some remnants marking the Swahili civilization include UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Lamu Old Town, Zanzibar Stone Town, Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, and Ilha de Mozambique. The civilization continues in this early 21st century with its oral traditions and maritime technology that are testimony of coastal Swahili culture continuing through Eastern Africa’s social and economic challenges.

Article

The Development of Early Historic Urbanism in South Asia  

Reshma Sawant

Two phases of urbanism are identified in the South Asian context: the first one is the Mature Harappan phase (c. 2500–1900 bce) and the second one is the Early Historic phase (c. 600 bce–300 ce). The latter phase of urbanism has its roots in the preceding Protohistoric cultural phases. The gradual developments in various facets of the society, such as polity, social setup, subsistence strategies, settlement size and hierarchy, crafts and industries, and trade and exchange, during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic (non-Harappan) and Iron Age phases appear to have subsequently culminated into Early Historic urbanism in South Asia. Scholarship on the subject has proposed various theories to explain the genesis of the second urbanism, which include technologically deterministic explanations citing the introduction of iron in South Asia and its repercussions that resulted in drastic changes between 1200 and 600 bce. These multivariate explanations identify technological advancements, technology-based diversification of activities, and growing complexity of socioeconomic organizations as the causal factors behind the Early Historic urbanism. As is evident in the archaeological context, the transformation of wider spatial urban morphology, characterized by differential velocity and magnitude, occurred during different time periods in different parts of South Asia. However, by the beginning of the current era, in around c. 100–200 ce, it can be said that most of the South Asia had experienced growth of urbanism. The process of Early Historic urbanism in South Asia from between the 6th century bce and the 3rd century ce can be divided into three phases: Phase 1: The period around the 6th century bce witnessed the emergence of the first urban polities in South Asia known as the Janapada, organized under a ruling class of Janapadins. These Janapadas were ruled by twofold constitutions: Rajya (monarchical) and Gana or Sanghas (non-monarchical). Among these polities, the four monarchies of Kosala, Vatsa, Magadha, and Avanti emerged as notable rivals contending for internal supremacy. By the 4th century bce, Magadha arose supreme. The period 600–300 bce is characterized by an early phase of fortification in South Asia involving mud and stone ramparts, and ditch or moat building at a few sites like Charsada, Kausambi, Rajghat, Rajagriha, Champa, Adam, and Ujjain. There is substantial evidence of civic planning in these settlements, such as for the construction of streets, lanes, brick and ring wells, and drainage systems. There is also extensive evidence of burnt-brick structures, early coinage (bent bars, punch-marked coins [PMCs], and uninscribed cast copper coins) and script, apart from the widespread distribution of the identifying ceramic style: the Northern Black Polished Ware. It can be argued that these changes in socioeconomic conditions and urbanism may have in fact contributed to the formation and rise of institutional religious sects like Buddhism and Jainism. Phase 2: This period of urbanism in early South Asia can be dated to between 300 and 100 bce, marked by rise of the Mauryas. This stage was characterized by the steady expansion of trade with the western world, evidenced in the proliferation of Mauryan PMCs that are found all over South Asia, indicating the presence of vibrant political and economic interactions across the larger geographical region. The presence of Mauryan courtly culture and art can be seen reflected in the technological sophistication of the polished surfaces of Asokan pillars and the various distinct animal capitals that may indicate Persian, Greek, and Achaemenid influence. The patronage that Buddhism gained among royalty, trading communities, and masses is more than evident in the various donator inscriptions that can be seen at monuments like Sanchi. The rules regarding social status and the concept of wealth seem to have been liberal, with Buddhism providing much-needed impetus in facilitating long-distance trade through their encouragement of traders to undertake long journeys. The earliest script of South Asia is the Brahmi script and the earliest acceptable evidence of Brahmi can be found in the Asokan inscriptions. However, in the past few years, new data have emerged from Peninsular India and Sri Lanka (from the sites of Porunthal, Vallam, Alagnkulam, Uraiyur, Karur, Kodumanal, and Anuradhapuram) that indicate evidence of Brahmi script that can now be dated from as early as the 6th century bce to the 4th century bce. Phase 3: The rise of the Kushanas, Sakas, Kshtrapas, Satavahanas, Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas, and their active presence in South Asia from c. 100 bce to 300 ce, brought significant changes to the urban aspects of life. This period is characterized by extensive construction activity, complex burnt-brick buildings, well laid-out streets and drains, and fortification walls; further characterized by the adoption of new techniques of tiled flooring and roofing, extensive coinage, remarkable developments in the fields of art and architecture, knowledge production, and organized religions. Under the rule of the Kushanas and the Satavahanas, hinterland as well as the maritime trade networks grew manifold. Maritime trade with Mediterranean and Southeast Asia is quite extensively evident within archaeological findings. Another commonality between the Kushanas and Satavahanas is their patronization of Buddhism that resulted in the impressive development of art and architecture. The Gandhara and the Mathura schools of art, the rock-cut Buddhist viharas in the western Deccan, and the construction of various stupas in Sanchi, Bharhut, Nagarjunakonda, Amaravati, and Kanaganahalli, are all excellent examples of flourishing Buddhism under the Kushanas and Satavahanas. These impressive social and political complexities arose from the financial demands of maritime and overland trade, and were not necessarily the consequence of mere territorial expansion. To summarize, Early Historic urbanism in South Asia is manifested through complex polities that took the form of cities and states characterized by architectural advancement in both secular and non-secular structures, the use of baked bricks, and ring wells. Early Historic urbanism was also characterized by technological advancements in the form of various craft industries and the extensive use of metal (iron and copper), along with the development of a complex system of recording, measurement, accounting, and other sciences due to an advancement in scripts, coinage, astronomy, and mathematics. Long-distance trade led to the introduction and intensification of new religious movements (Buddhism and Jainism) that in turn contributed to the development of philosophy, art, and architecture, and. ultimately, to the rise of a ruling class.

Article

Central African Copper  

Nicolas Nikis

Copper, considered a “red gold,” had a major place in the political economy of Central Africa over the past two millennia. Copper was a rare resource. Its ore was only accessible in a few scattered locations in Central Africa, especially the Copperbelt in southeast Central Africa and the Niari basin in the south of Republic of Congo. Until the massive imports of European alloys beginning in the 16th century, only unalloyed and leaded copper objects were produced and used in Central Africa. The first instance of copper smelting in the region is dated around the 5th century ad, much later than for iron, and it has been mainly used over time as a means of exchange, for jewelry, and as material for artworks and decoration of objects. Different techniques have been used over time and space to produce the metal and manufacture the objects, some of them closely related to iron metallurgy. Smelting took place close to the deposits, and diverse processes relating to sociohistorical factors have been identified. Ingots, produced on the smelting sites, were one of the preferred forms for exchange, acquiring in some cases symbolic and/or monetary value. Manufacturing objects could take place far from the smelting place. Because copper and brass can easily be recycled, metal regularly changed shape to fit local needs and tastes. From the late 1st millennium ad, copper has been exchanged over increasingly long distances in regional networks and, eventually, traded to the Indian and Atlantic Ocean coasts. Rising polities, such as the Kongo Kingdom in the 15th century, would have benefited from access to this resource. More broadly, copper was regularly associated with the expression of power and wealth but was also accessible to a large number of people. In addition to the economic value of copper, metalworking and the figure of the smith were closely associated with power. Copper’s physical properties such as color and brightness were also important in its choice as a material for artworks as a way to support and enhance the role of the object.

Article

The Medieval Archaeology of Somaliland  

Jorge de Torres Rodriguez

During the medieval period, Somaliland and the rest of the Horn of Africa went through a number of important processes that laid the foundations of many of the historical dynamics of the 20th and 21st centuries in the region. These transformations included the consolidation of Islam, the expansion of international trade networks, the movement of the Somali people to the west, and the emergence of a score of Muslim principalities that progressively consolidated their control over significant territories and populations. Although the general outline of the period is well known through a number of Ethiopian, Arabian, and European texts, material evidence for this period is still scarce, especially in Somaliland where research had been discontinued until the 2010s due to political reasons. Research conducted during the 2010s has shown the coexistence of a network of permanent settlements with a rich nomadic culture, expressed in coastal trading posts, inland gathering places, and funerary monuments. Permanent settlements varied widely in size and functions, but showed a remarkable uniformity in terms of architecture, urbanism, and material culture. Nomadic gathering sites, on the contrary, show significant differences but share a common feature: their role as fixed nodes in an otherwise fluid landscape, where groups of different backgrounds could interact safely. Both types of sites were deeply involved in a complex trade system that connected the Horn of Africa with the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, India, and China, with Somaliland playing a key role in the import, export, and transport of commodities and goods. Nomads, urban dwellers, and foreign merchants collaborated in the maintenance of this key economic activity that, unlike in other regions of east Africa, did not lead to the emergence of urban centers by the coast. The western region of Somaliland shows clear similarities with nearby regions of Ethiopia, and was probably soon under the control or influence of the Muslim sultanates that ruled the region. On the contrary, the central region remained mostly a nomadic area until well into the 13th century. At this moment, the increase of trade around Berbera, the arrival of Islam, and the progressive influence of the Muslim states altered significantly the balance of the region, leading to the emergence of permanent settlements and deep changes in its social and economic parameters. Further to the east, the territory seems to have stayed a nomad’s land, far away from the Muslim states’ influence, although active relationships were established between the Somali clans and the Sultanate of Adal during the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 16th century, the complex balance established in previous centuries suffered a series of major setbacks due to the disturbance of the maritime trade routes by the Portuguese, the defeat of the Sultanate of Adal against the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia, and the Oromo expansion from the south. The network of permanent settlements was almost completely dismantled and state structures disappeared in the region until the 20th century, with most of the population embracing the nomadic life that has become the traditional Somali lifestyle into the 21st century.