Azania Archaeological Research in Africa

Published by Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Print ISSN: 0067-270X
This is a study of settlement patterns occurring over the last 1000 years in the Banda region of central western Ghana. Research focused on two physiographically-distinct zones consisting of mountainous upland and undulating lowland that together comprise nearly 900 km 2 . The project was composed of two phases, a 5% survey of randomly selected 500 m x 500 m quadrats in four topographically stratified zones, followed by excavation of one 1 x 2 m unit in each of eleven archaeological sites. Guiding research was the conception of Banda as an internal African frontier (Kopytoff 1987) populated at least in part by immigrants from surrounding states and regions, and the conception of Banda as an intermediate level society organized around a host of characteristic sociopolitical institutions. Specific questions focused on the potential for differing occupation and use of the mountainous uplands versus the lowlands through time, use of the mountains as a refuge during periods of slave raiding and political unrest as documented by oral traditions, and specific site characteristics that might be indicative of sociopolitical organization and involvement in long distance trade. A major research focus was the collection of ceramic data to expand the relative ceramic chronology established by the work of Dr. Ann Stahl. To this end vessel formal and decorative attributes made up a significant component of this study since refining the ceramic chronology advanced understanding of temporal occupation phases necessary to place sites within a diachronic framework.The survey component of the project succeeded in identifying 426 archaeological localities. These include 137 associated with the Late Stone Age and 289 spanning from approximately the first century AD through the twentieth. A wide range of site types and sizes was found and these vary within specific temporal phases and through time. With a focus on the last 1000 years, the earliest occupations are characterized by small habitations located only in the uplands. A shift occurs by the eleventh century when sites within close proximity to large rivers appear to have been favored. Both upland and lowland environments are occupied thereafter and by the nineteenth century a trend away from the large rivers occurs. The craft of iron smelting is evidenced at many sites and may have played an important role in the development of sociopolitical institutions and ultimately in settlement locations from the eleventh through mid sixteenth centuries. This time frame was characterized by a remarkable sense of stability that resulted in Banda becoming a major polity involved in the trans-Saharan trade. A major shift indicated by population loss and the end of many traditions in the seventeenth century potentially influenced by European activities on the south coast suggests that a much weaker Banda by this time is characterized as an internal frontier. Mountaintop sites indicative of refuge-seeking behavior were limited to three, suggesting that valley settings may have functioned as refuges rather than hill tops. An important question for future research is the relationship between the introduction of iron smelting and its influence on the occupation history of the region.
A particular version of Rwanda’s pre-colonial Iron Age past was constructed during colonial rule and influenced by a racial world-view. This ethnicised and racialised past was used by successive Rwandan rulers to divide the population along newcomer/latecomer lines and eventually became a central tenet of the propaganda that contributed to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. More recently this racial presentation of Rwanda’s past has since been successfully deconstructed by social historians such as Mamdani (2002), Chrétien (2003), Eltringham (2004) Vansina (2004 and Newbury (2009), and has been shown to be a heavily biased construction based on colonial values. Yet, the ethno-racial presentation of the past continues to be problematic for history education in Rwanda. This thesis follows on from the work of these authors. It suggests that archaeology can usefully engage with contemporary political contexts, involving the deconstruction and reconstruction of Rwanda’s pre-colonial past in a climate of reconciliation. Following this introduction this thesis explores the concept of ethnicity in relation to Rwandan archaeology before reconsidering the tangible evidence for the Iron Age in Rwanda through a critical review of the existing literature. Furthermore, through the application of a politically aware and sensitive theoretical and methodological framework, this thesis explores non-ethno-racial historical narratives in pre-colonial Rwanda through a new body of archaeological data generated during twelve months of recent fieldwork in southern, central and northern Rwanda. Finally this thesis concludes with a summary of the archaeological outcomes of this research and some speculation on future research directions.
This is the author's final draft of the paper published as Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 2004, 39 (1), pp. 13-33. The final version is available from Doi: 10.1080/00672700409480384 Abstract Traditional archaeologies of the Sudan have long-focused on the more obvious and monumental achievements of its early 'civilizations'. The archaeology of more recent periods, however, remains largely neglected while little interest has been shown in developing research drawing on the great theoretical and methodological advances made in 'Historical Archaeology' in recent decades. Still framed largely around generalized distinctions between 'Christian' and 'Islamic' periods, the richness and diversity of local and regional histories of the last 1500 years have yet to emerge while a wealth of historical sources of many forms remains largely untapped.
This paper was published as Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 2000, 35 (1), pp. 191-197. It is available from Doi: 10.1080/00672700009511602 Metadata only entry
Further Neolithic encampments and settlements have been explored by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition in the Nabta Playa Basin on the southern border of Egypt's Western Desert around 100 km west of the Nile Valley. Site E-08-2 in Nabta Playa, excavated in 2008-2009, provided considerable new information on the El Adam settlement, which functioned in the younger phase of the El Adam horizon, sometime between 9000 and 8800 BP (c. 8200-8000 cal. BC). This new evidence facilitates the understanding of the direction of the site's development and shows how the discovery of new sources of raw material that are situated several dozen kilometres to the north affected flint working there.
This paper discusses archaeological evidence of sound- and music-related artefacts from the southern African archaeological record, from Later Stone Age, Iron Age and historic contexts. The artefacts described fall within two groups, aerophones and idiophones. They include a bullroarer, spinning disks, bone tubes that might have been used as flutes, a trumpet, whistles, bells and mbira keys. The artefacts are made of bone, clay and metal. Original research and information gained through a literature review are reported. Ethnographic sources were also consulted in order to attempt to provide a broader contextual background against which knowledge of the archaeological implements could be expanded. This research is one of the first reports on southern African sound- and music-related artefacts. It is not exhaustive, but is intended as the basis for further development through collaboration.
The dual model of foragers versus producers is increasingly perceived as inadequate for understanding the complexities of subsistence practices in the past and in the present. A wide spectrum of in-between strategies, falling under the label 'low-level food production' (Smith 2001), has been pointed out. Africa has, however, remained mostly outside this debate, despite offering many examples of societies that combine hunting and gathering with food-production, particularly in ecological and cultural borderlands. This paper examines one such society by presenting the first archaeological evidence from the region of Gambela, in the borderland between South Sudan and Ethiopia. Field survey here identified several sites with traces of occupation during the early second millennium AD. One of these sites (Ajilak 6) furnished a large number of faunal remains, most of which derive from wild animals. The exploitation of aquatic resources is also attested. Human remains were found that show traces of manipulation, tentatively identified as evidence for the practice of secondary burial. The sites are interpreted as being related to a low-level food-producing group that was probably ancestral to present-day populations engaging in similar economic activities.
Somaliland was a key region in the trade routes connecting the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean from antiquity to the nineteenth century. However, little archaeological work on this topic has been carried out in the region to date. A new project by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) intends not only to assess the role of Somaliland in the Indian Ocean network, but also to understand the participation of local communities in long distance trade and the impact this had on their sociopolitical organisation and culture. This paper presents data from two field seasons undertaken respectively in 2015 and 2016. These included a preliminary survey of the ports of Zeila and Berbera and the latter’s hinterland that gathered important data that help illuminate the relationship between Somaliland and the wider world, between the coast and the interior and between merchants and local societies during the second millennium AD. The survey also casts light on the little known pastoralist communities of the region and their funerary rituals.
Dating to roughly 80,000 to 70,000 years ago, components of the Still Bay technocomplex of southern Africa and their potential behavioural implications have been widely discussed. Stone points with invasive retouch, as defined over 90 years ago by Goodwin and van Riet Lowe, serve as markers for Still Bay assemblages, yet many Still Bay sites remain undated and comprehensive, comparable sets of data for their point assemblages remain unpublished. Much of the Middle Stone Age at the site of Apollo 11 in Namibia was undated until 2010, when a potential Still Bay component was announced. Although a Still Bay assemblage at Apollo 11 would represent the most northwesterly and inland expression of this technocomplex, its points have never been fully analysed. This paper presents their morphometric data and an interpretation of point-production strategies. These results are then compared with data obtained for two South African sites: Hollow Rock Shelter in the Western Cape and Umhlatuzana in KwaZulu-Natal. This comparison demonstrates that whereas there are no statistically significant differences in the morphometric data sets between the three sites, there are both similarities and differences in point-production strategies, cross-section shapes and the use of raw materials for knapping. It is suggested that these similarities and variations represent aspects of how knowledge-transfer systems and knapping conventions were followed on both intra-regional and inter-regional scales.
Thurstan Shaw directed a pioneering excavation within Bosumpra Cave, Ghana, in 1943 and in 1973/1974 it was re-excavated by Andrew Smith, who obtained radiocarbon dates bracketing the upper section of the site's occupation sequence between 4500 cal. BC and cal. AD 1400. Bosumpra has since been widely cited in discussions concerning the West African Late Stone Age, although its significance and most of its occupation sequence remain obscure and open to speculation. Re-excavation during 2008–2011 revealed that the site's earliest occupation/exploitation dates from the mid-eleventh millennium cal. BC and continued throughout the Holocene. The site has more recently functioned as a shrine to the deity Pra and is in use today as a Christian church. Geometric microliths, celts and pottery formed the basis of a distinctive adaptation on the Kwahu Plateau from the tenth millennium cal. BC, with the stone tool component persisting until the seventeenth century AD. The upper layers of the shelter also yielded material that provides insights into the history of the Akan-speaking people of southern Ghana.
In the middle Limpopo Valley of southern Africa, wealth acquired from international trade contributed to the development of social complexity in farmer society. However, foragers were present from before the appearance of exotic goods, c. AD 900, until at least the decline of southern Africa’s first state-level society, Mapungubwe (AD 1220–1300), and both witnessed and took part in regional socio-political developments. The appearance of local and exotic trade items in forager contexts suggests that established trade arrangements existed, that foragers were valued by farmers and that they were included in the wealth distribution network. Yet, their role and position in trade networks has not been sufficiently considered. While not the only region in central southern Africa where farmer-related trade items and evidence of trade-linked craft production occur in forager contexts, the middle Limpopo Valley is where these provided links between forager communities and farmer society as the latter underwent enormous socio-political shifts. As such, examining the occurrence and distribution of trade goods at forager sites provides insights into access and privilege patterns, forager agency within the trade network, their role in the market economy and social empowerment. As a first appraisal, this paper seeks to open debate and focus future studies within a broader framework of wealth acquisition in forager society and forager interactions with local farmer communities.
Within the Zimbabwe Culture, stone architecture was not a mere reflection of the existing power of élites; rather, the process of creating architecture was also one of creating élite power. Creating architecture involved manipulation of the natural environment, the elements of which were extended or appropriated to constitute the built environment. There is a clear relationship between architecture and natural power, which provided links with the ancestral world. Thus, the construction of monumental architecture in the Zimbabwe Culture was a process of constructing social and political power through the manipulation of ideology, including the appropriation of nature. The Great Zimbabwe and Khami architectural styles express two distinct architectural forms with two distinct conceptual relationships to nature. Great Zimbabwe (AD 1290-1550) period architecture was apparently an extension of the natural environment, while Khami (AD 1400-1800) architecture arrogated elements of nature wholly transforming them into monumental built environments. Understanding these ideological differences is critical to understanding the dynamics of ancient states on the Zimbabwe Plateau.
This paper presents distribution patterns and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope measurements of recently excavated faunal remains from two middens at Khami, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Zimbabwe. The middens are dated to c. AD 1475–1650. The results of the analysis indicate that food practices may have differed between high- and low-lying areas of the site, as reflected in the two excavated contexts studied here. δ¹³C values of serial samples of tooth dentine show that cattle and wild grazers consumed C4 grasses year-round. The availability of rich natural grazing would have been a considerable attraction to the builders of the site.
In southern Africa, as elsewhere, the tendency of Iron Age (AD 200–1900) researchers has been to focus on the more prominent places on the landscape, especially those believed by pioneering archaeologists to have been the centres of big states. Consequently, most research has focused on Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe, Khami, Danamombe and many other places considered as centres (mizinda) of expansive territorial states. Landscapes away from and in-between these states and their centres are traditionally viewed as ‘peripheries’ where the resources that made them prosperous were extracted. The inhabitants of such ‘peripheries’ are presented as if they possessed little or no agency. One such area is Mberengwa, a gold-rich area situated between the edges of Mapela, Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe, Danamombe and Khami. This thesis explores the archaeology of Chumnungwa, a drystone-walled muzinda located in Mberengwa. Because of abundant gold, and a landscape optimal for cattle production and crop agriculture, Chumnungwa is often marginalised as a docile ‘periphery’ of the more powerful and territorial states that surrounded it. Stratigraphic excavations were performed in different parts of the site to recover artefactual and chronological evidence. Indications are that the inhabitants of Chumnungwa exploited locally acquired resources such as gold, iron and soapstone, but mixed these with resources from distant areas. Cumulatively, this evidence, when assessed in relation to chronology, suggests that Chumnungwa flourished more or less at the same time as Mapela and the later phases of Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe, Khami and Danamombe. As a powerful actor in Mberengwa, Chumnungwa also networked and was therefore entangled not only with local, but also regional and inter-regional politico-economic processes. This suggests that it is only a historical invention that can marginalise some landscapes as ‘peripheral’, especially in the absence of research, but that once attention is directed to them multiple layers of agency and entanglement emerge.
Middle Stone Age (MSA) lithic artefacts coming from dated layers preserved in their original stratigraphic position are still rare in Northeast Africa in general and in Sudan in particular. This paper aims to present the results of technological and functional analyses of an assemblage coming from a stratigraphic context, i.e. the upper level of the EDAR (Eastern Desert – Atbara River) 135 site, discovered in an abandoned gold mining pit in the Sudanese Eastern Desert, approximately 70 km east of the town of Atbara. The assemblage, which is based on locally available quartz and rhyolite, comes from a layer bracketed by OSL dates of 116 ± 13 and 125 ± 11 kya. Such dating places it within Marine Isotope Stage 5e–5d. Analysis of the assemblage revealed several characteristics that seem to set it apart from other MSA Northeast African inventories. Among these, the dominance of simple, nonpredetermined core reduction strategies and expedient tool types, coupled with the lack of traces of Nubian Levallois technique, are the most conspicuous. Micro-traces of use on animal and plant matter were preserved on some of the tools. EDAR 135 is part of a newly discovered complex of sites that confirms the presence of Middle and Late Pleistocene hominins along one of the possible routes out of Africa towards Eurasia.
This paper offers an overview of archaeological work carried out in the northern part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and dealing with sites of the past 1500 years (‘Historical’ and ‘Iron Age’). Selecting case studies spanning the past 40 years, it discusses both well-published and less well-published evidence and pays particular attention to setting research within the institutional context of archaeology in Nigeria. It concludes with recommendations for future work and, in particular, calls for a move away from focusing on excavation and for much more sustained post-excavation analyses, including revisiting material, such as pottery, that is currently languishing in the archives of Nigerian institutions.
This paper reviews the current state of archaeological research within the boundaries of the modern country of South Sudan, with a particular focus on the period between c. 3000 BC and AD 1500. While various historical factors and more recent political unrest have long stymied concerted archaeological efforts in the region, such surveys as have been undertaken are summarised and synthesised here, most notably the four expeditions funded by the British Institute in Eastern Africa between 1977 and 1981. Though scant, the data recovered during these and other research projects point to great diversity within the archaeological record of South Sudan, highlighting the region’s importance for addressing such large-scale issues as the transition between (or indeed the co-occurrence of) Later Stone Age and Early Iron Age lifeways, including the spread of pastoralism, arable agriculture and iron-working technology from northern to eastern Africa. The region likewise appears to have been central to the occurrence of large-scale population movements during both the Early and Later Iron Ages. However, we also emphasise the relevance of the archaeology of this period for better understanding more localised trajectories of socio-cultural change, particularly for adding time-depth to historical narratives of relevance to contemporary South Sudanese communities.
Top-cited authors
Peter Robertshaw
  • California State University, San Bernardino
Paul Jeremy Lane
  • Uppsala University
Diane Gifford-Gonzalez
  • University of California, Santa Cruz
Mary E. Prendergast
  • Rice University
Henry Wright
  • University of Michigan