Complexity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological Approaches to Landscape, Craft, and Trade in the Past 3,000 Years

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

This session explores archaeological and ethnoarchaeological approaches to the study of the foundations and unfolding of social complexity in sub-Saharan Africa through the interconnections of landscape, craft and trade in the past 3,000 years. In this period, iron technology was established across the continent, agriculture spread, complex polities rose and fell, and African participation in global trading networks intensified. Landscape is used here broadly to contextualize these developments. Papers address the co-evolution of early farming landscapes in the early Iron Age; how social identities were produced in village, community and regional spaces over time; and monumental construction. Local, regional and global trading networks moved and connected people and products across vast distances. Global trade extended into Africa's interior impacting local economies and the structure, nature and scale of authority and power. Social inequities based in the production and consumption of prestigious and mundane craft products emerged and many contemporary artisans continue to work within social structures of inequity while contending with market globalization.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-11 of 11)

  • Documents (11)

  • Building a Network: Territorialisation and Deterritorialisation in 13th Century northern South Africa (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alexander Antonites.

    Regional social complexity in southern Africa is closely tied to the rise and development of the Mapungubwe polity of 13th century South Africa. Expanding political power and influence meant that Mapungubwe increasingly articulated with communities on its periphery - a relationship that is reflected in shared material culture. These hinterland sites are all located in areas where there is an absence of earlier twelfth century occupation, which suggests a process of active settling of these areas...

  • Creating the ‘Imagined Community’ of Mapungubwe (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ceri Ashley.

    Mapungubwe’s influence spread deep into the regional hinterland, drawing in far-flung communities, trade networks and people. The traditional picture of a centripetal economy however has been challenged recently by work at these so called peripheries, indicating unexpected levels of autonomy and material wealth. While the place of these newly explored hinterlands need to be re-theorised and their agency acknowledged, there is danger in swinging the interpretive pendulum too far towards a...

  • Deep Histories from Shallow Sites: Archaeological Investigations of Later Sites in Eastern Djibouti (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Neil Norman. Madeline Gunter. Bruce Larson. Hayden Bassett.

    Today, the Afar Region of East Africa is known for barren landscapes and some of the hottest average temperatures in the world. However, archaeological and climatological evidence suggests that over the last 3 million years the region has also exhibited temperate Savanna climes. This paper presents new archaeological data that chronicles the Oldowan through Islamic periods at the eastern edge of the Rift Valley. It begins the project of describing how deep historical processes intersected...

  • Evolution of Iron Age to Modern Landscapes in the Benoué River Valley, Cameroon (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Wright. Scott MacEachern. Stanley Ambrose.

    African landscapes have undergone radical ecological transformations since agriculture was introduced and spread across the continent. In some areas, it appears that grassland was encouraged at the expense of forests and woodlands, for agriculture and to provide fodder for livestock. To this point, most of the evidence for such practices has come secondarily from ocean or swamp cores, not directly from archaeological contexts. In this paper, we present a scenario for landscape evolution and...

  • From the Field to the Festival: Reading the Landscape of Cloth in Axum, Ethiopia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Joanna Casey.

    The city of Axum in northern Ethiopia is well known for its high quality, hand woven cloth. Sundays and festivals bring throngs of local people who, to the outside observer, appear to be uniformly dressed in beautiful white handspun clothing embellished with colourful woven borders and embroidery. This apparent uniformity belies a very complex set of activities that lead to the production, distribution and consumption of cloth in Axum. Each step in production is dominated by people of...

  • Remodel, Rebuild, or Abandon?: Changing uses of space in an early West African Village (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stephen Dueppen. Daphne Gallagher.

    Ancient villages in western Burkina Faso were long-lived communities, temporally rooted in deep social histories experienced in the built environment and local geography. The site of Kirikongo, continuously inhabited from ca. 100 CE to 1700 CE, and composed of 13 separate tells (mounds), exemplifies these spatio-temporal dynamics, as over time the economic and social characters of tells, and their spatial positioning and characteristics changed dramatically despite maintenance of certain spatial...

  • The roots of global trade in the southern African Iron Age (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ashley Coutu. Judith Sealy.

    During the African Iron Age from 800 to 1200 AD, overseas trade began to expand out of southern Africa across the Indian Ocean, which caused an increase in the export of raw materials such as ivory. Archaeological evidence of ivory working has been found on sites across southern Africa dating to this period, including KwaGandaGanda and K2 in South Africa, Kaitshaa and Bosutswe in Botswana and Ingombe Ilede in Zambia. It is unknown whether the raw ivory was obtained locally or traded in, whether...

  • Sacred and Magnificent, Degraded Landscapes: Crater Rims as Sacred Places and Transformed Spaces in western Uganda (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Peter Schmidt.

    One of the most vexing problems in the archaeology of eastern Africa is the absence of burial evidence from deep antiquity. This issue is now moot with the documentation of multiple burials on the narrow rims of steep volcanic calderas in far western Uganda. Dating to the early first millennium CE, these cemeteries contain well preserved individuals who lived in a forested environment they modified by fire while subsisting on a mixed diet of fish, game, and agriculturally produced grains....

  • The spread of iron metallurgy: the African continent (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Louise Iles.

    Theories of the origin(s) of iron production and the spread of ferrous technology have provoked many decades of lively and enduring debate. The notion that iron production developed in one core location – from where knowledge of it spread – has been challenged by claims of early, independent inventions of iron production in Africa, India and China. However, it has proved problematic to verify the timing and contexts of these multi-origin hypotheses without placing undue emphasis on isolated...

  • Transferring Technological Styles: an Ethnoarchaeological Study of Marginalized Pottery Production in Tigray, Northern Highland Ethiopia. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Diane Lyons.

    The transfer of pottery making skills and knowledge is well studied in Africa using the chaîne opératoire methodology. Chaîne opératoire is understood as a social practice in which technological choices are guided by social choices that potters learn as members of a potter community. The complement of technological choices of this group of potters creates a unique technological style. Africanists use technological styles to study the history of potter communities through time and space. But...

  • Using Ethnoarchaeology to Interpret Archaeological Blacksmithing Sites in Togo, West Africa (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Philip De Barros.

    Philip de Barros, Palomar College. A 2013 study of the ethnoarchaeology of the blacksmithing village of Upper Bidjomambe in the ironworking region of Bassar in northern Togo provided invaluable data to help archaeologists interpret archaeological smithing sites. Oral traditions document the village's occupation from ca. 1870 to 1970 when it was abandoned leaving it virtually intact with little disturbance or tool recycling. An 80+-year-old informant formerly from Upper Bidjomambe, who was a...