Biological exchange in the Swahili world: archaeofaunal and biomolecular evidence


The Swahili coast, stretching from Somalia to Mozambique, has a long history of engagement in western Indian Ocean trade, from at least the first century CE according to documentary evidence. One result is the widespread use of animals of Asian origin – particularly zebu cattle (Bos indicus) and chicken (Gallus gallus) – in African subsistence systems today. However, tracing these animals’ arrival and spread is complicated by their osteological similarities to indigenous taxa and by poor chronological resolution, and aDNA research on these taxa is still in its infancy. One taxon that preserves well in coastal urban settlements, and can serve as a proxy for increasing maritime biological exchange, is the black rat (Rattus rattus). Black rats have been reported from numerous Swahili coast and inland sites, but examination of some of these remains using collagen fingerprinting (ZooMS) demonstrates that many were misidentified. Combining ZooMS, aDNA and direct radiocarbon dating, we trace the arrival of the black rat to the coast, significantly later than predicted based on other sources of information. We outline potential areas for research on the impacts of this taxon on indigenous flora and fauna and on the spread of disease.

Cite this Record

Biological exchange in the Swahili world: archaeofaunal and biomolecular evidence. Mary Prendergast, Michael Buckley, Heidi Eager, Alison Crowther, Nicole Boivin. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403233)


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min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;