The roots of global trade in the southern African Iron Age

Author(s): Ashley Coutu; Judith Sealy

Year: 2017


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 certain sites were production centres, and which markets drove the demand for the manufacture of ivory bangles/bracelets. To this end, we explore the distribution and frequencies of ivory artefacts and working debris across these sites. We also report the results of carbon, nitrogen and strontium isotope analysis to understand the origins and procurement of the ivory alongside Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) analysis to identify the species of the ivory. Results indicate that the worked ivory derived from elephants and that at some sites, ivory was derived from several catchment areas, implying a degree of landscape/resource partitioning. These sites therefore yield the earliest evidence for the trade of ivory in southern Africa.

Cite this Record

The roots of global trade in the southern African Iron Age. Ashley Coutu, Judith Sealy. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431936)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15272