Keeping in touch: tombs in the urban space of Swahili towns, East Africa

Author(s): Ross Jamieson

Year: 2014


This paper aims to examine the spatial distribution and role of the so-called pillar tombs, commonly encountered in the stone town sites of Swahili coast. The Swahili coastal towns thrived as major trading centres in the region of littoral East Africa in the historical period of the 8th to the 17th century AD. Since the earliest archaeological research on the coast, the specific form and monumental nature of the pillar tombs made them a prominent object of study and the first feature of the cosmopolitan coastal towns, which was recognised by scholars as inherently indigenous. The building and permanent nature of the pillar tombs incorporated into the fabric of the Swahili built environment could have had significant social connotations. They represent monumental above-ground structures positioned individually or in small groups, next to house entrances, within house compounds, next to the mosques or near communication routes through the towns. Adopting a range of methods of spatial analysis, here we examine the potential social logic and role of these tombs, as distinctive features representing death in the living urban space of past Swahili towns.

Cite this Record

Keeping in touch: tombs in the urban space of Swahili towns, East Africa. Ross Jamieson. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 436851)

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): SYM-32,09