Comparative Evidence of Maritime Activity in the Early Swahili Harbours of Zanzibar

Author(s): Tom Fitton

Year: 2018


The Swahili of East Africa are regarded historically as a maritime culture, whose coastal sailing networks and prosperous Indian Ocean trade connections can be dated back to at least the 7th century CE. Archaeological investigations have demonstrated that maritime elements were deliberately embedded in the architecture of the famous second millennium Swahili stonetowns, but a focus on urban areas has sometimes been at the expense of areas of potential maritime infrastructure within settlements, or of the broader maritime cultural landscape.

This paper presents the results of the author's recent PhD on the development of harbour areas and maritime activity in the coastal settlements of the Zanzibar Archipelago, using a GIS comparison of archaeological data drawn from previous investigations, remote sensing, and geophysical surveys. The research has demonstrated a pattern of harbour features and the preservation of a series of shoreline maritime activity areas through multiple phases of urbanisation, settlement decline, and redevelopment. The paper offers a hypothetical perspective on the development of a common spatial organisation within these settlements, as well as the growing maritimity of Swahili society, based around the activities and roles of communal maritime areas.

Cite this Record

Comparative Evidence of Maritime Activity in the Early Swahili Harbours of Zanzibar. Tom Fitton. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444241)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: 24.082; min lat: -26.746 ; max long: 56.777; max lat: 17.309 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22056