Mohamed Sahnouni, Sileshi Semaw, and Michael Rogers
This article argues that the Acheulean is perhaps the longest lasting cultural–technological tradition in human history, dating from around 1.7 to 0.3 Mya and roughly corresponding to the time during which H. Erectus and H. Heidelbergensis lived in Africa. Unlike earlier Oldowan technology, Acheulean cores — handaxes, cleavers, and picks — were standardised, of predetermined shape and made on large cobbles and flakes. The extensive Acheulean archaeological record throughout Africa over 1.4 million years described is testimony to the success of this technology’s makers in different habitats, altitudes, and settings, but also to its apparent conservative cultural nature: a learned tradition passed on through thousands of generations of highly mobile hominin groups with small population sizes. Although there are differences between Early and Late Acheulean technology, the makers of these tools may have undergone more significant changes with respect to the use of other technologies, strategic land use, and social life.
David N. Edwards
Zooarchaeological comparisons of Roman and Islamic North Africa indicate changes in animal use largely resultant from shifting parameters of urban and economic expansion and development, presence and involvement of the military, cultural preferences, and restrictions in dietary resources. ‘Urbanized’ and ‘militarized’ zones, such as Carthage, and the Egyptian delta and eastern desert, typically display increases in pork consumption during Roman times; others areas, such as Morocco and inland Tunisia and Libya, regions arguably less affected by, or exposed to, Roman dietary and cultural customs or demands, maintain greater temporal consistency. Islamic patterns display regional diversity, with sheep/goat pastoralism predominating, integrated husbandry schemes and animal breed manipulation generally diminishing, and cultural taboos against pork consumption registering in many areas.
Africanist archaeometallurgists have conveniently divided Africa into two sub-regions when discussing the continent’s metallurgical history: north of the Sahara Desert, including the Mediterranean littoral, the Lower Nile Valley, and the Red Sea coast; and south of the Sahara (sub-Saharan Africa), including West, East, Central, and southern Africa. This division reflects the fact that the metallurgical history of the two sub-regions differs. This article begins with a theoretical review of the origins of metallurgy as a background on which the sub-Saharan case is anchored. Its main body is further split in two: the appearance of metallurgy in the region and its subsequent development. The discussion suggests that studying the origins of other technologies, such as basketry, textiles, and pottery may also help shed light on those of metallurgy itself.
Viktor Černý and Luísa Pereira
East African foragers were probably the first who colonized most of the world before the invention of agriculture—their first biologically successful migration out of Africa can be inferred from the mtDNA phylogeny and dated to ~ 65,000 years ago. They were also involved in other migrations within the African continent during Late Pleistocene, as shown from a high-resolution characterization of several other African mtDNA haplogroups. Contemporary African hunter-gatherers differ from their neighbours in many aspects. They all show signs of demographic contraction that might be due to interrupted gene flow among their sub-populations caused by recent establishments of sedentary farming communities. In fact, they are not independent and maintain both cultural exchanges and marital relationships with neighbouring farmers. However, in spite of recent admixtures, their gene pool still contains a high number of both maternal and paternal lineages that coalesce to the deepest clades of modern human phylogeny.
The Horn of Africa is one of the Africa’s most culturally varied regions and the world’s most physiographically diverse areas, possessing an extensive range of climates, topographies, vegetation, and soils, often found vertically stratified over short horizontal distances. In consequence of its diverse climate, physiography human landscapes and dynamic food-producing systems, the Horn has long been recognised as a major world centre of plant domesticates, possesses diversity in cattle and goat breeds, and provides some of the densest and most varied concentrations of ancient pastoral rock art in Africa. This article examines the middle to late Holocene transition and the first appearance of food production in the Horn; the archaeological evidence for domesticated animals and plants in the Horn; and frameworks for the origins of food production.
Ibrahima Thiaw and François Richard
Africa’s engagement with the post-AD 1500 Atlantic World has captivated archaeological attention over the past twenty years. Focusing on West Africa, this article gives a sense of the themes and questions that have driven archaeological work on Atlantic processes, reviews some of the trends and insights generated by this research, and explores future directions in this field. The discussion begins by situating historical archaeology in the historiography of the African Atlantic and then considering archaeological contributions to broader debates about the emergence, dynamics, impacts, and long-term consequences of the Atlantic economy on African societies. It then examines five domains of archaeological research on social transformations: political landscapes, cultural life between the coast and interior, urban dynamics, cultural economies, and technological change.
The origins of archaeology were in Europe, so that its development in the African continent was initially shaped by European perceptions, subsequently modified by American influences. Only during the last half century have indigenous Africans had a voice in the archaeologies of their own countries, which have nevertheless often retained approaches adopted from overseas. This article notes that much of African archaeology has been characterised by particularism; syntheses, especially at a continental level, have been relatively rare. Even studies dealing with large parts of the continent are not that common, although areas of lesser size have received more attention. Problems that plague much of African archaeological thought become particularly apparent. The Eurocentric nineteenth-century Three Age System and the associated concept of prehistory continue to characterise much analytical and interpretive writing. In spite of attempts to see the African past in different way, these outmoded ideas remain current in many places.
Pierre de Maret
This article examines the Bantu languages and their classification and provides archaeological background of the Bantu migration on Western and Central Africa and Great Lakes Africa. Encompassing a series of changes and movements that took place during several millennia over one of the largest continental masses on earth, the Bantu phenomenon cannot be accounted for by a single and simplistic paradigm. It is connected with complex population movements starting north of Central Africa and led to the progressive colonisation of a vast area further south. The discussion concludes that the Bantu phenomenon is best understood as a colonisation, migration, expansion, dispersal, or diffusion.
Amanda Esterhuysen and Paul J. Lane
This article focuses on efforts to promote formal teaching of archaeology, especially at primary and secondary levels. It stresses that an integrated strategy towards archaeology and education, that exploits different opportunities, develops resources and methods appropriate to different learning ages, constituencies and contexts, and which deploys the different elements so as to complement each other, is likely to be the most successful. The discussion on educational archaeology examines developments in South Africa. It suggests that archaeology departments and divisions at African universities need to include educational archaeologists on their staff so as to better link the two disciplines, provide a critical approach to the way in which archaeology is taught at university level, and determine how it is being implemented at school level.
The archaeology of Africa is littered with migration narratives. Migration events from Africa have shaped global history, from the hominin dispersal ‘Out of Africa’ to more recent forced exodus. Despite this prominence and seeming ubiquity, African archaeology has often had a complicated and contested relationship with migration and it remains a potentially divisive issue. Introducing some of the key trends in archaeological approaches to migration, this article outlines some of the past archaeological uses of migration paradigms, and explores theoretical and methodological issues associated with its application to African archaeological contexts. Global archaeology is slowly re-engaging with migration as an explanatory device. Migration is clearly a central dynamic within African society. Researchers need to develop new theoretical approaches to migration, making it much clearer what is meant by the term, as well as reviewing how it is identified archaeologically.
Metalworking encompasses both the reductive smelting of ores to produce metal and its refining and forging to create usable objects. The advent of this process is one of the most significant technological progressions in human history. The origin of metallurgy debate still rages without any solution or middle ground in sight. More importantly, numerous insightful studies have focused on the sociological and physico-chemical aspects of past metalworking activities, with modern research tending increasingly to consider these together while integrating fieldwork-based studies and laboratory investigations within the same continuum of research. Ethnographies still have an important role in interpretation, alongside the techniques of the physical sciences and their ability to provide information on what was happening inside furnaces and forges. With more data, researchers will be better placed to resolve highly contentious issues surrounding the origins and innovations in the African metallurgical record.
This article discusses the different archaeological approaches to African urbanism, historical contributions of historians and social scientists on knowledge about urbanism, and the operational concept of urbanism. It surveys the variety of African urban experience in the Nile Valley, the Maghreb, the Guinean zone, the Sahel, the Ethiopian highlands, the Great Lakes region and the Central African interior, the East African coast and western Indian Ocean, and southern Africa. Developments in archaeological field survey, excavation, and analysis and the integration of documentary and oral evidence continue to transform the image of African urbanity. Some key themes are apparent, among them the need for inter- and intra-site analyses and an integrated view of socio-environmental interactions including energy regime, economy, politics, and ideological organising principles, all treated diachronically.
Both agricultural intensification and the study of the processes that prompt intensification have a long history in Africa. There are multiple reasons why a community might choose to increase its inputs of labour to establish, maintain, or expand an agricultural system. This article illustrates this point through reference to societies throughout sub-Saharan Africa that have undergone periods of intensification and dis-intensification over the last 500 years or so and through a summary of the far older processes of agricultural change undertaken in north and northeastern Africa. It suggests that the range of trajectories displayed in the archaeological and historical record points to the significance of political, economic, and environmental contingencies, all of which are subject to changes through time.
This essay assesses the body of archaeological research connected to the New Kingdom settlement site of Amarna (ancient Akhetaten), the short-lived capital of Egypt founded by king Akhenaten around 1347 BC as the cult centre for the solar god the Aten. Amarna, by far the largest exposure of pharaonic settlement to survive from Egypt, is unsurpassed as a case site for the study of ancient Egyptian urbanism and daily life. This essay provides an overview of the ancient city, evaluates past and ongoing excavations at the site, and summarizes the archaeological discourse on the city as a physical, functioning and experienced space.
This article explores some examples of the archaeology of broadly ‘kin-based’ societies and the potential that such archaeology holds for understanding human action through time. It emphasises some of the ways in which the African archaeological record has been neglected. Complexity in terms of specialisation and stratification among African clan- and lineage-based societies seems to have operated at the level of the ethnic group. Within such communities, overt personal accumulation and the attempt to wield overt personal authority were checked by decentralising tendencies, such that at the community level the society might be thought of as relatively egalitarian and governed by a variety of horizontally arranged social institutions. However, when viewed at the level of interacting communities and kin groups, social distinction of a sort may be seen in competition between groups, the interconnected specialisation of societies, and the relative ideologies and values attached to them.
This article examines a dynamic and rapidly growing field in African archaeology. It covers a complex period of colonial history from the end of the fifteenth century, when the Portuguese first sailed along the East African coast, to the 1960s, when East African countries finally gained independence. Squeezed between European periods of rule was that of the Omani sultanate, which ruled the coast and caravan routes with variable local powers from the seventeenth century until 1890 when Zanzibar became a British protectorate. These changing systems of rule interacted with local histories in which local African communities were increasingly engaged in the intensification of the caravan trade, especially enslaved persons and ivory, and the introduction of plantation agriculture. The discussion considers colonialism and power, settlement patterns, economic life and artefact studies, and enslavement and resistance.
During the last fifty years, the conventional view has been that livestock and pottery first reached the frontiers of southern Africa with immigrant, Bantu-speaking farmers. The herding way of life then spread southwards with the Khoekhoe-speaking branch of the indigenous ‘Khoesan’ populations. Archaeologically, the Bantu migrations are well documented, but the evidence for Khoekhoen migration is meagre. Indeed, linguistic and chronological evidence refute the conventional view. In many southeastern Bantu languages, the words for livestock are of Khoe origin, and southern African pottery predates the arrival of the first farmers. This article considers two alternatives: either, the earliest livestock and pottery reached southernmost Africa by a process of diffusion and without the help of any migrating herder-potters; or, a migration of non-Bantu-speaking herders brought livestock to the subcontinent before the arrival of Bantu farmers. The discussion examines the archaeological evidence from these two perspectives.
Paul J. Lane
The history of pastoralism and stock-keeping in East Africa extends over some 4,500–5,000 years, during which time a diverse range of herd management strategies and settlement systems were followed by an equally diverse range of ethnic groups and pastoralist societies. The historical record documents several examples of mobile stock herders becoming sedentary farmers and agropastoralists, hunter-gatherers acquiring livestock and adopting a pastoralist lifestyle and the cultural traditions of their pastoralist neighbours and impoverished pastoralists becoming either temporary or longer-term foragers. This article examines the Lake Turkana region, the Central and Southern Rift Valley, and the Pastoral Iron Age. Archaeological evidence, especially if coupled with palaeoenvironmental data, and that of population genetics and historical linguistics, offers an excellent means of tracking how varied these pastoralist economies and cultures have been and when, where, and why they have changed.
This article suggests that the archaeology of ritual and religions in Africa is complex and variably understood, but has enormous research potential. The discussion focuses on ritual and religion in later periods of African prehistory and history, noting that the database of earliest evidence for symbolic and ritual behaviours may continue to grow, along with understanding of them. Future foci for archaeological investigation could include charting trajectories of religious change, fusion, and syncretism in relation to past material culture. A more anthropologically informed approach to the archaeological investigation of indigenous sub-Saharan African rituals and religions is emerging. Similar possibilities exist for the archaeology of world religions where material culture could be treated less passively and descriptively and more as the outcome of active processes and agents.