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NEW DIRECTIONS FOR HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN EASTERN AFRICA?*

  • PAUL J. LANE (a1)
Abstract

Recent years have seen growth in the number of historical archaeology studies in Eastern Africa. Combining critical analysis of material remains alongside the available documentary and oral sources, these offer new insights into the precolonial and colonial pasts of the region. However, the field is less well established than in either West or Southern Africa and the full potential of the subdiscipline has yet to be realised. This contribution reviews the main analytical and theoretical trends, drawing on a selection of examples. Several other research themes that might warrant investigation are also identified, and the general lack of engagement with material culture and the archaeology of the last few hundred years on the part of historians, is lamented.

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Author's email: paul.lane@arkeologi.uu.se

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1 J. Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life (Garden City, NY, 1977); R. L. Schuyler, Historical Archaeology: A Guide to Substantive and Theoretical Contributions (Farmingdale, NY, 1978).

2 S. South (ed.), Pioneers in Historical Archaeology: Breaking New Ground (New York, 1994).

3 Deagan, K. A., ‘Neither history nor prehistory: the questions that count in historical archaeology’, Historical Archaeology, 22:1 (1988), 712; Little, B. J., ‘People with history: an update on historical archaeology in the United States’, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 1:1 (1994), 540; P. P. A. Funari, S. Jones, and M. Hall, ‘Introduction: archaeology in history’, in P. P. A. Funari, S. Jones, and M. Hall (eds.), Historical Archaeology: Back from the Edge (London, 1999), 1–20; Mayne, A., ‘On the edges of history: reflections on historical archaeology’, American Historical Review, 113:1 (2008), 93118.

4 N. Hume, Historical Archaeology (New York, 1972); for an earlier counter argument, see Schuyler, R. L., ‘Historical and historic sites archaeology as anthropology: basic definitions and relationships’, Historical Archaeology, 4 (1970), 83–9.

5 C. E. Orser, A Historical Archaeology of the Modern World (New York, 1996); M. Hall and S. W. Silliman, ‘Introduction: archaeology of the modern world’, in M. Hall and S. W. Silliman (eds.), Historical Archaeology (Oxford, 2006), 1–22.

6 Mayne, ‘On the edges of history’, 115.

7 Schmidt, P. R. and Walz, J. R., ‘Silences and mentions in history making’, Historical Archaeology, 41:4 (2007), 129–46.

8 See, inter alia, B. J. Little, ‘People with history’, 5–40; A. Andrén, Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective (New York, 1998); Orser, C. E. Jr, ‘Twenty-first-century historical archaeology’, Journal of Archaeological Research, 18 (2010), 111–50.

9 See, especially, P. R. Schmidt, Historical Archaeology: A Structural Approach in an African Culture (Westport, CT, 1978).

10 See, for example, Connah, G., ‘Historical archaeology in Africa: an appropriate concept?’, African Archaeological Review, 24 (2007), 3540.

11 P. R. Schmidt and S. A. Mrozowski (eds.), The Death of Prehistory (Oxford, 2013).

12 See, inter alia, U. Baram and L. Carroll, ‘The future of the Ottoman past’, in U. Barram and L. Carroll (eds.), A Historical Archaeology of the Ottoman Empire: Breaking New Ground (London, 2000), 1–36; B. Lewis ‘India: historical archaeology’, in C. Smith (ed.), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology (London, 2014), 3751–60. The diversity of these regional traditions of historical archaeology would seem to contradict the suggestion that a ‘global historical archaeology’ is achievable let alone desirable. For the latter argument, see, for example, M. Johnson, ‘Rethinking historical archaeology’, in P. P. A. Funari, S. Jones, and M. Hall (eds.), Historical Archaeology: Back from the Edge (London, 1999), 21–36.

13 A. Reid and P. J. Lane, ‘African historical archaeologies: an introductory consideration of scope and potential’, in D. A. M. Reid and P. J. Lane (eds.), African Historical Ecologies (London, 2004), 1–32.

14 See, for example, Posnansky, M. and DeCorse, C. R., ‘Historical archaeology in sub-Saharan Africa: a review’, Historical Archaeology, 20 (1986), 114, and Hall, M., ‘The archaeology of colonial settlement in Southern Africa’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 22 (1993), 177200; C. Schrire (ed.), Historical Archaeology in South Africa: Material Culture of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape (Walnut Creek, CA, 2014).

15 For instance, C. R. DeCorse, An Archaeology of Elmina: Africans and Europeans on the Gold Coast, 1400–1900 (Washington, 2001); C. R. DeCorse (ed.), West Africa During the Atlantic Slave Trade: Archaeological Perspectives (Leicester, 2001).

16 See, for example, Schrire, C., ‘The historical archaeology of the impact of colonialism in seventeenth-century South Africa’, Antiquity, 62 (1988), 214–25; K. W. Wessler (ed.), Historical Archaeology in Nigeria (Trenton, NJ, 1998); A. B. Stahl, Making History in Banda: Anthropological Visions of Africa's Past (Cambridge, 2001); L. P. Petit, Archaeology and History in North-Western Benin (Oxford, 2005); N. Swanepoel, A. Esterhuysen, and P. Bonner (eds.), Five Hundred Years Rediscovered: Southern African Precedents and Prospects (Johannesburg, 2008); C. J. Monroe and A. Ogundiran (eds.), Power and Landscape in Atlantic West Africa: Archaeological Perspectives (Cambridge, 2012); Z. Crossland, Ancestral Encounters in Highland Madagascar: Material Signs and Traces of the Dead (Cambridge, 2014).

17 For the purposes of this review, I focus mostly on research in Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania (including Zanzibar and Pemba). Studies in Mozambique and Ethiopia have been mostly excluded, although there are obvious parallels and scope for comparative analysis.

18 M. Posnansky, The Nile Quest, Centenary Essays and Catalogue (Kampala, 1962).

19 J. Kirkman, Fort Jesus, A Portuguese Fortress on the East African Coast (Oxford, 1974); Kirkman, J., and Bentley-Buckle, A. W., ‘A Portuguese wreck off Mombasa, Kenya’, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 1:1 (1972), 153–7.

20 See, especially the various efforts to tie the large earthworks of Bigo and Munsa and similar sites in western Uganda to local and regional oral traditions as discussed from different perspectives by Andrew Reid and Peter Schmidt in this Forum. For other early archaeological critiques, see, for example, Lofgren, L., ‘Stone structures of South Nyanza’, Azania, 2 (1967), 7588; Siiriäinen, A., ‘The Gumba and Athi of central Kenya: archaeology and oral tradition’, Suomen Museo, 80 (1973), 105–17.

21 Kirkman, J., ‘Historical archaeology in Kenya, 1948–1956’, Antiquaries Journal, 37 (1957), 1629.

22 Schmidt, Historical Archaeology.

23 McConkey, R. and McErlean, T., ‘Mombasa Island: a maritime perspective’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 11:1 (2007), 99121; D. Rhodes, Historical Archaeologies of Nineteenth-Century Colonial Tanzania: A Comparative Study (Oxford, 2010); Rhodes, D., ‘The nineteenth-century colonial archaeology of Suakin, Sudan’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 15:1 (2011), 162–89.

24 Breen, C. P. and Lane, P. J., ‘Archaeological approaches to East Africa's changing seascape’, World Archaeology, 35 (2003), 469–89; Lane, P. J., ‘Maritime and shipwreck archaeology in the western Indian Ocean and southern Red Sea: an overview of past and current research’, Journal of Maritime Archaeology, 7:1 (2012), 941.

25 Rhodes, Historical Archaeologies, 195–203.

26 S. Pradines, Fortifications et urbanisation en Afrique orientale (Oxford, 2004); Rhodes, D., Breen, C. P., and Forsythe, W., ‘Zanzibar: a nineteenth-century landscape of the Omani elite’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 19:2 (2015), 334–55.

27 Kusimba, C. M., ‘Archaeology of slavery in East Africa’, African Archaeological Review, 21:1 (2004), 5988; C. M. Kusimba, ‘The impact of slavery on the East African political economy and gender relationships’, in L. W. Marshall (ed.), The Archaeology of Slavery: A Comparative Approach to Captivity and Coercion (Carbondale, IL, 2014), 230–54.

28 J. R. Walz and S. Brandt, ‘Toward an archaeology of the other African diaspora: the slave trade and dispersed Africans in the western Indian Ocean’, in J. B. Haviser and K. C. MacDonald (eds.), African Re-Genesis: Confronting Social Issues in the Diaspora (Walnut Creek, CA, 2006), 246–68; P. J. Lane and D. Johnson, ‘The archaeology and history of slavery in South Sudan in the nineteenth century’, in A. C. A. Peacock (ed.), The Frontiers of the Ottoman World (London, 2008), 509–37; P. J. Lane, ‘Slavery and slave trading in Eastern Africa: exploring the intersections of historical sources and archaeological evidence’, in P. J. Lane and K. C. MacDonald (eds.), Slavery in Africa: Archaeology and Memory (London, 2011), 281–314.

29 S. K. Croucher, Capitalism and Cloves: An Archaeology of Plantation Life on Nineteenth-Century Zanzibar (New York, 2014).

30 Marshall, L. W., ‘Spatiality and the interpretation of identity formation: fugitive slave community creation in nineteenth-century Kenya’, African Archaeological Review, 29 (2012), 355–81; L. W. Marshall, ‘Marronage and the politics of memory: fugitive slaves, interaction, and integration in nineteenth-century Kenya’, in L. W. Marshall (ed.), The Archaeology of Slavery: A Comparative Approach to Captivity and Coercion (2014), 276–99.

31 Croucher, Capitalism, 12.

32 Marshall, ‘Maroonage’, 281.

33 Located some 30km inland along the Kavuluni River and settled in the 1880s.

34 Marshall, ‘Maroonage’, 283.

35 See, especially, Croucher, Capitalism, 213–39.

36 T. J. Biginagwa, ‘Historical archaeology of the nineteenth-century caravan trade in North-Eastern Tanzania: a zooarchaeological perspective’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of York, 2012).

37 On this latter point, see N. T. Håkansson, ‘Trade, “trinkets” and environmental change at the edge of world-systems: political ecology and the East African ivory trade’, in A. Hornborg, J. Martinez-Alier, and J. R. McNeill (eds.), Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change (Walnut Creek, CA, 2007), 143–62.

38 Lane, P. J., ‘Environmental narratives and the history of soil erosion in Kondoa District, Tanzania: an archaeological perspective’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 42 (2009), 457–83.

39 J. Prestholdt, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization (Berkley, 2008).

40 K. Pallaver, ‘A recognized currency in beads: glass beads as money in nineteenth-century East Africa: the central caravan road’, in C. Eagleton and H. Fuller (eds.), Money in Africa (London, 2008), 20–9.

41 M. Wood, ‘The glass beads of Kaole’, in F. A. Chami and G. Pwiti (eds.), Southern Africa and the Swahili World (Dar es Salaam, 2002), 50–65.

42 See, for example, Wynne-Jones, S., ‘Lines of desire: power and materiality along a Tanzanian caravan route’, Journal of World Prehistory, 23 (2010), 219–37.

43 J. R. Walz, ‘Route to a regional past: an archaeology of the lower Pangani (Ruvu) basin, Tanzania, 500–1900 ce’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Florida, 2010).

44 Håkansson, T., ‘The human ecology of world systems in East Africa: the impact of the ivory trade’, Human Ecology, 32 (2004), 561–91; see, however, Lane, P. J., ‘Developing landscape historical ecologies in Eastern and Southern Africa: opportunities and challenges’, African Studies, 69 (2010), 299322.

45 Onjala, I., ‘Spatial distribution and settlement system of the stone structures of south-western Kenya’, Azania, 38 (2003), 99120; Odede, F., ‘Gunda-buche: the bank-and-ditch fortified settlement enclosures of western Kenya, Lake Victoria Basin’, Azania, 43 (2008), 3649.

46 Sutton, J. E. G., ‘Foweira on the Nile: camps, boat stations and forts of the late nineteenth century’, Uganda Journal, 51 (2007), 37–8; Posnansky, M., ‘The northern factor in Uganda's history’, Uganda Journal, 52 (2009), 5564; Davies, M. I. J., ‘Archaeology in South Sudan past and present: Gordon's fort at Laboré and other sites of interest’, Sudan and Nubia, 18 (2014), 165–76.

47 See, for example, Lane, P. J., ‘The archaeological potential for the history of labor relations in East Africa, ca. 1500–1900’, History in Africa, 41 (2014), 227306.

48 See, for example, González-Ruibal, A., ‘Fascist colonialism: the archaeology of Italian outposts in western Ethiopia (1936–1941)’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 14 (2010), 547–74.

49 González-Ruibal, A., ‘The dream of reason: an archaeology of the failures of modernity in Ethiopia’, Journal of Social Archaeology, 6:2 (2006), 176–99.

50 J. Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life (Garden City, NY, 1977).

51 For a recent exploration of the cultural biographies of East African ivory and its entangled history in the industrialisation of North America that touches on these issues, see A. C. Kelly, ‘The material lives of ivory and elephants: a historical anthropology of the nineteenth-century ivory trade’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Stanford University, 2014).

52 Although at present this has been limited only to Omani elites; the material traditions and legacies of Indian merchants and other Asian communities remain unexplored from an archaeological perspective, for instance.

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