In January 2001, a team of researchers from the University of Ulster (Northern Ireland) conducted an innovative maritime archaeology project on the East African coast in partnership with the British Institute in Eastern Africa and the National Museums of Kenya. Its focus was Mombasa Island on the southern Kenyan coast, a historical settlement and port for nearly 2000 years (Berg 1968; Sassoon 1980; 1982). The East African seaboard, stretching from Somalia in the north to Madagascar and Mozambique in the south, was culturally dynamic throughout the historical period. This area, traditionally known as the Swahili coast, is culturally defined as a maritime zone extending 2000 km from north to south, but reaching a mere 15 hi inland. The origins of ‘Swahili’ cultural identity originated during the middle of the 1st millennium AD, following consolidation of earlier farming and metalusing Bantu-speaking communities along the coast and emergence of a distinctive ‘maritime’ orientation and set of cultural traditions (eg Allen 1993; Chami 1998; Helm 2000; Horton & Middelton 2000). Previous research produced evidence of exploitation of marine resources for food and an early engagement in longdistance exchange networks, linking parts ofthis coast with the Classical world by at least the BC/AD transition.