Department of Anthropology

The study of ancient urbanism has come more and more to recognize the role of regional and...

Preindustrial Trade and Urbanism in East Africa

Wed, February 11, 2009 | EPS 1.128

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

The study of ancient urbanism has come more and more to recognize the role of regional and interregional processes in the development of cities. Social and economic interactions including trade, migration, and foreign contact were inherent in the origins of most cities, yet archaeologists are just beginning to recognize and interpret their material traces. My long-term research agenda on the Swahili Coast of East Africa has been concerned with understanding the origin and biological composition of the large autonomous towns and city-states that developed out of fishing, agrarian, and pastoral settlements on the East African coast in the late first millennium CE. Early scholarship attributed the development of these Swahili city- states to trade and intermarriage with Arab and Persian traders. However, archaeological investigations have demonstrated that the artifactual traditions in the early city-states show a clear continuity with the earlier villages. At the same time, these early African states cannot be understood separate from their relationships with the African hinterland and the wider Indian Ocean trading system.

My talk will discuss my research on the Swahili coast including what we know, how we know it and what still remains unknown. Among the questions to be addressed include: Who built the ancient cities of coastal East Africa? What were the cultural, technological, and biological relationships between urban and rural populations of the coast? When and in what ways did East Africa become part of Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf trading systems? What forms did this engagement take and how did they impact regional and interregional interaction spheres?

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