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Welcome to African Archaeology!

The Journal of African Archaeology is an international peer-reviewed periodical appearing half-yearly since 2003. It publishes original papers addressing recent research and developments in African archaeology and related disciplines. The journal's main purpose is to provide scholars and students with a new pan-African forum for discussing relevant topics on the cultural dynamics of past African societies.

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Vol. 12 (2) 2014

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M. Pawlowicz, J. Stoetzel & S. Macko

Environmental Archaeology at Mikindani, Tanzania: Towards a Historical Ecology of the Southern Swahili Coast

Journal of African Archaeology, Volume 12 (2), 2014, pages 119-139, DOI 10.3213/2191-5784-10260

Abstract


The historic port town of Mikindani is situated along the southern portion of the Swahili coast.  Archaeological investigations in this region of coastal East Africa yield evidence of occupation since the last centuries BCE and intensive settlement since the middle of the first millennium CE. This long settlement history suggests that people in the region have had an expansive, wide-ranging impact on local ecological conditions in the region.  This paper takes a historical ecology approach in evaluating the nature and degree of anthropogenic influences on the environment in and around Mikindani.  The evaluation is based on evidence from contemporary botanical communities, faunal remains, macrobotanicals, phytolith residues, isotope analysis of archaeological sediments, and soil chemistry. This research also looks to define an environmental component that contributes to a previously defined mercantile culture that characterizes Swahili communities in the region.  We argue that this interdisciplinary analysis yields evidence of several long-term anthropogenic influences in Mikindani, including:  a long-term reduction in forests and woody vegetation, reliance on shifting agriculture as a subsistence strategy, and the continued reliance on marine resources to meet subsistence needs. These patterns of human-environment interaction help suggest reasons for certain developments in Mikindani's history, perhaps most notably its early second millennium CE absence from Indian Ocean trade networks.  Our results contribute to a growing literature in East Africa which acknowledges that modern environments of East Africa derive from a recursive relationship with human populations that has continued for thousands of years.


Résumé

La ville portuaire historique de Mikindani est située sur la côte swahilie méridionale. Les travaux archéologiques dans cette région de la côte de l'Afrique orientale ont livré la preuve de l'implantation humaine depuis les derniers siècles avant J.C. et de l'occupation intensive depuis le milieu du premier millénaire après J.C. Cette longue histoire de l'occupation humaine laisse penser que les hommes ont eu un impact fort et étendu sur les conditions écologiques de la région. Cet article adopte une approche d'écologie historique pour évaluer la nature et le degré de l'influence anthropique sur l'environnement dans et autour de Mikindani. L'évaluation est basée sur des indices issus de cortèges botaniques contemporains, de restes fauniques et macrobotaniques, de résidus de phytolithes, et sur l'analyse isotopique de sédiments archéologiques et de la chimie de sol. Cette recherche tente aussi de définir la composante naturelle de la culture marchande, précédemment définie, qui caractérise des communautés swahilies dans la région. Nous soutenons que cette analyse interdisciplinaire rapporte la preuve de plusieurs influences anthropiques à long terme dans Mikindani, dont la réduction à long terme des forêts et du couvert boisé, la dépendance des hommes à l'agriculture itinérante comme une stratégie de subsistance et la dépendance continue aux ressources marines pour satisfaire leurs besoins de subsistance. Ces modèles d'interaction homme/environnement nous permettent de proposer des raisons à certains développements dans l'histoire de Mikindani, dont peut-être le plus notable, au début du deuxième millénaire de notre ère, l'absence de réseaux commerciaux avec l'océan Indien. Nos résultats contribuent à une littérature croissante en Afrique orientale qui reconnaît que les environnements modernes de l'Afrique orientale sont issus d'une relation avec les populations humaines qui s'est perpétuée pendant des milliers d'années.



Keywords: historical ecology, phytolith, Southern Tanzania, stable isotope, Swahili


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