Archaeology of Eastern Africa

Matthew Davies

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online May 2015 | | DOI:
Archaeology of Eastern Africa

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Defined here as Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania (and, where appropriate, adjacent regions), eastern Africa has among the deepest archaeological records on the planet. Some of the oldest stone tools are found in Turkana, Kenya, and date to over 3.3 million years ago. Human physiology and technology then developed through a series of phases across the following millennia, with many global Stone Age milestones documented here first. However, the region is significant not just for its role in deep-time narratives of human evolution. Eastern Africa also has a rich Holocene record, documenting the development of diverse hunting, foraging, and food-producing economies and the subsequent emergence of iron production, specialized crafts, and intensive forms of pastoralism and irrigated farming. The last two thousand years have also seen the emergence of large polities and the contribution of these within global networks of trade, most notably in the Lake Victoria and Swahili coastal area. However, many communities resisted incorporation into broader political units, and these communities evidence unique forms of decentralized organization that caution against the common assumption that human societies tend toward centralized and hierarchical political forms. On the eve of colonialism, eastern Africa was a patchwork of integrated human social, cultural, and ecological diversity. The study of this diversity and its transformation in the colonial and postcolonial periods also forms a major subject of archaeological inquiry, as does the ethics of conducting archaeological research, engaging publics, and protecting heritage resources in the postcolonial world. The focus of this article is to direct readers to the key texts in eastern African archaeology by period, theme, and debate. It begins with a chronological structure, reviewing major periods (e.g., the Early Stone Age, Early Farmers, etc.), before focusing on more regionally specific traditions (e.g., the Swahili stone towns and the Great Lakes kingdoms) and major areas of research interest (metalworking, ethnoarchaeology), practice, and theoretical discussion (heritage, public archaeology). In many areas the existing literature tends to take an extraregional or Pan-African perspective (e.g., the spread of food production), and as such there are multiple intersections and links with other Oxford Bibliographies articles, especially Ann B. Stahl’s Archaeology and the Study of Africa, which provides a wider coverage of the key research topics and the practice and theory of conducting archaeological research in Africa. Where possible this article tackles topics with reference to eastern African material, but inevitably it also cites references from the broader region, where the data they present or the arguments they make are (or might be) relevant to eastern Africa.

Article.  31456 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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