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Dietary Diversity on the Swahili Coast: The Fauna from Two Zanzibar Trading Locales


Occupants of coastal and island eastern Africa—now known as the ‘Swahili coast’—were involved in long-distance trade with the Indian Ocean world during the later first millennium CE. Such exchanges may be traced via the appearance of non-native animals in the archaeofaunal record; additionally, this record reveals daily culinary practises of the members of trading communities and can thus shed light on subsistence technologies and social organisation. Yet despite the potential contributions of faunal data to Swahili coast archaeology, few detailed zooarchaeological studies have been conducted. Here, we present an analysis of faunal remains from new excavations at two coastal Zanzibar trading locales: the small settlement of Fukuchani in the north-west and the larger town of Unguja Ukuu in the south-west. The occurrences of non-native fauna at these sites—Asian black rat (Rattus rattus) and domestic chicken (Gallus gallus), as well as domestic cat (Felis catus)—are among the earliest in eastern Africa. The sites contrast with one another in their emphases on wild and domestic fauna: Fukuchani's inhabitants were economically and socially engaged with the wild terrestrial realm, evidenced not only through diet but also through the burial of a cache of wild bovid metatarsals. In contrast, the town of Unguja Ukuu had a domestic economy reliant on caprine herding, alongside more limited chicken keeping, although hunting or trapping of wild fauna also played an important role. Occupants of both sites were focused on a diversity of near-shore marine resources, with little or no evidence for the kind of venturing into deeper waters that would have required investment in new technologies. Comparisons with contemporaneous sites suggest that some of the patterns at Fukuchani and Unguja Ukuu are not replicated elsewhere. This diversity in early Swahili coast foodways is essential to discussions of the agents engaged in long-distance maritime trade. © 2017 The Authors International Journal of Osteoarchaeology Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.