A pinboard by
Abigail Moffett

Post doctoral research fellow, University of Cape Town


An archaeological project focused on the use and impact of global commodities in southern Africa

My research focuses on the use and impact of global commodities in local southern African contexts. Global commodities such as cowries and glass beads are material markers of networks of communication. These networks served as channels for the flow of both tangible and intangible ideas and technologies, networking the African continent globally for over 1000 years.

From as early as AD 600 there is archaeological evidence of interaction between communities in the southern African interior with those from the East African coast and the broader Indian Ocean region. This is primarily in the form of new commodities, such as glass beads and cowrie shells, as well as plants and animals. Some of these items came from as far as southern India, transported to southern Africa through well-established trade networks that linked vast regions of the Indian Ocean.

Objects crossing long-distance trade networks are typically considered in light of specific assumptions about their intended function, a set repertoire of economic values associated with them, and specific mechanisms of exchange. Not only are these often not demonstrated but assumed, they also limit the countless possible meanings and representations they might have had, as well as limit our understanding of the nature of the exchange process. Studying the provenance, distribution and use of cowries and glass beads in archaeological contexts in southern Africa provides a mean to address the valuation of imports in local contexts. This in turn will shed light on the question of interaction between southern Africa and the wider Indian Ocean region.


Early Evidence for Domestic Chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) in the Horn of Africa

Abstract: Domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus L. 1758) are one of the most valued farm animals in the world today. Chickens are widespread and economically and socially significant in Africa. Despite their importance, little is known about the nature of their introduction and subsequent integration into African economies. One reason for this is the morphological similarity of domestic chickens to wild galliform birds in Africa such as guineafowl and francolin. Here, we present direct dates and morphological evidence for domestic chickens recovered from Mezber, a pre‐Aksumite (>800–450 BCE) rural farming settlement in northern Ethiopia. Key morphological markers differentiated these domestic chickens from francolins. The Mezber direct chicken element accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dates of cal 820–595 BCE and indirect/charcoal AMS dates of cal 921–801 BCE constitute the earliest osteological evidence for chickens in Africa. Chicken bones in the domestic food waste of an early rural settlement at Mezber and their presence in later Aksumite urban contexts show that chickens were integrated into diverse Ethiopian highland settings. The Mezber specimens predate the earliest known Egyptian chickens by at least 550 years and draw attention to early exotic faunal exchanges in the Horn of Africa during the early first millennium BCE. These findings support previous archaeological, genetics and linguistic data that suggest maritime exchange networks with South Arabia through ports along the African Red Sea coast constitute one possible early route of introduction of chickens to Africa. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Pub.: 01 Jul '16, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

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

Abstract: 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.

Pub.: 09 Apr '17, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Social Networks and Regional Identity in Bronze Age Italy

Abstract: 121.3 By Emma Blake. Pp. xiv + 325, figs. 23, tables 15, maps 18. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2014. $99. ISBN 978-1-107-06320-4 (cloth). Reviewed by Mark Pearce Using an approach that has become fashionable in archaeology, this book identifies social networks in later Bronze Age Italy (i.e., the Recent and Final Bronze Ages [RBA and FBA]), tracing their role in the formation of the peoples named in the ancient sources. It is very well written, wears its theoretical garb lightly, and has been well proofread. There are a few errors—for example, the use of “emigration” where “immigration” is meant (21), mistranslation of the Italian quotation at the head of chapter 3 (66), and there are no sites in the modern region of Liguria in figure 5.7 (137). The structure of the book is admirably clear: chapter 1 provides a general introduction to the problem of identifying ancient peoples of Italy in the archaeological record and gives a general introduction to the period studied. Chapter 2 introduces the data set, and chapter 3 discusses archaeological approaches to ethnicity (an especially clearly presented section) and social network analysis. Chapter 4 introduces the networks identified, while chapters 5–8 deal with northern, east-central and west-central, and southern Italy in more detail. Finally, chapter 9 provides conclusions and a discussion of the long-term survival of regional identities during the Roman empire and afterward. The treatment of the archaeological evidence owes much to Anglo-American and English-language literature and is thus in many ways a synthesis of syntheses. It is noteworthy that Blake makes much use of the work of Anna Maria Bietti Sestieri, who has published much in English, and less use of that of the late Renato Peroni, the major scholar of the Italian Bronze Age. Blake does extensively reference Peroni’s 1979 English-language paper but ignores much of his later work. For example, she counterpoints Peroni’s views (“From Bronze Age to Iron Age: Economic, Historical and Social Considerations,” in D. Ridgway and F.R. Ridgway, eds., Italy Before the Romans: The Iron Age, Orientalizing and Etruscan Periods [London 1979] 7–30) with later publications in English by Bietti Sestieri (e.g., “Italy in Europe in the Early Iron Age,” PPS 63 [1997] 371–402), ignoring Peroni’s later work (in Italian) (155–56). The effect is that much of the archaeological picture is outdated, and occasionally the views of the Italian mainstream are misrepresented. Blake’s analysis is based on the distribution of 40 RBA and 23 FBA 1–2 types, including Aegean-style pottery, type Tiryns and Allumiere beads, donkeys, glass, antler and ivory artifacts, and a number of bronze types, mostly based on the relevant Prähistorische Bronzefunde volumes. This is very problematic, as the volume in that series on swords dates to 1970, on pins to 1975, knives to 1976, razors to 1979, daggers to 1994, and fibulae to 1986 and 2010. While it would have been a major undertaking to update the distributions of the various types chosen to document connections, it must be doubted whether such old studies always provide an accurate picture of metalwork distribution or modern scholarship. It is perhaps not surprising that fibulae are so well represented in this study in southern Italy (229), as Lo Schiavo’s magisterial corpus is the most recent of the Prähistorische Bronzefunde volumes (Le fibule dell’Italia meridionale e della Sicilia dall’età del Bronzo Recente al VI secolo a.C. [Stuttgart 2010]). Indeed, the weakest part of this book is its presentation of the material culture record, and as there are too many issues to discuss in full in this short review, I shall highlight the most egregious examples. Frattesina, a major Mediterranean hub in the Po Delta, must inevitably play an important part in any discussion of later Bronze Age connectivity. The site appears after the collapse of the Terramare and may be dated to the 12th to ninth centuries (i.e., the FBA and very beginning of the Iron Age). Thus, it seems very strange to include the site in RBA connectivity since even if the site may have appeared at the very end of the RBA, it is a post-Terramare phenomenon (40–1, 109). It is worth noting that since this book was published, it has become clear that amber beads were manufactured in the Po Delta, both at the specialized site of Campestrin (P. Bellintani et al., “L’ambra dell’insediamento della tarda Età del bronzo di Campestrin di Grignano Polesine [Rovigo],” in G. Leonardi and V. Tiné, eds., Preistoria e protostoria del Veneto [Florence 2015] 419–26) and at Frattesina itself (A.M. Bietti Sestieri et al., “Frattesina: Un centro internazionale di produzione e di scambio nell’Età del bronzo del Veneto,” in G. Leonardi and V. Tiné, eds., Preistoria e protostoria del Veneto [Florence 2015] 429, fig. 2.12). Blake rightly sees the collapse of the Terramare (contemporary with that of the eastern Mediterranean palaces) at the end of the Italian RBA as the “key moment of change,” a major reconfiguration of settlement pattern in the central Po plain that has a wider domino effect (and, as we have seen, leads to the emergence of Frattesina) (17). However, I doubt whether she is right to assert that the Terramare and contemporary lake dwellings show “no evidence of social divisions,” following Bietti Sestieri’s arguments (22, cf. 116–17, 130–31). For example, when the Terramare of Santa Rosa di Poviglio is extended, the defenses surrounding the original site are massively enhanced, suggesting an elite quarter or citadel rather than simply an old town (sensu M. Novák, Herrschaftsform und Stadtbaukunst: Programmatik im mesopotamischen Residenzstadtbau von Agade bis Surra man ra’ ā [Saarbrücken 1999] 302–13). Moreover, the evidence of regular town planning, the complex water management, and the evident intersite hierarchies are also more parsimoniously interpreted as evidence for hierarchically organized communities. The burial evidence also provides proof of social hierarchy: at the recently excavated Terramare cemetery of Casinalbo, weapons and female ornaments were burned in the pyre and then rendered no longer functional and deposited in specific areas, so that the argument that the lack of grave goods indicates an egalitarian society no longer holds (A. Cardarelli, “The Collapse of the Terramare Culture and Growth of New Economic and Social Systems During the Late Bronze Age in Italy,” ScAnt 15 [2009] 453). All modeling requires arbitrary decisions, and one that Blake makes in her initial discussion is to define ties as “the links between nodes that share at least one object type and are also a short distance apart” (89). This short distance is set at “50 km, or a two-day walk or manageable day’s sail.” In a landscape as variable as that of modern Italy, one wonders whether a 50 km journey in the mountains is equivalent to one in the flat Po Plain or the Apulian Tavoliere. Finally, the least convincing part of the book is its discussion of the “aftermath” of the Roman conquest (244–56). While Italian scholars are often keen to emphasize their own regional diversity, it is strange to claim that Augustus’ Regio XI is named Transpadana rather than named after a specific ethnic group because “there were no well-defined supra-local (that is beyond the scale of a single township) groups there” (248). I doubt that the Romans, who fought hard to conquer the Insubres, would have agreed. Likewise, Blake’s dismissal of Gabba’s and Wickham’s arguments (C. Wickham, Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400–1000 [Totowa, N.J., and London 1981]; E. Gabba, Italia Romana [Como 1994]) for the survival of local differences is rather too facile. Does Blake succeed in providing “a novel explanation for why some regional groups in Italy forged what we can call an ethnic consciousness and others did not” (2)' I would suggest that she shows some interesting patterns, some of which are the result of inadequate data; these patterns may indicate that some regional diversities go back to the RBA–FBA transition, if we accept the parameters on which her models are based (17, 242). In sum, this book is an interesting and admirably clear exercise in social network analysis, but it is a poor guide to the archaeology of the Italian RBA and FBA. Mark Pearce Department of Archaeology University of Nottingham mark.pearce@nottingham.ac.uk Book Review of Social Networks and Regional Identity in Bronze Age Italy, by Emma Blake Reviewed by Mark Pearce American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 3 (July 2017) Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/3497 DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1213.Pearce 1 Book Review

Pub.: 14 Jun '17, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

The Archaeology of Global Encounters Viewed from Banda, Ghana

Abstract: West African societies have long been enmeshed in interregional, subcontinental, and intercontinental relations. Documents tell us little about how local life was shaped by its intersection with global processes, especially in coastal hinterlands. In this paper I report on archaeological investigations into the changing contours of local life in the Banda area of west central Ghana over the past seven centuries. Excavations at three temporally distinct occupations on two sites—Makala Kataa and Kuulo Kataa—document changes in settlement, craft production, subsistence, and exchange, providing insights into the dynamics of local life during a period of expanding global networks. A concluding section addresses why this type of research is important for our understanding of ancient African societies.Les sociétés Ouest Africaines sont depuis longtemps parties prenantes dans les relations inter-régionales, sous-continentales et inter-continentales. Les documents ne nous disent pas grand chose sur la manière dont la vie locale a été façonnée par cette interaction avec les processus mondiaux, particulièrement dans les arrières pays côtiers. Dans cet article, je rends compte des recherches archéologiques concernant les changements dans la vie locale intervenus dans la région de Banda au centre ouest du Ghana au cours des sept derniers siècles. Les fouilles dans trois occupations temporellement distincts sur deux sites—Makala Kataa et Kuulo Kataa—mettent en évidence les changements dans l'occupation, la production artisanale, les modes de subsistances et les échanges, donnant un aperçu des dynamiques de la vie locale durant une période d'expansion des réseaux mondiaux d'échange. La conclusion aborde les raisons pour lesquelles ce type de recherche est important pour notre compréhension des anciennes sociétés africaines.

Pub.: 01 Mar '99, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Contract Archaeology in South Africa: Traveling Theory, Local Memory and Global Designs

Abstract: This paper examines the historical development of contract archaeology in South Africa, placing it in a trajectory of local archaeological thought and practice. In doing so, it sets out to do three things. The first is to consider how metropolitan theory “travels,” takes root, and has particular, local effects as part of a disciplinary ordering of knowledge and practice. In South Africa, the advent of contract archaeology around the time of the 1994 elections was ironic in the sense that it foreclosed on the notion of a “people’s archaeology,” replacing it with forms of corporate accountability and models of business best practice. The second broad aim is to think about what is at stake in the politics of memory after apartheid, and the effects of contract archaeology in mediating and mitigating popular struggles around rights, resources and representation. I argue that, in many cases, the function of contract archaeology is to discipline and school such struggles, diverting them along approved tracks and bureaucratic channels. The third is to think about how contract archaeology functions as part of global coloniality, as an instigator and enabler of global designs. I briefly discuss the case of the World Archaeological Congress and Rio Tinto, as an example of the co-opting of a global organization and of a language of engagement. My argument throughout is that contract archaeology recapitulates the essential coloniality of disciplinary archaeology, presenting it with a new face and a contemporary disguise appropriate to global, postcolonial times.

Pub.: 12 Sep '15, Pinned: 31 Aug '17