Wolfgang Alders

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Department:
Anthropology
Term:
AY18-19

I will undertake research to study settlement patterns among Swahili communities prior to and during the development of the plantation economy in Zanzibar, from AD 1500-1850. The mid-19th-century plantation system in Zanzibar is described as an imported social landscape run predominately by Omani landowners, and worked by enslaved people drawn from many parts of East Africa. However, it is also clear that the plantation system was built on top of at least a millennium of settlement by indigenous Swahili coastal people on Zanzibar, which is largely undocumented outside the coastal rim prior to the 19th century. As such, the project contributes to the archaeology of the colonial early modern period in an African context, and breaks new ground by investigating the junctures between understandings of Zanzibar’s 19th-century plantation societies and the long-term archaeology of Swahili communities. The research will build on work in coastal East African archaeology to consider the ways that rural Swahili people were entangled in both local and global social and political processes in the western Indian Ocean. The project will survey landscapes across the western and eastern landscapes of north-central Zanzibar (Unguja) Island, Tanzania. The western part of Zanzibar is an ideal place for elucidating the courses of settlement in relation to the development of plantation economies, since these regions lie within the most fertile agricultural parts of the island. The eastern regions play an important role for comparative survey data, since they are rockier, less suitable for agriculture, and were possibly an area of refuge for people dispossessed from the prime plantation land. Judgmental surveys starting from above-ground 19th-century plantation sites will be used to inform probabilistic shovel test-pit surveys across the larger region. This evidence will be used to chart long-term Swahili settlement in the rural countryside from AD 1500-1850, and to elucidate how settlement related to social and ecological histories at different scales.